It seems obvious; unbelievers aren't interested in church because they're, well, unbelievers. The tragedy is that they have no interest in Jesus, who is very interested in them! So we sigh sadly about the hardness of their hearts, we pray, and resign ourselves to continuing on in our church activities,thankful for our own salvation. We wish we knew how to reach them.
We design specific church activities as "outreach" and bravely invite our unsaved friends and family members. Easter is the prime example of this, but it can also be vacation bible school, family-oriented activities like movie nights, Mother's Day banquets or father-daughter dances. Marriage conferences will often attract even an unbelieving spouse, because who doesn't want a better marriage?
Yet as long as I have been in the church, I see no great harvest of souls from this. It seems we get them in the door, but they don't fall for the sales pitch. They must know it's coming too..."here comes the 'gospel' of 'Jesus died on the cross for your sins' etc." They politely sit through it, but it has no effect on them. Really I admire their courage to enter the unfamiliarity of a church culture where they don't belong out of love for the friend who brought them.
Do we venture out so bravely into their world? The birthday party or weekend camping trip where we are the only believers? Do we invite them into our homes and lives? Or are we too busy with our church commitments to have time for friendships? Sadly, do we even have time for friendships with our fellow believers?
The Lord has been convicting me of a lot of these things lately. He has allowed us to not have a church home for the last few months, and in that, has opened our eyes to what it's like to be outside of church culture. It's been a difficult and lonely time. Gabe and I both grew up in church and have been "church attenders" for most of our lives, aside from a few years' hiatus in our twenties. Now we are desiring to be followers of Jesus, not just those who go to church. And He designed us to follow Him both individually and in community. So the loss of community leaves a huge emptiness in our lives. But it has been strangely difficult for "church" as we find it in our culture to fill that hole.
We've been faithful to "attend" each week, earnestly seeking to find the place where He would plant us. We try to stay open to new relationships, varieties of worship styles and teaching styles. We listen carefully for solid Biblical truth and turn quickly from anything else. Our kids have to greet a new Children's Ministry program every few weeks and miss their old friends. They have had good Bible teachers in church in the past and are discerning of those who are not. It's hard for them too. We look for the Holy Spirit to meet us wherever God's people are gathered. And He does. I cry a lot in worship, begging Him to fill me up for another week, another day.
But if I were an unbeliever just checking the God thing out, I'd have given up on church a long time ago. It would feel awkward and empty. I'd rather work in the garden or sleep in on Sunday. The Holy Spirit and our pursuit of Jesus is all that keeps us pursuing fellowship with His bride. Somehow, it shouldn't be this hard. We are pursuing the church, but it doesn't feel like it is pursuing us. Honestly it seems the church thinks it us just fine without a few more crazy Jesus followers with a lot of baggage. Except isn't that who the church us made up of?
Here's a scary thought: Does the unbelieving world feel the same way? Do they feel like the church had no real interest in them or their lives? If they aren't ready to fit into our "Jesus culture" why would a seeker keep coming to our churches? They wouldn't. Or, another scary thought, they try to fit in out of a longing for community or a desire to please a spouse or parent. But they never commit their lives to Jesus and know Him. And we think they're okay because they attend our churches and maybe even volunteer for stuff. But when it gets hard, they fall away. And again, we sigh sadly about their hardness of heart.
But did we ever show them what following Jesus really is? Because when you know that, when you want nothing more than to be close to Him, you can't leave it.
This time has drawn all of us closer to Him and deeper into His Word and personal/family worship than ever before. It has given us time for friends who we would have been too busy for when our lives were filled with church commitments. It is a blessing but a hard one. It seems we can't hold onto our ideas of what we think we need and open our hands to receive what God has for us at the same time.
All I know is, He is faithful. And I trust that someday we will see exactly the purpose of this valley we are in. I hope my unbelieving friends, new and old, will see that He is very real to us, no matter what.