Last Sunday I asserted that our church, like the church in Colossae, has a mission problem. We are not living out the mission of God as he intends us to. To substantiate this point, I observed that while our Sunday attendance this fall is near 400, only about a fourth of that number are giving anything financially or pursuing church membership, and only about half are connected to a missional community.
Every time I make observations about giving or membership (which isn’t really very often), I can sense that I’m touching the third rail. People start getting defensive. Lots of people seem to feel like they should be able to hang out at a church as long as they want without being challenged to join the mission by becoming members, giving, and serving.
For non-Christians, skeptics, de-churched people, and those still detoxing from bad experiences in American evangelicalism: you bet. Hang out as long as you need. That’s part of gospel hospitality, and that’s what it means for us to be a missional church. (And after all, our whole paradigm for discipleship is relational, so you have to hang around for awhile to get involved.) But for those who don’t fall into those categories, here’s my plea: Don’t spiritualize your lethargy. It gets tiring as a leader to consistently hear things like “I just don’t feel the Spirit leading me that way” or “I’m still praying about it.” Christians are skilled at making excuses that would sound ridiculous in any other context.
In a conversation between services, a thoughtful friend of mine was asking some good questions, and I used a common-sense example that seemed to help. She works at a coffeehouse. I asked, “Suppose someone comes into your coffee shop, camps out at a table, logs onto the wi-fi, and uses the restroom – but never buys anything. That’s not cool, right? I mean, technically, someone can do that – it’s not illegal or unethical. But you would still consider that person a freeloader.”
“Yes,” she replied. Same deal at church. More people showing up means more resources being expended: more volunteers, more materials, more time, and eventually more staff and more space needed to facilitate the work of mission and discipleship. If many of those people are professing Christians who are not practicing biblical rhythms of giving and serving, there’s no difference between them and a coffeehouse freeloader.
So hey, professing Christians: if you are benefiting from the ministry of a church without supporting it, at least have the integrity to say so – and to amend your ways. Don’t spiritualize your objections. If the coffeehouse barista challenged you for taking up space without buying a drink, you’d think that was fair. Give your pastors the same latitude. The work of the gospel may not be as tangible as a cappuccino… but the same rules apply.