Dr. David Lose (President of LTSP) has a very interesting presentation that he’s been giving about the nature of our church in relation to story. The idea is that the church as a whole is not well versed in the stories of scripture, and even further, individuals have not been able to articulate why church matters to them and why they have faith. I think it is a tremendous study and really has helped me to frame questions in a new way. However, one thing that struck me about his presentation is that Dr. Lose talks about how we are surrounded by stories. Books, Movies, TV Shows, Advertisements… Each is a narrative that takes us to a new place. The one thing Dr. Lose did not talk about, though, is the narrative and story of other communities.
I think the church has gotten into a really bad habit of thinking that we’re above other communities. I have had many conversations about the struggles of getting the younger generations to attend church, and the concern is that, “if they don’t have church, they won’t be in community. You can’t just have a life on social media.” Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth. There is this false idea that millennials only sit around on their phones hoping that someone will like their picture on Facebook. Millennials have found communities… They just aren’t church.
In Dr. Lose’s presentation he puts up a powerpoint slide with a picture of two wine glasses. As he describes it, these wine glasses have different prices and tell a different story. The cheaper wine glass is $2-3 glass from Target. In it’s picture it is set in a very nice feng shui room. The glass tells a story: anyone can drink from this glass and be in a beautiful home surrounded with beautiful things. It’s the glass for everyone. The next wine glass that Dr. Lose shares looks a little nicer but then the price flashes up… It’s almost $70. This glass shares a very different story. The company that produces it has a slogan, “If the wine matters, so does the glass; it’s that simple.” This glass appeals to a very different crowd. It appeals to the wine connoisseurs who will look for the amazing elegant wine. And if the wine matters, the glass does too. This is for the exclusive crowd. This is for the exclusive elite. It’s that simple.
When I heard Dr. Lose say this, I thought I knew where he was going to go next but then he didn’t ask it… He didn’t ask the questions that was burning in my mind. Which glass is the church? Which glass are we? Are we the glass that is open to everyone? Or are we exclusive?
We know the answer. We are exclusive. We are the most exclusive club in the world. We tell everyone that they are welcome but then we only offer worship for 1 hour a week, on the most sought after time in America (Sunday mornings), and expect everyone to fit us into their schedule. We expect them to come to us, to schedule around us. We somehow think we are this exclusive wine glass that will draw intrigue and attention from everyone around us… But instead, we’re declining, and rapidly.
We are the most exclusive club in the world. And so that concern creeps up from us, “But how will those heathens have community? If they don’t come to church, they will be lost.” The truth is, they have a community and a far more welcoming one at that.
One of the fastest growing communities in the US is Crossfit. Crossfit is an intense workout regimen that is drawing in younger generations like crazy. The reason: Community. A Crossfit gym will offer a training session almost every hour of the day from 6am-8pm, 7 days a week. They are accessible. But as soon as you sign-up for a session and go, you are immediately paired with a trainer whose entire purpose is to focus on you to keep you safe and get you into great shape. It is an intimate community. Soon, the more you go, the more people you know, the more trainers you know. They ask you about how you’re doing. They learn about your family, cat, dog, spouse, neighborhood. Soon is an intimate community that actively cares about each other physically, personally, emotionally. When you can get that community on a Sunday morning… How does the church match up?
There are communities like Crossfit that are all around us: Whole Foods, Target, coffee shops, farmer’s markets, cooking kitchens, sports. They offer services that help the person to live healthier, live happier and to have a good time with others while doing it. (To see more in detail see Angie Thurston’s and Casper ter Kuile’s research “How We Gather,” (https://caspertk.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/how-we-gather.pdf )
When push comes to shove… The church does not make the cut against those communities. Although we say we are a welcoming place for all, we don’t offer an intimate community of healthy living at numerous times. We offer an exclusive gathering that thinks we can just draw others in through mystery and intrigue. Instead we’re just finding ourselves alone at our own party.
So, how do we begin to see church in a new way? How do we remove the exclusive tag from our church signs but instead really embrace our common slogan of, “All Are Welcome!”? I think we need to find new ideas where we can offer healthful offerings, physical opportunities but most importantly, worship and programs at other times and days of the week that will suit the needs of others. We don’t need to be attached to this 1 hour on Sunday. We can reach people in a new way, at a new time, but with the same Spirit.