I’ve been reading sections of Andy Stanley’s new book Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend. It’s important to realize that Stanley wants to be sensitive to the unchurched. This does not mean you water down the message. Indeed, he says “As a preacher, it’s my responsibility to offend people with the gospel.” But knowing that he says they “work hard not to offend them in the parking lot, the hallway, at check-in, or in the early portions of the service. We want people to come back the following week for another round of offending!” (222) Because of this he notes that in the “pre-service experience, comfortable takes precedence over theological.” (210) They choose all their pre-service music “with a first time, unchurched person in mind. We include a mixture of familiar secular and not-so-familiar worship tunes as people enter the worship center.” (211) They are fully aware that these “songs don’t ‘glorify God’ [and] Yes, the artists who sing some of those songs are pagans. But none of that bothers us. Our goal isn’t to create an environment that is ‘set apart from the world.’ We are up to something way more significant than that. We want to change the world.” (213, Emphasis mine.) Other elements of this “template” substituting the word “singing” for “worship.” He asks,
“As a Christian, if you were attending a weekend gathering at a mosque, and the person upfront invited everyone to worship, what would you think? I know what I would think: Uh-oh! Can I do this? Am I betraying my faith? Putting unbelievers or different kinds of believers in situations where they feel forced to worship is incredibly unfair. It’s offensive. It’s bait and switch. It’s insulting. But what are they going to do? Remain seated? Leave? Their only other option is to stand and pretend to be going along with something they don’t understand or believer. Now we’ve made hypocrites out of them! Never thought about that, did you? Know why? Because our natural inclination is to create churches for churched people.” (215)
I have to stop here and ask what did the unbeliever think he was going to do at church, fly kites? He had to know he was coming to a place where Christians worship and by entering the building he was going to participate. If I go to a mosque I know I’m going to a place of worship. To avoid being in an awkward situation I simply don’t go. But if I do go and try my best to participate I don’t think it would be fair to claim my efforts would be hypocritical. And I certainly don’t see this as an example of bait and switch. Bait and switch would only exist if they unchurched person thought he was going to get one thing and instead was given another. But I have to come back to my original question: what did this person think he was going to do in a church?
Now I want to contrast this with something I read some years ago in Mark Galli’s book Beyond Smells and Bells. Galli speaks of the wonders and, yes, the relevance of liturgy.
“authentic worship of this God must, at some level, remain incomprehensible. Worship that enables us to encounter the living God should leave worshipers a bit stupefied” (49).
‘The liturgy begins . . . as a real separation from the world’ writes Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann. He continues by saying that in the attempt to ‘make Christianity understandable to this mythical ‘modern’ man on the street.’ We have forgotten this necessary separation. Precisely at this point the liturgy takes people out of their worlds and ushers them into a strange new world, to show them that, despite appearances, the last thing in the world they need is more of the world out of which they’ve come. The world the liturgy reveals does not seem relevant at first glance, but it turns out that the world it reveals is more real than the one we inhabit day by day.” (56-57 Emphasis mine.)
“Our culture is the transitory thing, an apparition that will someday have to pass away, just as childhood has to pass away. The liturgy greets us as we enter, ‘You’re in the culture of God and his kingdom now. Things will be different from now on.’” (60)
What do you think? Is the church for the churched or unchurched? Admittedly, the question does bifurcate the issue. Perhaps the better question is who is the church primarily intended for: the churched or unchurched?