In the Synagogue’s museum, there is a photo of a Jewish man and boy behind a fence in the Ghetto. A sign reads, ‘No Christians beyond this point.’ The irony of that sign punched me in the stomach yesterday, because, if there is anywhere the Body of Christ should be, it is beyond that point, right there with the hurting, the hated, and the walking dead.
I understand the cultural context, how that sign made sense to the ones who posted it, and perhaps that is what makes it all the more frightening. It made sense to the Nazis. It made sense because anytime we use ‘us and them’ as language, we enter into dangerous, self-serving waters.
When we talk about people who never enter the church.
Or people who have a different passport, language, color scheme.
Or people who have a different religion or sexual identity.
And, if that list makes sense to us, we have reason to fear.
Anytime the arms and the legs that we wear are used to segregate and separate, we cease to be the Christ Image in this bleeding, wounded world.
And if you are reading this post, maybe you should stop reading right here because where I am going, you may not like to follow.
I am going right into our neighborhoods – our quiet, comfortable, lawn-mowed, gated, safe, communities. Right there, where our kids walk to school and the trash truck picks up garbage every Tuesday. And there, I am turning a corner that will not be popular, to say a thing that will not be liked.
If one more Christian talks to me about church growth methods, I am going to throw-up yesterday’s hummus right there on their shoes.
We do not want church growth.
We should and could discuss what the word and the concept ‘church’ really means in our 21st century context. But, not in this post, not this time.
For today, I mean the active, intentional invitation of people into our worship environment. Evangelism, if you will.
So, let us be honest.
What we really want, is to create inviting environments that welcome folks like us; safe, showered, employed, respectable.
The pre-packaged Christians that window shop churches are quite nice, but we will take the newly-converted or one with minimal tattoos who is on the verge of kicking that nasty nicotine habit, with language that is improving and correct sexual orientation, if, and this is a big IF, there is a high probability that they will accept Jesus and begin carrying a Bible.
We do not want the others – not really.
Because, if we did, we would smash those barriers and move into the Ghetto wearing our arms and our legs like mobile medical units.
We could do that.
And, until we do, I do not want to hear another seminar, have another conversation, or read another book moaning over, prescribing, or presenting church growth methods.
If we really need a church growth method, here it is:
1. Find a person. ONE person that does not look, smell, talk, or live like you do. Maybe it is the neighbor who leads an alternative lifestyle or the girl at the grocery store with the purple hair and the snake tattoo. Or, maybe it is one person in the homeless shelter, or the rescue house for trafficked women, or that vulnerable kid from a broken home who graffitied the wall with dirty words, or maybe it is the guy who owns the porn shop in your city.
2. Invite him to coffee this week and pray every day for him.
3. Invite him to coffee next week and pray every day for him.
4. Repeat step 3.
5. That is it.
6. No, really, that is it.
We do not need to discuss worship style or clean bathrooms or welcome packets, or dress code. We vomit how to’s for attracting people, but all of this conversation boils down to one honest question.
Why are you growing your church?
If church growth is about people in seats on a Sunday morning that populate statistics and funnel into Sunday School teachers and worship leaders, and trendy youth programs – you definitely need a seminar for church growth.
But, if you have the courage to believe that a gasping, oozing, aching Jesus chose a tree because God is intentionally present in our brokenness, then our discussion is over and we can move. Move into the ghetto. Literally. Figuratively.
Because God intended His body to be broken by the pain of his humanity. He intended his image to cry out the song of lament in the courtyard. He intended his arms to bar the passages into brothels and his legs to beat down the doors that trap.
You want church growth?
Put on your arms and legs.
Find the teenager who aches so much for money that he is prime pimp material. Invest in his life: your time, your attention, your expertise – over the course of the next 5 years, with no guarantee that he ever comes to church.
Get to know the small business man whose shop is struggling enough that he is tempted to pay unfair salaries to make a profit. Play golf with him. Get to know his kids. Shop at his store. Bring your friends in to shop at his store.
Invite the girl from the broken home that will look for love in every boy by prostituting her heart and her body. Invite her to play with your kids, to stay for supper. Invite her mom too.
Find the cutter, and the hater, and the addict, and the atheist, and the extremist. And ask God to help you have an authentic conversation without vomiting Christian-eeze or strategizing how long before you have the right to bring them to church.
I am not sure if your people numbers will rise. Frankly, I do not care. But this I do know, when the image bearers move into a neighborhood where pain lives, when we cry with and fight for and sing the laments of a broken song, THEN WE ARE the CHURCH … and against that Church, the gates of Hell will not prevail.