For the last several years I and many of my colleagues have tried desperately to heighten the Church’s awareness that ministry (often the best ministry) happens outside the church-building walls. We’ve also suggested that a fully clogged church calendar doesn’t serve the purposes of ministry best. In fact, it can leave little room for real spiritual growth or service in the community.
Churches have engaged in “The Church Has Left the Building” or “Faith that Works” campaigns in which the church shuts down the building on a Sunday and spends the day serving the community. You may have heard or read that “We just need to get out of the building and serve.” Or, “We need to go where the people are.” True enough.
Churches can become temple-oriented rather than mission-oriented. Certainly, “attractional” ministry is increasingly difficult to sustain and can cultivate consumerism.
For many struggling churches, the problem is usually not that too much attention has been paid to what goes on inside the building. On the contrary, the problem is that not even close to enough attention has been paid to what takes place inside the building. Such is evident in decaying facilities, assemblies that are mechanical and thrown together, strained fellowship, and no clear sense of congregational mission.
Such a church is unlikely to be missional in a Starbucks or soup kitchen any more than they are in a building. While serving in the community can help refocus a church in some unique ways, it can also mask deep issues that need to be dealt with. A family that is dysfunctional doesn’t stop being dysfunctional because they change addresses.
Neither do churches.
It’s OK for a church to shock-treat itself, and it’s nearly always a good thing to pick up the basin and towel. However, service should be more than conduit for avoiding problems no one wants to deal with–like a father who throws himself into work to avoid dealing with trouble at home.
In addition, like it or not, people in our culture looking for God still tend to begin with a church building, not a Starbucks. It is true that some will go to Starbucks that might never darken the door of a church building. The reverse is also true–and probably tenfold. To this day, when people’s marriages hit the reef, when a teen is in rebellion, or when people sense a deep need for God, they try to find a church. So, what goes on “at the building” still matters a ton–whether we like it or not.
Thus, one good test of our “missionality” is our “attractionalness.” The question though isn’t, are we “attractive” to searchers, but “do we care enough about the searchers God sends us to put effort into how we do things now?” If not, it’s right to question whether we’ll care much about them out there either.
Contrary to popular belief, the greatest community impact churches are also generally great attractional churches. This is because they care genuinely about lost people, whether they are “out there” or “in here.” They pay attention to the environments they create at their facility, in their assembly, and when the church hits the streets because they care about those in need of a Savior.
So, if you run a “The Church has Left the Building” campaign, more power to you. Just make sure you understand the building isn’t really the problem. It could be the church is the problem, because the church is the church whether they are in the building or not.
So, let’s pay attention to both our “being” and our “going” at the same time. We should, because they are linked whether we like it or not. It may be the first step in being more missional is becoming more attractional – in attitude.
And, vice-versa. We’ll talk about that tomorrow.