Monday, August 24, 2009

Born In A Barn

"Were your born in a barn," Karen would ask with a snicker? I had a crush on Karen through later years of grade school. She knew, but I was never her type. Karen could crush my feelings with a word or two, I was so awkward with them.

I thought of Karen's words the first time I drove past this new church in the area. The answer I'd lacked so many years ago came blurting out of my mind: "No, I wasn't born in a barn. But I go to church in one. . ."

It's a thinly veiled attempt to disguise the warehouse architecture. Put a thin, pitched-roof facade in front of the two warehouse wings. Actually, it makes me think as much of a Ding-Dong Preschool/Daycare franchise as it does a church. But, hey, it's not about the building. It's about the kingdom of God, isn't it? And I guarantee they have a preschool/daycare here.

Yes, it is about the kingdom of God. This local version wants you to know they specialize in a certain part of that kingdom: families.

It's a family worship center. (Note: it's not a church. It's not all that negative stuff you associate with church. It's a worship center.)

Kinda like a bunch of big stores with bigger parking lots are a shopping center. Not a town or a city or a community but a ___x____ center. Fill in the blank, and churches will look like that to succeed today.

At least this one was willing to put a cross out front. But what really gets the limelight is the family. Is this a worship center for families? Or a center that worships families? What's the difference between a Christian center and a worship center? Note that the previous "Christian center" didn't have a cross.

So..... if I drive by and I'm single or my husband was killed in Iraq or my wife died of cancer? If I'm committed to my partner and have been for years but can never marry because I don't fit the legal definition, am I a family? Am I welcome here? Today, lots of people are closer to their pets than to their kids or their ex. "Can I bring my dog or my three cats? After all, to me they're family." Lots of people might say that as they drive by.

We should always think long and hard about how we present ourselves to the world. Maybe we don't even want to do that with words, a name, or with signs. Maybe we want to do that with our people and their love for other people.

But I will give the big, new warehouse churches credit for something. They will all have big youth groups. And "youth pastors". Kids want to go where their friends go. And parents don't want to force their kids to go to a church. And without a new generation, many older, established churches are dying on the vine, right on the corners just a few blocks away.

The older churches never had parking lots where someone from Montana could park his 18-wheeler and witness while catching the required nap before loading up the backhaul. But does the message say, "I want to know you. Tell me where it hurts," or does it say, "I want you to be just like me, 'cause I'm right and you're wrong."

Living by our words. And what other people hear in them.



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