The church I pastor in Castle Rock, CO exists, at least statistically, in a surrounding culture that is highly unchurched. Yes, that is increasingly true throughout the United States; but Colorado is notably higher than the average when it comes to its unchurched population.
As a church we have a growing sense of calling to see God use us to draw people to Himself. We’re earnestly praying and seeking Him in that regard. We realize, I think, that we have a lot to learn. An added challenge (at least from certain perspectives) is that we remain firmly committed to the confessional tradition in which we exist as a church. Hopefully we aren’t just being stubbornly tribal; we actually believe these things are true. So how does a Reformed church effectively reach people around us who are highly unchurched? We’re wrestling with that question.
For that reason I found compelling a discussion from D.A. Carson concerning the relationship between “becoming and belonging” in the church. Some have advocated that the church must include everyone from the outset, that it should erase boundary lines entirely. By welcoming everyone, in this manner, the hope is that many will become believers. Belonging, in other words, should take precedent over becoming. The advocates argue such an approach is necessary to effectively reach people in our current context.
Carson argues that the church should maintain both priorities, and that they don’t have to be in antithesis. He illustrates his argument with an anecdote from a friend’s church in a major metropolitan area. The anecdote concerns a recently retired Harvard professor who found himself unexpectedly converted to Christianity in the context of this church’s ministry. Carson writes:
But what drew him, he said, was that these Christians knew him more thoroughly and transparently than his lifelong friends and colleagues. These Christians knew his name, of course, and his like and dislikes and went out of their way to get to know him, but more importantly, they knew him deeply–they genuinely understood what made him tick, what made him a human being, what moved him, and what he cherished, even though they made a clear distinction between who was a Christian and who wasn’t.
Not only does this example illustrate that churches can uphold both the priorities of becoming and belonging at the same time, but it seems to me it also reflects an element that ought to be a part of faithful outreach. We believe that God draws people to Himself. Whether or not that happens in individual cases, it is still right and good for us to know people for who they are–as people made in the image of God. We are free to genuinely love and care about people, without any strings attached. It is our belief in the truth of Scripture, in fact, that should compel us to such a genuine concern for people.