What if asking non-believers what they want from the church isn't the best way What if that seems a lot like a marketing strategy, "We'll poll 1,000 people who say they do not believe in Christ, find out what they say their problems are with the church and why they don't believe, and change our message and our methods to fit their tastes."
Yesterday, I was listening to Doug Pagitt in an Emergent Village podcast from the 2007 Emergent Mainline Conference. Here is a story he told in his presentation, which is roughly 57 minutes into the podcast.
Last night at the bar(?)...there was some people sitting in a corner table, and I was walking by, and sort of struck up a conversation, they weren't with us. They're building a restaurant, and my wife and I are going to start this cafe, and we sort of started into this conversation about this thing we're going to do, and I talked to him. He said "So what are you here for?" And I said "Well I'm here with these pastors." And he said--we had this long conversation, and he said this...He said something to the sort of--he owns the coffee shop now and is buying the building next door to it to expand...he said "I was in my coffee shop today, and there were two people in there talking to each other, clearly in leadership of churches." He said "I'm not sure what it was, but I could just tell, I was kind of overhearing their conversation, and they were talking about 'this is what the church has to be, and the church has to be this and this', this is how he's describing it. 'The church has to be like this, and it has to do this, and it has to do this, and we have to get it that way'. The man at the restaurant, he said to me last night, "It was everything I could do to restrain myself, to not walk up and say to them, "Why in the h*** don't you ask the people what they want, instead of thinking you know everything?" Whoa. A little while later, he said, "My dad's from Minnesota, he went to (something) Academy, he was a pastor for a lot of years". Insider becomes outsider then talks back in.
Apologies for the asterisked profanity, that was the word Pagitt used.
Not having any idea of what those two supposed church leaders were talking about ('that' and 'that' are not very good indicators), I can't say much yea or nay about them. My concern is with Pagitt's seeming agrement with the coffee shop's owner that those church leaders, and by extention the church as a whole, should ask the people what they want, and perhaps be prepared to give it to them.
Church as marketing strategy.
Is that really what the Gospel is about?
Consider, please. What if Jesus had done this? What if He had gone around Israel, taking polls, trying to get the pulse of the people, trying to understand them and give them what they wanted? What if when He was asked about taxes, he had responded that yeah, it wasn't fair to pay to taxes to an oppressive repressive guy in some far-off palace in some far-away city who would only use it to conquer some other people. What if when a bunch of people followed Him around looking a free meal, he had decided to go ahead and provide that food for them, because heck that's what they wanted, right?
Why the h*** don't we ask the people what they want? Because what the people want is at best secondary. The church isn't about what the people want, it's about what God wants, and what people need. Wants aren't completely disregarded, no, but nor are they the ruling element.
Here is a thought from Pastor Elrod, in a recent of his called "Perception Is NOT Reality"...
To suggest that we allow the perception of those far from God (to) dictate the direction of the Church...instead of following the reality and Truth of God's Word...is a dangerous and flawed concept!!!
Christianity and the church are about passing on a message that is meant to change the hearers--repent, convert, believe in Christ, follow and obey Him, lay down your life for Him. It is not the hearers who are meant to change the message.