There is the old saying 'if you find a perfect church, don't join it, or you'll spoil it'. I'm not actually convinced most people are looking for a perfect church (and of course, most people aren't looking for a church at all). There is a dilemma at the heart of being a local Christian community which goes something like this:
1. When people visit on a Sunday, we want them to get a good impression, so that people who are attending just to check us out think 'that was good, I might go back'.
2. The church by its nature is a fellowship of sinners. Jesus came not for the healthy, but for the sick. So any church worth it's salt will have people at a variety of stages on their journey to wholeness. All loved by God and forgiven, but with a whole variety of character faults, persistent sins, stubborn bits of selfishness, pride, rudeness, status-seeking, insensitivity, oversensitivity, etc. If you exclude people like this, you have nobody left. A church engaging in mission, and drawing new people in, will be full of broken and partially redeemed people. Work in progress.
Spinning the Church?
1 and 2 are clearly in conflict with each other. Politicians have people like Alastair Campbell to help them hide their '2' bits from the general public to present an unremitting facade of '1', but after a while it all looks too fakey and unreal. I wonder if people coming to our churches are looking for things like relevance, decent seats, welcome, friendliness and good coffee, but also looking for somewhere where they can be a forgiven sinner like everyone else. A church that's too neat and tidy is probably a) faking it and b) one that people can't really belong to without having to put on an act.
Stick or twist. Can we embrace authentic brokenness, and a high quality for our 'shop front' Sunday morning worship? Are the two mutually exclusive, or are they one and the same?
What are we doing anyway?
I guess it depends where you start.
- If you see Sunday morning as an 'act of worship', which people attend, then you might lean towards wanting to buff things up to look good.
- If you see Sunday morning as the gathering of a community which people are already part of, then authenticity and relationships take centre stage.
- If Sunday morning is primarily about mission: those who have been given the good news getting together to be equipped to share it with the world, to pray for that world, and to encourage each other, then maybe it's about both.
Of course, the church all three of these: worship, community and mission. Our problems come when we take one in isolation from the others.
So welcome to the beautiful, broken, body of Christ, blessed and offered to the world by God for its healing and renewal. And to paraphrase Gladiator, if you find yourself walking into the perfect church, do not be troubled, you're in Heaven and you're already dead.