Storming the gates

Church planter Gary Schokely says that a person coming to a congregation for the first time faces many barriers of peculiar ritual, internal group dynamics and even, at times, resentment coming from both clergy and laity. He suggests that weddings, funerals and baptisms may be an opportunity for congregations to welcome the unaffiliated when they come to us for a service.

My own experience of visiting with other churches has helped me realize what a huge step it is for “unaffiliated” people–the ones we say we are trying to reach–to show up, especially on Sunday mornings, and find their place among us. It has got to be about as uncomfortable for many of them to come and feel connected to what we are doing as it would be for us churched folk to show up at a Hindu shrine and be expected to jump right into the ritual.

He says that many unaffiliated people are open to visiting a church but often need an entry point like a baptism, wedding, or funeral to do so. These can be opportunities for us to connect with the unaffiliated–to build a bridge to where they are. He says that after they join us, we can then lead them to begin to take responsibility for themselves–to understand about our history, to study our traditions, to learn how to spiritually feed themselves.

The problem, Schokely says, is that we often meet the unaffiliated with suspicion and communicate a “club mentality.”

I think we have a huge problem when unaffiliated people turn to our churches for services and support and we respond to them in a way that conveys a kind of club mentality: “If you are not a member here, attend regularly, or support ‘us’ financially, your request for services will be denied or at least met with lengthy policies and hefty fees.” Such a response sends the message, “It’s not about you. We’re not about you!”

On a practical level, how does the local church become a place that at once cultivates community and discipleship while still dealing effectively and openly with unaffiliated people, who have deep spiritual needs and longings, but whose primary values do not incline them to become a part of a faith community?

Read Schokley’s item here.

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