JOHN PEARRELL: Church should make outsiders feel welcome

Churches must make outsiders feel welcome

Last week, we began to look at the subject of the appeal -- or lack thereof -- of the church in general. We can accept the lie that people are not interested in our church because "these are the last days" (See 2 Timothy 3:1-5 & 4:1-5) and circle our wagons to survive until either Jesus comes or our church dies. That's one plan.

The other plan is we can face the truth that maybe the reason people are not interested in church is because we have made church uninteresting.

A few years ago, my wife and I went to see Celtic Thunder at the Fox Theater. I really enjoy this group and looked forward to the live performance. As the concert began, though, I found myself disappointed and as it moved forward I found myself regretting having come; I was not enjoying it at all. The first half was a complete bust for me. After the intermission, all that changed; suddenly I found myself reconnected and excited.

What changed? It was the same group, but the difference between the first and second half was as different as night and day for me. Why?

During the first half the group sang new songs, ones I was unfamiliar with and, instead of being drawn into the concert, I was disappointed and considering an early exit. In the second half, they began to sing the familiar tunes that had drawn me to their music in the first place, and I was once again drawn in and engaged.

A similar thing happens in our churches on any given Sunday. If we focus on what is very familiar to the members and forget that non-members are present, we will leave those non-members feeling unconnected and give them a reason not to return.

Here's what I know: as long as my focus is on those already connected with the church, I am going to assure the church that only those who are already connected are going to be in attendance. Any church growth will come not from non-church people coming to join us but will come from disgruntled insiders moving from their current church to a new church; insiders joining other insiders.

In Jesus' day, those who wanted to worship God went to the temple. It was designed for exclusivity -- keeping people out. If you were a Gentile, you got to stand around in an outer court. There were signs warning you that if you weren't Jewish and went beyond this certain point, you would be executed.

If you were a Jewish woman, you could go into the next area, the court of the women. If you were a good Jewish man, you got to go one step closer to the court of men. If you were a priest, you got to go to the place of the inner court where the altar was, and if you were the high priest, once a year you actually got to go into the Holy of Holies.

The very place designed for worship of God was divided in such a way as to limit who could access God.

Today we may not have various courts in our churches, but I can pretty much guarantee that we have erected spiritual walls that are as just as effective as keeping the uninitiated out as were the various courts of the temple system.

If we are going to be a church that focuses on the people Jesus focused on (the lost and not the found), we need to learn how to engage those outside the church early in the process if we hope to involve them and move them to our point.

Until we learn how to engage those outside of the church, to make them feel welcomed, we are not the church Jesus said He would build; we are not the called out body of believers but we are a segregated country club for members only.

I know there are those who are uncomfortable and disagree with this philosophy. What I would like to see is the church once again becoming the city on the hill she should be, a place that is as attractive to the unchurched as Jesus was to the disenfranchised of His day.

Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.