I was recently invited to a country club for lunch. When I arrived, I couldn’t help but notice the placard prominently placed on the front door: “Dress code strictly enforced.” Good thing I was dressed for the occasion! This reminded me of story my friend shared. The church he grew up in was “very legalistic”- each Sunday they would assign a person who stood at the door to check the congregation’s attire upon arrival. If they didn’t pass the “Sunday best” test they were told to go home, change, and come back. I was shocked! “How did that work out from an outreach standpoint?” I asked. My friend replied, “Let’s put it like this…we didn’t have many visitors.”
Thankfully stories like this are rare today, but many churches still operate with a skewed normalcy of who is welcome. Today’s criteria might not be as blatant as a person doing a once-over at the door, but the conditional welcome based on a spirit that checks for “X” in a person is still pervasive in churches. Although the “X” differs from church to church and might not be verbalized, it is strictly enforced and trickles down throughout the congregation. “X” may be a particular valuing of culture, heritage, clothes, liturgy or even a worship style. We tend to welcome those who align with our “X” while alienate those who do not, creating an environment where, as my friend accurately stated, visitors may be hard to find.
But what if the local church stopped trying to fill its building with only subscribers to their version of “X” and instead started operating altogether differently by adopting the ethos of a community hospital?
Here at Calvary we have been wrestling with how we intentionally become more like a triage and trauma center rather than a local affinity club. The answer: Expectations. Our shift in expectations has veered from keeping people unified on a temporal “X” (culture, worship style, and service times) to keeping broken, busted-up people alive!
We know when people are sick little else matters. The sick want to meet the doctor because they know his hands heal; they’re not concerned with the peripherals such as the color of the hospital gown, what art is on the wall, or the music that is playing overhead.
Why then in our churches do we laser focus on the non-essentials that only seem to divide? Humanity’s greatest unifier lies in the fact we are all sick! Sick with sin and living in the brokenness it brings. The prognosis would be grim except we know the healer, Jesus, who heals our diseases and binds up our brokenness. When the local church is united in their brokenness and need for the Great Physicians touch, all find a welcome home because of the leveled ground of shared affliction.
If you want your church to have a greater impact on your community, start by asking honest questions. What is your current “X” (skin color, clothes, worship format)? Are you operating as an affinity club rather than a hospital for the terminal? Because here’s the hard truth: One day every affinity based club will dwindle down until their affinity is no more, but the local hospital will always be full. Until the end of time people will be sick and hurting and in need of healing. Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Change your expectations and open your doors wide as you welcome in the sick to meet the Great Physician!