What are you going to do? You should have answered the question early on. Why is it always the same jack-in-the-box church that pops up all the time?
Church history doesn’t remember the guys who just unpacked an Ikea prefab church in the middle of another neighborhood like a British colonialist observing tea time in the blistering Sahara desert complete with crumpets and cucumber sandwiches. Church history remembers the guys like Whitefield, Wesley, Moody, Lloyd-Jones, Seth Joshua, C.S. Lewis, and William Booth. It remembers the guys who saw that the gospel was failing to connect with those outside the church and did something different. They were mission focused and their zeal to connect the gospel to the lost unleashed some creative means of reaching them.
When I train church planters, I’m often shocked by the lack of creativity in order to reach the lost. Whitefield recovered open air preaching because he realized that the Kings Colliery coal miners would never darken the doors of a church. Bible in hand, and sermon in heart, Whitefield mounted a tree stump and preached the crucified Christ. When he told Wesley, the future Methodist leader was scandalized, and told George not to do it again. Seth Joshua pitched a boxing ring in the midst of a South Welsh town and advertised the fight of the century. When people turned up, Joshua announced that the devil was about to get a hiding. Souls were saved after the Spirit driven gospel preaching delivered the knockout punch.
Training young planters, I’ve had to learn creative ways to reprogram men trained for ministry so that they’re not completely ruined for it. We visit a laundromat with a notebook. We sit and do laundry. We watch, and pray. We don’t do much else. We’re scouting out the land in almost any interconnecting hub in the community where people from different walks of life congregate with time on their hands. We ask the question, what are people doing here? Why are they here? How are they occupying their time? What would they value? How could church be valuable to them? How would you reach this crowd if you did church here? This could apply to a coffee shop, a bar, an AA meeting, a public park, an outdoor mall. Right now, we’re contemplating renting a corner gas station in the heart of the ghetto in Long Beach.
You see, I’ve started a church in a Starbucks, in a park in the open air, and run a mission in a gay coffee house. I’ve gone to inner city neighborhoods and run church outside at the park benches serving breakfast at tables right before worship starts. I’m a missionary at heart, and I can’t switch it off like a light switch. The last thing the neighborhood where Refuge Long Beach is in needs is a fancy logo, a big overhead projector, theater seating, and a service that says “we value expensive equipment and running a good show more than we value you”. At the outset of going into that neighborhood I began to ask questions like “How do I reach black, hispanic, and asian residents in this neighborhood?” The first thing that came to me was to stop running it like a white middle class church. You probably don’t even know what I mean.
Fake smiles, staring at the back of each other’s heads, Starbucks cup in hand, funny white preacher speaking like a Hallmark card, white people playing white music vainly resembling a musak hybrid of U2 and Coldplay with no soul. No multiethnic leaders, no worship played on a mixing desk, and no talking about real life problems like Child Protective Services, late welfare checks, Police shooting your newly saved relatives in cold blood, addiction, overdose, homelessness, transgender issues, or child molestation. These are the problems we deal with every Sunday. We feed them breakfast. They feed us the real world.
We set out to be a church that would become all things and changed our tune from the Sunshine Band’s “Play That Funky Music White Boy” to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” Some church planters haven’t even thought about race issues, furthering the statistical trend in the West that the gospel tends to travel white middle class pathways. There’s no money in the neighborhoods where the gospel is most needed, and therefore churches don’t tend to go there, but I think there’s another reason. I believe that most young preachers don’t believe that they can reach these neighborhoods because they’re white. The reality is that love never fails and people hear love before they ever detect your accent. Paul the Apostle as a Jewish pharisee went to people, cultures, and cities that couldn’t be more different than he was, yet he committed himself to become all things to all men to win some.
Buy Peyton’s newest book “Reaching The Unreached: Becoming Raiders of the Lost Art” over on Amazon.com. You can also download a free chapter and watch a cool trailer for the book HERE or click the image below.