Monday, September 18, 2006

The Lonliest Place on Earth?

I work weekends. Have for about 25 years. I work at a church. And I don't get out much. I mean, I don't have the opportunity to get out and see what's going on at other churches very often. When I have a weekend off, I like to visit other churches. Not just to check out what other churches are doing, but to be led into worship - rather than being the worship leader.

In the past couple years, I've faced a very disturbing question. If I didn't work for a church, would I go to church? The question really scares me, because when I visit churches I tend to leave very discouraged. Most times, I'm afraid that I wouldn't be able to find a church that would compel me to keep coming back.

There are basically 3 things I'm looking for in church. Maybe there are more, but I find that if these 3 are there, I leave feeling like I'd like to go back. The big 3 for me are Community - Authenticity - and did I meet with God? If the first two aren't there, it makes it hard for me to discern the 3rd.

I visited a couple other churches this weekend. Both were relatively new, growing churches in the Portland area. For the most part, the focus of this post will be just one of those churches. It's the cool place to go right now. Lots of young families go there. There's not a great way to say this, and I don't really mean for it to be critical, but it was an example of why I fear that I wouldn't go to church if I didn't work there.

Briefly, my experience was this - I walked in, looking for all the world like a lost puppy. I walked past the man at the door, hoping for a "good morning" and a program that would help me know what to expect. I got neither. I found my way into the worship center and sat down. For nearly 15 minutes, I sat alone - watching other people talk to each other. It appeared that there was some kind of community going on here - I just wasn't invited to be a part of it. No one talked to me. As the service started, there were lots of inside jokes and inside illustrations the pastor mostly talked about his family and his staff (oh, wait... those were the same). Again, many of the people there seemed to be connected, but I remained a stranger.

Authenticity is a very hard thing to judge. All I will say here is that it "felt" pretty plastic to me.

Lastly, did I meet with God? We sang familiar songs. The band was decent. The sermon was okay (not great, but no heresy). But the service was absent of any sense of transcendence for me. Not once did I feel a connection with God.

No connection with people. No connection with God. Shoulda stayed home. You see why I'm afraid of that question? Not only does it scare me that I wouldn't attend church if I didn't work at one, it also scares me because every week there are people who wander into the church I work at. Is their experience similar to mine? Oh God, I hope not.

If you're a person who calls Village your home, please - please - please go out of your way to include people. Be aware of those around you who may not be feeling a part of the community. Don't let church be a lonely place. Don't be plastic. Be real, in your conversations and in your worship. And together, let's seek after an encounter with God. Please don't sit passively watching the show. Engage with God. Come to the Table and commune with Him. Use your gifts to minister those around you. Be the church.

If, God forbid, you've visited my church and were alone - I'm sorry. I hope you've found a worshiping community that has enfolded you. If not, maybe you'd give us another shot at it.

One more thing. I visited another church yesterday. A church that gave me hope. I left saying to myself - "I could go there".