So who are those who visit your church? Who actually darkens the door of a sanctuary these days who isn't a member. First, a memory...
I was a 22 year old college grad living in Philadelphia during the summer of '99. I didn't know anyone in Philly, but my company was headquartered there and as such, we spent 3 months at the headquarters learning the culture of the company and how to work Microsoft Excel to the limit. (it was well known that several of our consultants helped Microsoft debug a bunch of their Excel versions)
Being a good ELCA Lutheran, I decided to strike out and attend church one sunny summer morning figuring the place to start was in Mount Airy, the home of the Lutheran School of Theology in Philadelphia. So I attended worship at the church on the campus there. Immediately I was recognized as an outsider. It was clear this community had not had many visitors regularly. But I was welcomed warmly and invited to worship with them and attend coffee hour etc... It was a lovely time I had there and I worshiped again with them multiple times.
My question however is, am I a typical visitor to a church, or an anomaly? At that point I wasn't particularly religious (I was working in finance after all) although I was a committed Lutheran. So one couldn't call me unchurched, but perhaps I was a homeless Christian?
I have a feeling that many of the folks we have visit our congregations on a Sunday morning are "homeless Christians." They aren't truly unchurched, frankly the majority of them have religious upbringings and are searching for a new "church home" (ever see that lingo in your visitors brochure?). I have a feeling, backed up by research from many places, that the majority of visitors in the USA know the story of Jesus, they just haven't, for many reasons, found a place to call "home."
Over the last few years there has been much hand wringing and self-deprecation in my tribe (the ELCA) about our inability to do evangelism these days. Frankly, we aren't alone. The reality is, most of the people who show up on Sunday mornings in your pews aren't unchurched, neophytes to the Gospel. They have been exposed to the Gospel story, but have either left the church of their home, and become homeless, at some point because of...
1) Age, 20 somethings typically don't do institutions. They are too mobile, and that is growing into 30 somethings.
2) Experience, they got turned off by some experience, typically of hypocrisy or they found church "boring"
3) Mobility, many Americans move multiple times in their lives due to jobs,family, etc...
These homeless Christians that are visiting you aren't, despite the rhetoric of "seeker sensitive" worship and such, truly unchurched. Heck, if the Southern Baptists (see previous reference) aren't baptizing the "heathens" in their previous numbers, then who is? The people visiting? They are "homeless Christians" looking for a home, probably because they are...
1) Away from home due to a job.
2) Just about to have a baby and think they need a place to raise their kids (or at least get them baptized)
3) Wondering if you truly are welcoming to them despite the fact they are divorced, gay or otherwise marginal.
These are the people who are showing up at your door, wondering if they can come in. They aren't truly unchurched, they are "homeless" and wondering if your church will provide them refuge. A place to come to the table of grace and be received.
The communion table as a "soup kitchen" for "homeless Christians." Is that an acceptably image? There are many of my Lutheran brethren who would say no. The table is only for those who have this as their home. It is a dinner table for a family. My contention would be, the table is a "soup kitchen," everyone who steps forward gets fed the banquet of grace. But we must be realistic, those who step forward will probably understand at least partially, what that table means. It is our job to take them from "homeless" to "home."
So given that, why would they find a home in your church? That is the next weeks question. And perhaps we will now change the rhythm of this series. Because having identified that most of the folks you will see visiting your church aren't really unchurched, but homeless, how do you reach that growing percentage who don't know the story of the Gospel? The children of the homeless.
So in the next three weeks, these are the topics I will address...
1) Why will these folks find a home with you?
2) What about those who truly are unchurched, how do we reach them?
3) Why does evangelism matter in the end?