There are a bazillion churches in my city. In fact, on the street where our current (until tomorrow) church is now has probably 14. Greensboro was actually voted one of the most "religious" cities by some magazine a few years back.
So why in the world would we want to plant a new church HERE?
It is hard to answer that question without sounding like I am bashing traditional church. I have written and rewritten this post a million times trying not to sound bash-y. So let me just start by saying I am NOT bashing traditional church. We've spent the last seven years in a traditional church and I have seen God at work there. I think traditional church is reaching people, just not all people. So just kinda remember I'm not doing any bashing. 'Kay, great. Read on:
There is a way to reach people that looks a lot more like how Jesus did it than by the way we've been "doing church." I think part of what the church is missing out on is engaging with people who don't know Jesus, getting to know them, entangling our lives together so that they can see who Jesus is. We need to get rid of this "us vs them" mentality. God made it clear: there is no us and them. It's just us.
God has called us to do a heck of a lot more than sit in a circle in a pretty church building once or twice a week and discuss how the Bible applies to our lives. He has called us to much more important things than political standoffs. We are to be more than a great music service. I fear that many Christians are so involved in "doing church" that they don't actually have time to go reach folks who are hurting and need Jesus. If all of our time is spent inside church walls, who is being the hands & feet of Christ in the city?
Think of it this way. When a missionary is going to go live in another country, he/she studies the culture, learns how the people there think and how they live. And then that missionary explains Jesus in the context of that culture. The message never changes, but the presentation does. Bringing "Western Christianity" into parts of rural Africa would be (and has been) a complete disaster. Right?
Well, culture here is changing. It's not the same as it was fifty years ago, or even twenty years ago. Yet we haven't really changed the way we "do church." I fear that because of this, the way we share the message of Jesus is becoming irrelevant in our culture. And I know a lot of people who are very turned off by "organized religion" and by church in general. I have some friends who would definitely not step foot in a church mainly because it's just that: a church.
Our culture is increasingly post-modern and post-Christian. It boils down to this: when I was growing up, our culture was about increasing our knowledge. The thought was: know enough, find enough answers, and you'll be satisifed. For Christianity it meant learn your religion, know your stuff. Give lots of info to folks and they'll get to know Jesus. There's nothing wrong with any of that.
The problem is that post-modern culture isn't so concerned with how much you know. In fact, value is now placed on there being no "absolute truth;" how much you know is now not as important as what you do. I think a lot of folks are looking at churches wondering why they aren't DOING anything (other than increasing knowledge). Our youth told us years ago that they don't think Sunday School is an effective way for them to learn about Jesus. They wanted to do things like MSG (Mission to Serve Greensboro) instead - an opportunity they thought up themselves where they went out once a week to serve (dinners for the homeless, bingo at a nursing home, etc). People want to DO, rather than learn the facts. I think lots of people in today's culture are going to learn more about Jesus by doing something (serving with us, doing regular life things with us) than by going to a church building and learning about Him.
I see this in my own children. They spent HOURS at church every week: Sunday School, AWANA, children's choir. They have wonderful Sunday School teachers and they've learned some great Bible stories in that setting. But our family adopting Amani and the kids seeing what adoption looks like; and the kids coming along with me to the tent city; hearing me talk regularly about my homeless friends, investing in those relationships - those things have taught them more about what it means to live for Jesus than what they have learned within the church walls. That's not to say we shouldn't read our Bibles - it's just that my kids are hearing the Bible stories AND living it out at the same time. That's how I want them to learn about Jesus.
And God has been tearing our hearts up about how American Christianity is missing the mark: focusing on ourselves, being a country full of rich people praying to get richer, trying to win "converts" by arguing with people over their lifestyles, focusing on politics over the grace and peace of Christ. He's torn our hearts up so much that we can no longer serve him within the context of traditional church. We want to make disciples, not converts. We want only to show the love of Christ to our city by serving them and let those folks know He loves them. He can do the rest. He's calling us to reach out to that group that traditional church isn't reaching: folks who NEVER want to set foot in a church. Because they've been hurt by the church, because they think it's full of a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites, whatever the reason.
So here we go. Tomorrow's our last day at the church where we've served for seven years. And we're starting something new. Missio Dei is our new community of faith; where the "program" we focus on the least will be Sunday morning services and what we focus on the most is living out the gospel by serving the city. We want to be there for our neighbors, we want to love "the least of these," we want to live out what it means to follow Jesus, instead of "going to church." It's not that we have all the answers or that we think we've figured out the "right" way to follow Jesus. It's just the calling God has placed upon our hearts and the hearts of those who are joining this journey with us.
Greensboro doesn't need another church that's just like all the ones we have here. We have a bazillion churches but still have homelessness, still have racism, still have hatred, still have over 250,000 folks in the county with no faith affiliation. I do think there's a place for Missio Dei and I'm honored and excited and humbled to get to be a part of what God's doing in Greensboro.