I’ll just come right out and say it: I don’t think churches should be trying to make people comfortable.
It crossed my mind to end today’s entry right there, but I suppose I should explain. Attempts to make church more user-friendly or seeker-sensitive has been going on for quite a while, and has been getting considerable attention for more than a decade now. And despite the bestselling books and megachurches that would contradict me, I have long been of the conviction that if I can sit in church Sunday after Sunday and never feel uncomfortable then there is a serious problem. Specifically, either the church is not preaching the whole Word of God or I am not listening to what is being preached.
Why do I say that? Well, for one, the Bible makes it pretty clear that the cross and the message of the gospel are an offense to the world. Have you ever felt comfortable being offended? I didn’t think so. If the church is preaching the gospel message, sinners will be convicted, offended, and uncomfortable. Second, even believers continue to sin and to have areas of their lives where improvement and spiritual growth is needed, so even individuals who are no longer offended by the cross should feel conviction in church from time to time. Quite frankly, we shouldn’t be able to read the Bible without getting uncomfortable once in a while, so why should I expect to be able to sit in church and be comfy?
Now, there are arguments–many of them–in favor of reaching out to people. Jesus did not just sit in the temple and wait for people to come to Him; rather, He went out into the streets and villages and sought out those who needed to hear His message. We need to meet people where they are, right? Right. I agree. But that is an incomplete idea. Jesus did go find people where they were, but He showed them their need and He did not leave them there. There may well be times when churches as corporate bodies and believers as individuals need to go to the world, or design events to draw in the world, but those should be limited strategies designed to expose the unbelievers to the Truth. I simply cannot find evidence in Scripture for the notion that we should become more and more like the world in an effort to reach the world.
Yet, that is exactly what many churches are doing. There was an article on USATODAY.com yesterday called “Churches go less formal to make people comfortable.” Right off the bat the article quotes Ron Williams, pastor of Church at the GYM in Sanford, FL: he says the goal of their church is to “remove the ‘stained-glass barriers’ for people who might not be comfortable in traditional church settings. ‘I think all the trappings of traditional religion can make it difficult for people to start coming. You can invite someone, and they will say, “I don’t have any clothes to wear to church.”‘” There is some truth in that, and I firmly believe that no church should turn someone away or look down on someone for coming to church in attire that may not measure up to what others in the church usually wear. There is no room for that kind of judgmental attitude in the church. On the other hand, to intentionally dress in an overly casual manner just because (1) it makes you comfortable, or (2) you want to avoid making someone else feel uncomfortable is not appropriate. My personal conviction is that I go to the Lord’s house to worship Him, and He is worthy of my best, so I will dress accordingly. To me, to dress better for work or a family reunion that I will to go to church just doesn’t make sense. However, I have learned to respect others’ convictions on this, too, and since I cannot show you chapter and verse that “thou shalt wear thy Sunday best” every time you go to church I don’t make a big deal about it. But please keep in mind that while you might be uncomfortable coming to church in dress pants and a tie, I might be equally uncomfortable coming in jeans and a t-shirt!
The USA Today article goes on to discuss the number of churches popping up in “non-traditional spaces” around the U.S., such as “movie theaters, skating rinks, strip malls and old warehouses, among others.” I don’t have a big issue with where churches meet. I think what the church believes and preaches and does is far more important than where the church meets. So this is a non-issue to me.
But the article goes on to discuss a church called The Bridge in Flint, Michigan that is in a strip mall. The church’s latest example of “want[ing] to be relevant to people’s lives” was to open a tattoo parlor. It likely won’t surprise you to know that I think that goes too far. Regardless of whether or not you or I personally have tattoos and/or have strong opinions on the increasing popularity of them, there is no denying that tattoos have traditionally been associated predominantly with people and behaviors who are not consistent with a Christian message. Maybe the church’s tattoo parlor has a policy of only providing Christian or unoffensive tattoos, I don’t know, but I don’t think that’s the point. Why does the Church feel the need to take what the world has to offer and “Christianize it” in an effort to reach the world?
I think there is plenty of evidence to support my assertion that more often than not, when the world tries to get more of the world by becoming more like the world it is the world that gets more of the church. More often than not the message of the gospel is compromised and watered down so as not to be offensive. (We want people to be comfortable, remember?)
I believe that you will find the strongest believers and the most effective churches are ones that are easily and clearly differentiated from the world. (Of course, we will have to define what it means to be an effective church in order to have that discussion, but that will have to wait for another day). And I think you will find that, generally speaking, the world is looking for something that is genuine and real, not something that has to disguise itself or adopt worldly methods in order to attract people.
So, think what you want, but my original statement stands–I don’t think churches should be trying to make people comfortable.