It’s a bit ironic that this post comes after a months-long hiatus from blogging (unintentional, I assure you – I just didn’t have anything I wanted to write). Ironic, because it goes back to why I started writing in the first place, and why I called this place ‘outside the door’. In an interview earlier today with local public radio station WYPR, the Artistic Director at Baltimore’s Center Stage theater, Kwame Kwei-Armah, mentioned a program that brings Center Stage productions to prisons and homeless shelters. He said that the program is designed to take art out of the building and bring it to people who wouldn’t ordinarily come inside the theater. By itself, a pretty cool idea. But, being the church guy that I am, I also immediately thought of parallels between Center Stage’s efforts, and attempts by the church to get outside of her doors and meet people where they are.
I heard a statistic recently that 82% of people in America would not come inside a church building. The implication is that if the church believes that Jesus has something to offer people through us, then we have to go outside our buildings in order to connect with the majority of those people. We have to take Jesus outside the building.
And in some ways, that’s kinda what Jesus did when he was here. He traveled from place to place; certainly teaching in synagogues when the opportunity was there – but also teaching in a boat, on a mountaintop, in homes and places of business. He met people on the road and in the towns where they lived. He went into their homes…and yes, occasionally had people break into someone else’s home to get to him.
It shouldn’t surprise us that 82% of people say they wouldn’t come inside a church. I mean, really, why would they want to? Apart from a few structures with minor historical interest, most church buildings are not remarkable. I hope 82% of people who don’t know me wouldn’t feel comfortable getting a random invite to come into my house either – I actually hope that number is closer to 100%. And this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon – people like the Wesleys and George Whitefield in the 1700s knew that they had to go outside the walls of their buildings if they wanted most people to hear their message.
But it is a good reminder that most people in our communities are not going to be found inside our buildings. The majority of people never come inside our churches. So if we want to connect with them, it has to happen where they already are. And that makes sense, right? People who do come into my home are friends that I have made when I’m outside of it – classmates and coworkers and random crazies at the bar (you know who you are). So thanks to Center Stage for taking art to those who can’t come inside the theater. It’s a good reminder for us in the church to get outside our buildings too.