by Mark and Tina Salisbury, of Journey Vineyard in Tauranga
God invites the church to be a place of worship, a place to gather, a place to celebrate, a place of teaching and discipleship . . . but also a safe place that He can bring the lost and broken who are desperately seeking.
The longer we attempt to do this at Journey Vineyard, the more we’re learning that unless you intentionally build culture (like becoming a church for the unchurched) into your church community, it probably won’t happen.
We want to be a church that creates a safe place for people who do not know the love of God to come and encounter His transforming power. We use the tagline “Belong, Believe, Become”.
We have three main points to share about creating a church culture the unchurched love:
Creating a culture of acceptance and grace
Jesus accepted us all – as is, where is. There weren't any conditions beyond, believe in our heart and confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, for us to enter into relationship with Him. Isaiah 55 says to all who are thirsty, come to the waters and drink. We need to create a place that all who are being drawn to discover God are welcome.
But we can unknowingly place barriers in front of people who are seeking. They don't know our dress code, our language, our traditions, or culture. Coming to church for the first time is scary for those unfamiliar with it. They carry all kinds of assumptions and expectations of what we and God may think of them. It takes great courage or even desperation to walk through our doors. Will we judge them? Will we reject them? Are they good enough? We need to show them the same grace Jesus gave us.
Having a large front porch, wide front door environment allows people to discover or grow closer to Jesus in community.
Jesus accepted people exactly as they came to Him. He loved them where He found them and then transformed them with love and grace and truth. So should we.
We have been very intentional in creating a safe culture for people to come into, teaching our people to be welcoming of others however they come. One of the life groups we have run annually for those new to Journey Vineyard is called “No Perfect People Allowed”, taken from the book of the same title by John Burke. This tool has been a huge help to intentionally reinforce and promote our culture.
Creating a culture of being real (authentic)
Most of us when we were kids spent many hours pretending to be someone who caught our imagination – having super powers, being doctors, nurses, firemen, soldiers . . . pastors.
Unfortunately many adults carry on this behaviour into adulthood, wearing all sorts of masks and thinking they need to be something they aren’t. Even in our churches.
We challenge the “nice” answers and seek the “real” ones. We invite people into a place of authenticity.
It’s okay to struggle, to question, even to stumble. People are terrified that if they were to be real they wouldn’t be accepted, so they hide. They hide in plain site around us. But as we are real and they see a healthy community, where people may question and doubt and stumble, but they are surrounded, encouraged and supported to keep going and growing, they feel safe, the barriers come down, the masks begin to come off and lives are transformed.
Jesus said He came to set the captives free. And we don't think that only refers to our sinful natures, but also being released from expectations and burdens that others have put on us and we have put on ourselves.
We have found that people love and are attracted to a community that pursues being real with each other. It’s liberating for people when they hear that we, the leaders, or others in the community, haven't got it all together. It frees them to be real. We remind each other we are all on a journey and none of us has arrived yet.
Creating a loving community
On the last Sunday of each month we have a meeting that is a little different, where someone in our community shares their story. Perhaps it’s how they encountered Jesus, or maybe what He is doing in their life right now. After the message we have a shared meal. Sharing food together and the natural conversations that happen over a meal are fantastic ways to build relationships, friendships and generally get to know each other better.
These are usually our biggest Sundays of the month and the ones where people bring their unchurched family and friends. The feedback from these guests is always so positive, and they often come back. As a wise pastor once told us, people may come for events or programmes, but they stay for relationships.
John 13:34 says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Another way we try to intentionally create a sense of community is beginning our time together with coffee and tea and mingling for 20 minutes before worship.
Over these few short years we have seen random acts of kindness spontaneously spring up as one family in need provides for another. We’ve seen people doing chores for others because they are on bed rest, food boxes delivered, countless meals provided, homeless youth given places to stay. To see this happen spontaneously is a sign of a healthy, loving community.
We are aware the church can be very big on truth and sometimes not so big on grace. We cannot be either/or. To become a church the unchurched love, we need to be both/and.
So let’s open the door wide, let’s allow the extravagant, lavish love of Jesus to pour through us, let’s lovingly engage the world around us and offer the broken and thirsty the Living Water they seek.