What are they looking for?

October 12, 2011 | Viewpoints | Number 20
Phil Wagler |

If you could choose a church from scratch, what would it look like? Much of our angst about being the church seems rooted in our desire to look good. Are we a fellowship providing what people want? Do we roll out the programs and splashy events people will flock to? Are our buildings comfy, our coffee organic, our bulletin font trendy, and our preaching happily short to match our attention spans that can somehow stay dialed in to a two-hour movie, but can’t seem to endure a half-hour soak in the Word of God?

The fearful reality is that the only people who seem concerned about these questions are already church folk. Reginald Bibby, the noted Canadian sociologist who tracks religious and social trends, recently pointed out that, contrary to the very low percentage of the population that attends weekly worship, upwards of 50 percent of Canadians would be ready to engage in the life of a church if they found it worthwhile.

That sounds encouraging. But before we run off to repaint the lobby to look like Starbucks, Bibby points out, “People are not looking for churches. People are looking for ministry.” In short, people are not searching the Yellow Pages looking for something they can spiritually consume; they are yearning to be participants in something greater than themselves, something more grand than a mall shopping spree. Does the church of your liking engage in this?

It should send a tremor through our committee meetings if most of the things we bluster about are focused on answering questions no one is asking. Could it be that much of what we’re worried about is primarily geared at making ourselves happy? Could all our agonizing over what will make people want to join us only result in sheep shuffling from a passé-church to a popular-church?

Seriously, when was the last time your church grew through the conversion of those from the wider culture, rather than the transfer of sheep from another fold? Could it be that we’re gleefully engaging in unholy competition with our Christian brothers and sisters who meet down the road, rather than passionately initiating attractive transformational ministry of kingdom grandeur? Could it be that much of what we do as churches is unconsciously un-Christian, founded almost entirely in our view of the spiritual seeker as a dumb consumer, and not as a parched, searching soul who thirsts for meaning, significance and hope?

Why do we who grumble about the shopaholic reality of our culture still go and shape our churches as if that’s what people really want? What if people still haven’t found what they’re looking for because we’ve hidden the pearl of great price? Perhaps, to our great shame, we have misread the lingering image of God in our neighbours, whose hearts pound to join in the beat of eternity?

I have to confess that these thoughts disturb me. As a pastor, I continually find myself caught between people clamoring for the church life they’ve always wanted and these realities. If I read between the lines, however, I can’t help but think that most church people actually hunger for that same participation in meaningful ministry—in kingdom adventure. So why are we so reluctant to just say it? Why are we so hesitant to simply allow ourselves to go there? And what will it take for us to convert from church people to kingdom people?

Phil Wagler (phil_wagler@yahoo.ca) lives in Surrey, B.C., is the author of Kingdom Culture: Growing the Missional Church, and really hopes you like the font this is written in.

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Very important, relevant topic, but very few examples or clarification of "what are they looking for?". What are some examples of "ministry" that would attract non-believers to our churches?

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