My wife and I were out for our daily walk. There was a couple of inches of snow on the ground that had begun falling the night before. The daylight was far spent, and the busyness of the daytime traffic was coming to an end. As we passed by a local drinking establishment, I noticed that the entry to the parking lot had the snow compressed under the weight of car tires that had entered the lot. The bar had seen a number of visitors by the time we passed by in the late afternoon.
Wondering about the busyness of the place and how it might compare to a local church, we decided to extend our walk through town to have a look. The first church we passed had a solitary set of footprints leading up to the main door. However, they veered to the right just before reaching the door continuing on the sidewalk and away from the building. The next church had a parking lot to compare. In the picture you can see some tire tracks of vehicles that drove through the lot, but there is no sign of anyone having parked there throughout the day. However, the sidewalks next to the church had been cleared of snow.
The bar has something to offer, but so does the church. The bar offers a physical way to alter the state of consciousness of its visitors through the enticing effects of alcohol. The church is supposed to offer the life-changing Gospel (2 Corinthians 5:17). The bar offers a chance to socialize with like-minded fellows. The church is supposed to offer the same thing. The bar charges you for its product. The church knows the Gospel is free for every human being (Romans 6:23, John 3:16, John 14:6, Ephesians 2:8-9). Though I have often made the joke that they do not charge you to get into church and only charge you to get out, the truth is that the gift of eternal life is from God, and it is a free gift to all who would receive it.
The rule of supply and demand is at work in the disparity of use when considering the traffic through the parking lots of the local bar and the church. I used to be able to say that at least the bars were closed on Sunday as the churches opened their doors, but that is no longer the case. Many bars can be open on Sunday, and many churches have cut back on the number of services they offer due to dwindling interest and lack of funds. The bar supplies a product and atmosphere that is in demand. The churches are often seen by the lost as formal places you go and pretend for an hour or so to be something you are not to appease the flesh’s compulsion to do something religious.
No, not all churches are like that, but enough of them are seen that way as to establish a mindset in the community of what the church is and is not. Does that mean churches should switch to providing entertainment and products to grab some market share away from the bars? No, most absolutely not. The church should not pretend to be something it is not just the same as those who come into it should not think for a moment that they need to pretend either.
What we should be doing as the church—the body of Christ—is being about the business of building relationships. There is no doubt that people are hurting. There is no doubt that nerves are on edge, people are afraid and people are hungry both for physical as well as real food. There is no doubt that the knowledge of the word of Almighty God is sorely lacking in an entire generation of children rising up to take over the reigns of the world today.
There is no doubt that people are looking for a way out. They are looking for a way to be delivered from their pain, worry, fear, anxiety, grief, anger, financial woe and confusion. They need to see that there is a place where they can go to hear the truth that answers the questions in their spirits rather than suppressing the reality of their need for God’s salvation by a chemical contained in a cold beer, chilled wine or strong shot of bourbon.
This article could go on for thousands of words looking at the reasons of the flattened snow in the bar parking lot and the relatively untouched snow of the church parking lot. However, the one opportunity for change I want to suggest to all the community congregations out there that preach the Gospel of Christ is to minister for a mile outside your doors. That is, take 2015 and work to let every neighbor within a mile of your doors in every direction know who you are and what you offer. Most community churches could fill the pews many times over with just a fraction of the residents who live within a mile.
It takes the work of the people who already attend. They need to not only enjoy the privilege of worship and instruction they receive but also be willing to share it by inviting their neighbors over and over again to come out and see. Years ago I went to church and got saved simply because someone invited me to go. God took care of the rest.