I'm finding this fascinating. Canadian Christian radio host Drew Marshall has hired two non-Christians to visit five churches and report on their experiences.
I really didn't like the idea at first. To me it seemed like hiring two vegans to go out and rate five steakhouses.
Maybe I was wrong. So far they've visited four churches. I don't agree with everything they've written, of course, but they've made some very perceptive observations.
For instance, they visited one of the fastest growing churches in the Greater Toronto Area that is known as a "the church for people who aren't into church" - in other words, a church for people like these two hired visitors. I'm impressed by the quality of teaching at this church, and I have many friends who attend and some who work on staff.
Were they impressed? Listen to some of their comments. One wrote:
Why should the institution be rich, and the congregation not? If you really believe you should be living the ascetic life led by Christ and his apostles, why aren’t you doing it? If money and possessions aren’t important, why aren’t you meeting to discuss the meaning of Christ’s ideas and life in the local park? Notwithstanding the need to broadcast to your rather large congregation, and obviously you’d have to come up with a solution during the winter months, but really: why the son et lumiere? I found the medium more than a bit out of whack with the message.
Which brings me to another point: all that razzmatazz kind of unsettles me. We live in a culture where distraction is often misdirection - like a magician who gets you to look at his left hand while he’s disappearing something with his right. I found myself wondering why a group that liked its preacher so straightforward felt most at home in a medium of flashing lights and sound. Maybe it’s a generational thing - 30-45s are mostly Gen Xers, after all. But I still felt disconcerted.
And the other:
I had a little problem with their arguments involving material goods and our “media saturated culture” as they make their Sunday services available on your 80Gb video ipod.
It's worth reflecting on some of the things that got in the way of connecting in this church that is built for people like them. Not just reflecting on what this says about this one church, but to many of us as well.
And it's worth thinking about why they've finally found a church they seem to appreciate. The church is Sanctuary, pastored by Greg Paul, author of God in the Alley. The thing that you need to know about Greg is that he is as theologically orthodox as anyone I know. He didn't appeal to these non-Christians because he's abandoned theological moorings or because he doesn't stand for anything. Quite the opposite.
Listen to some of the comments:
My fear had left me, there was a calm sense of wonder now. We met the pastor first, he was wearing an eccentric yellow Hawaiian shirt with the usual brightly colored flowers, he spoke very calmly in a quiet voice that exuded a wisdom only achieved through many years of heart wrenching reality. He introduced us to a fellow who looked like he had seen a hard time too many, as it turns out he used to be homeless and had it not been for the Sanctuary who knows where he would be. I could tell then and there we had found what this experiment was set out to accomplish, a church that saw past the money, power and the heighten sense of moral superiority that we have grown accustomed to...
This place gets it, there was no collection plate that I ever saw and what they gave back to the community could not be measured. There isn’t enough good things to say about this place.
Amidst all the pomp and circumstance of the Christian world out there, here lies a simple, honest place that really means it.
Even the message - "He talked about the need for Christians to accept that it was an either-or proposition - if you accept that Christ is the Son of God, you must 'die to everything else'" - really connected.
Some are complaining that it's unfair because this church was tipped off before they came. But it's the only church so far in which Drew and his friends would be obvious, and they didn't change a thing. This is Sanctuary every single week.
This is the only Church where the majority of time, finances and energy is NOT spent on the Sunday service. At Sanctuary, it actually would have been unfair to only score them on their Sunday service, the smallest part of what they do.
I'll be thinking about this for a while.
We spend a lot of time making Sunday mornings what they are, and focusing on the quality of the teaching and the music. But the church that has best embodied and communicated the gospel so far is not slick and would not get noticed for its attendance records. It's not going multisite and pastors don't drool over what they're doing.
There's a lot to think about as I read the reports of Drew and his friends visiting these churches. Reminds me a little of the letters to the churches in Revelation.