I s’pose the notion of keepin’ it real is important to most of us. And it’s more valid than this phrase’s association with less-than-desirable elements of society suggests. In other words, just because hoods and hoodlums in hoodies use the phrase doesn’t mean the idea is bad. To be “real” is to be relevant, honest, and genuine, right?
For nearly as long as I’ve been aware of so-called seeker-sensitive churches,¹ I’ve thought the descriptor represented a worthy goal, but apparently not a readily attainable one. I mean, every church I’ve ever visited (a good number — score and scores, if not hundreds) has been “churchy” in one way or another. Being “churchy” seems inherently not “real” and not seeker-sensitive, right?
It’s more than a tad ironic that each of the churches I’ve visited has probably thought it was fairly, or even extremely, seeker-sensitive. Churches’² opinions of themselves rarely resemble the public’s opinion of said churches — rendering the churches’ self-generated opinions fairly useless. (Footnotes³ in a blogpost are also fairly useless, but sometimes they help to eradicate parenthetical expressions [except in this case].)
The real question for would-be seeker-sensitive groups to consider: how would a church go about being attractive to those outsiders who might show up, actively seeking what a church has to offer? Being attractive doesn’t equate to being real, but the two are related. No one really likes fake. No one is deeply drawn to facades and veneers.
Knowing this, a church in Delaware takes as its slogan “real church for real people.” A church in rural New York tries to attract outsiders, as well. One succeeds more than the other, in my estimation — if success is tied in any way to the name of the church, at least:
- In DE, the name “The Journey” (“Your Journey” in its URL) seems inherently honest to me.
- In NY, the name “Joy Community Church” strikes me as off-putting to real people with real lives.
It’s not that people don’t want joy. It’s that real life doesn’t consist entirely in joy, and if I’m feeling seeky or needy or searching, I’m not going to be drawn to a group that erects a joy facade to hide behind. Few people experience joy as a life-motif, I’m convinced. So, leaving that NY group’s pretense aside (c’mon, stop humming “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart . . .”), let’s talk more about the first group. It’s the one I’ve actually visited, and it does “real” pretty well, in my estimation. . . .
The DE church, which my old friend Bob had invited us to visit when in town, is called “The Journey.” And what about this metaphor of the life-journey? It’s a cliché, and I sometimes tire of the surface-level interest in the so-called “Christian walk” or “faith journey,” but “journey” really is an appropriate simile. Undergirding this idea, we have a prominent figure of speech in the gospel of Mark: following Jesus on the way.
I would here inject a reference to a couple of prior posts on Mark’s content:
These both mention the centrality of following, of walking. Authentic discipleship may well be summarized as “following Jesus on the way.” The individual believer’s discipleship is to be seen as eclipsing inherited membership & institutional establishmentarianism. Not only is “walking Christianly through life’s journey” a realistic descriptor for the contemporary mind; it’s also a biblically apt metaphor.
Now, back to real response and analysis. . . .
All the while at The Journey, I’m sitting there considering my real-life journey, because of the name. Then as I drift in and out of awareness of those around me, I’m thinking thoughts like, “I wonder what that guy’s journey has been like” and “Is that guy hearing the same way, and making the same applications for his journey as I am for mine?” There’s something relevant about making church gatherings tie in to the real living of real lives, and speaking in terms of “the journey of life” is one way to tie in.
The Journey has until recently been renting its facilities. I think that if a church is large enough to need a building, renting is the way to go. It’s less wasteful. The Journey’s facility has been an office-type space in an industrial park, which strikes me as “real.” The group is preparing to inhabit its own facility (seen at left) for the first time this coming weekend. Although I wish the group had spent its money on something else, I have to give it credit for a) using rented facilities for years and b) not going into more debt to build anything new or elaborate, but rather, purchasing a pre-existing, vacant facility. If The Journey had continued renting, it might have been even better, but I wish it well and trust that it will do good things in its more visible, larger structure.
Also at The Journey church, there is a “lead” (not “senior”) pastor. I don’t know that this label has anything to do with sensitivity to less-churchy seekers — out in the world of workplace hierarchies, we find ample use of both terms — but I like “lead” better. At my age, I figure I’m allowed to have some simple preferences (and will leave it there, not complaining about the ubiquitous, non-biblical use of the word “pastor” right now.) “Lead” seems to speak of function within a group more than calling attention to age or position. It communicates relevance and not stodgy hierarchianism.
Mark, the lead pastor, is not referred to with the paradoxically irreverent label “reverend,” a ghastly vestige of Latin/Roman origins. Inviting ears to attune to his message rather than appearing to demand that respect be shown to a titled position, Mark connects his own real life and inward feelings to that of “average Joe.” In my (admittedly spotty) experience, he does this convincingly and without facade, also connecting these human experiences to biblical narrative and imperatives. In the lobby, I see Mark doing the preacher thing a bit — meeting and greeting, you know…. But I observe that while Mark is thinking about, and talking to, those who might be “seekers,” he is all the while naturally moving back and forth between dealing with them and with those who are already disciples. Mark’s name, not incidentally, does not appear on the church’s “business cards” or on the sign in front of the building. I had to look all the way into the podcast section of the website to remind myself of his last name. Admirable! It’s not about him; it’s about everyone’s lives and souls.
An official “greeter” starts things off in an upbeat vein as the assembly gets underway. While this is mostly unnecessary for a temperament and get-down-to-business head like mine, I recognize that it helps most people to feel good, and the greeter serves this function well. Other evidences of being “in touch” with real life include provision of protected children’s environments and pretty good coffee. Coffee at church is also a cliché these days, but since you can’t avoid it, you might as well offer it (and tea, and maybe hot chocolate) in an attractive atmosphere. Add to all these things the general sense that friends are talking all around the lobby, and the considerate, all-too-often-ignored “visitors excepted” clause when an offering is taken, and you have a pretty inviting, seeker-sensitive church gathering.
I’ll soon share 1) The Journey’s “Who We Are/What We Believe” statement, and 2) a bit about the reality of music in The Journey church and in other, would-be seeker-friendly churches….
¹ Here, I’ll leave the ill-begotten “seeker-targeted” and “seeker-oriented” labels alone. “Seeker-sensitive” can certainly be a good thing, but church gatherings are for the church, after all, not for the seekers. Orienting “church” to seekers is counter-rational by definition. Other methods and events might well be considered for drawing in seekers.
² It’s been a long time since I harped on misplaced apostrophes. See this post for some fun. Just this morning, I read this “quote” of Acts 9:16 in an e-gram from a highly educated, respected editor/theologian: “I will show him how many things he must suffer for My names’ sake.” Now don’t go gettin’ all Christian-markety on me and say that God has many names. He really only has one. Anyway, I don’t think the other identifers/descriptors of God were in the picture there in Acts. It should have read, “I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s’ sake.”
³ It’s also been too long since I used footnotes in a blogpost. I once asked, in a physically posted print, whether anyone read my footnotes, and Randall responded, “I read your footnotes,” but he may be in a small crowd. 🙂