This is a great article that may take you about five minutes to read. I'd love to hear your feedback about it. I am sure that it may offend some people, but it may also help others understand my perspective of culture and our role as Christians in it. ------- Making Our Churches Pagan-Friendly by Dave Crampton click here for a printable pdf version of this article We are currently living in an age where the quest for spirituality has never been higher. Yet the quest for Christian spirituality and meaning within church structures is the lowest it has been for a century. These days people are looking for meaning from non-institutional sources outside the church. Some sources are spiritual, such as movies, monastic retreats and new age teachings. About 60 percent of people might not go to church but most of them would be willing to have a meaningful spiritual experience apart from the church. Ninety percent will attend a church service if someone invited them and walked in with them. But, for the majority, it may be their only church service because they consider the church does not have what they are looking for. That's because many people embrace spirituality, but they distrust religion and link Christianity with that distrusted view of church and religion. Therefore they also tend to distrust Christianity. However most people are looking for something, even a spiritual experience, to make their lives meaningful. It is just that the church is not meeting this task as it tends to wrap services around an unchanging culture and "one size fits all" programming, usually based around a morning church service. Our congregations are pursuing this one size fits all ministry strategy while leaders are failing to understand the diverse surrounding culture does not have its needs met in a single set of programs, events and language and symbols. If people doesn't feel like they "fit " or "belong" to the programme at the church service, that automatically means they don't feel like they belong in church. Many churches, most notably the Salvation Army, Brethren and Catholic, base their services around the Holiness Meeting/Lords Supper/Mass, with other aspects of church life secondary. But those who want to successfully relate to the emerging culture will base church life around relationships. Rather than subscribing to a series of beliefs, newcomers first want to connect with a community of people who subscribe to those beliefs to see how they fit in. If they feel like they belong, they would be more likely to believe. So church life based on community is less likely to alienate newcomers and inquirers who may later come to embrace the Christian faith as a result of being part of a faith community. This doesn't mean the message changes, just the context of how it is being communicated. Christians need to communicate the unchanging message of the gospel in an authentic way that relates to all. Yet secular people, particular postmoderns, are wary of institutions despite respecting individualism within community. Personal relationships are highly sought after prior to a search for another truth or morality. They will be converted to community before being converted to Christ. If Churches want to have a secular and seeker-friendly community, leaders may have to step outside comfort zones and make a few changes. A worshipping community that is radically hospitable to outsiders is appealing to a spiritually-minded generation who can readily spot "spin and marketing." But what are we trying to achieve in our evangelism? Do we want to have people who behave like us, believe the way we do, or are we encouraging them to belong to our community? If believing is central, we hope to inform them of the Christian message so they can accept it. If behaviour is central, we aim to promote a change of lifestyle or habits. If belonging is the priority, we aim not to change their habits or beliefs, but to incorporate them into the Christian community. Once people belong, then we show them that belonging includes a change in belief and behaviour. Most people's initial preference is to belong to a community that accepts their individuality, and most people would prefer not to change their beliefs or lifestyle to fit in with the beliefs of individuals within that community. However the more they belong and develop personal relationships, the more open they are to change as they see that the beliefs of individuals in the community being modelled. They desire to be part of that community so they return to check it out. They sometimes don't like what they see, so they fall back on what is familiar and what is liked. Christian communities sometimes claim to cater for secular people but many are hostile environments where the needs of secular people are not met. While most Churches do not focus on secular people, they can provide an environment where both Christians and secular people are catered for. But when you think about it, secular people don't want to be "catered for" in a "safe, non-threatening environment". They are not looking for a "safe place to hear a dangerous message". They are looking for a place that they can be real. Their cry is more " show me what your deal is and let me decide if I want to join up or not". If you really listen to secular people you'll discover that their felt needs are quite deep. They have the need for meaning, the need for purpose, the need for forgiveness, and the need for love. They want to know how to make right decisions, how to protect their family, how to handle suffering and how to have hope in our world. These are deep issues. Secular people are therefore more likely to see how a Christian belief system could work for them as their needs are met. Often they desire to experience the benefits of these beliefs as they see that these beliefs can be true for them. Often a person can wake up one morning after living in real relationships with a community of Christians, and say "Hey! I believe this stuff now. They then discover that these beliefs are more about a relationship with Jesus that is to be experienced, as opposed to an intellectual knowledge about him. When we understand what belonging involves, we see why it is more fundamental than believing or behaving. If we start with belonging, then believing and behaving naturally fall into place. But if we start with believing or behaving, it is often hard to get belonging into the picture. There are people who believe what the Church teaches, but drop out of a supporting community as they don't feel a part of it. However those who do feel part of the community they will want to get involved. A few years ago I regularly visited a pub in New Zealand called Bar Bodega, where, when normally there was a band on stage, a microphone was offered to those present. This "open mic" allowed people to turn up and recite poetry or tell stories. Many Christians would call this "a time of sharing", and that is exactly what it was. Many items sounded offensive or stupid, others were quite creative. Every item was applauded and there was a sense of community at that venue. As soon as one member of the crowd finished, another took their place behind the microphone. I could just picture Jesus sitting at the back of that venue on a bar-stool, listening to that "sharing time" and talking to those around him. Jesus would certainly patronise places like Bodega, and where Jesus is, there should his people be also. But just as his people hesitate to frequent such places, so secular people hesitate to frequent churches, even if they are seekers. They need to be welcomed. As secular people become familiar and friendly with those in the church community they too will want to play their part in that community. If we have nothing in common with secular people, we don't understand their world, and can't speak their language, how can we hope to reach them? But the great chasm that exists between the church and contemporary society has to be bridged. This chasm has been caused by the church's inability to communicate the gospel effectively in today's culture. This ineffectiveness is often as a direct result of the social and relational gap between church-going Christians and their neighbours. Many Christians will not be able to recall having a meal or a drink with six non-Christian friends within the past six months, but have probably had a meal or a drink with six Christian friends within the past six weeks. As we retreat into the Christian subculture we lose the ability to speak the same language as secular people and to understand the context that the gospel needs to be presented. Secular culture is nothing more than the values, beliefs, hopes and dreams of the people we are trying to reach. When we totally remove ourselves from it, we miss out on the greatest tool that we have to understand those who need Christ. In the church world, we're always putting a negative prefix on people outside the church: Unchurched, non-believers, unsaved. "We're defining people by what they're not," says Todd Hahn, the lead pastor at Warehouse 242, a US Church that caters for secular and postmodern people. "There are more people who are not Christians than who are, so that makes them, statistically, normal. So that's what we call them." I`d prefer to call them what they are: normal; but seekers, secular, postmodern, atheist… Christians maintain secular people are suspicious of any evangelising motives, but in reality, those in the Christian community need to work a lot harder in getting to know and understand secular people rather than labelling such people as "them", automatically putting up psychological barriers. Another reason for the gap between "them and us" is the community's lack of understanding of the Church. They act as if it doesn't exist because they are not welcomed into it. Many in the community do not have close friends who are Christians. Furthermore, there is not a recognised voice amongst the Christian community that is big enough to influence society or even adequately challenge the surrounding culture. The more you get to know and be friends with secular people, the barriers between "them" and "us" are more likely to be broken down and eventually eliminated, and you eventually begin to wonder why this barrier was erected in the first place. If we want to be a "church without walls" I believe we, as individuals, have to knock down the wall of the "them and us" mentality and build relational bridges. There are many approaches that can lead to a better understanding of secular people and sometimes an unorthodox approach will be most likely to provide the best results. Most evangelistic church services consist of Christians telling fellow Christians why secular people shouldn't believe the way they believe. The problem is that most do not understand a secular worldview because they mix with people who share the same world but talk about people who they don't often come into contact with. One church decided to change that with "reverse evangelism" - it got secular people to speak at their services. The leaders took to the pews and secular people were invited to explain to the congregation why they weren't Christians. The biggest stumbling block to these secular people was the organization made up of the very people they were speaking to - the church. They noted that the church was irrelevant so they saw the faith communicated by the church also just as irrelevant. But as Christians listen to the secular viewpoints they begin to understand why many people do not embrace the Christian faith. This erases barriers between secular and Christian people, viewing results in terms of conversations, not conversions. As Christians dialogue with secular perspectives they are more likely to effectively communicate the gospel message as their understanding of secular people increases. As Christians understand secular worldviews and points of view they will be in a better position to communicate their message in a way that will connect with secular people. Maybe more churches should try reverse evangelism so their leaders can understand how to make their environment pagan friendly, encouraging Christians to share their faith as they develop positive relationships with their secular friends.