I’ve been reading an article entitled, “You’re So Depraved, You Probably Think This Church is About You”. It’s an attention seeking headline which, I presume, was grabbed from the song, “You’re So Vain, You Probably Think this Song is about You”.
What on earth does the author mean? What’s he trying to say?
The author firstly picks up his Bible and uses it to drill into the basic constitution of all people. Drawing upon verses from Genesis 3 and Ephesians 2, he observes that apart from God’s supernatural work of grace, we’re all spiritually dead. Therefore, the unredeemed cannot not save themselves and don’t want to save themselves because they love to sin. Indeed, “the unbeliever’s most essential problem is not that they’re ignorant, apathetic, or rudderless, but that they’ve personally, wilfully and happily rebelled against the God who made them”.
For this reason sin is not a social label for bad people. It is a word which describes a total alienation from God on account of deliberate rebellion. Rom 3:11 then comes as no surprise, “no one understands; no one seeks for God”. We ought not be surprised that people will not seek our church. We cannot expect those dead in sin to lob on our front door looking for salvation. Now perhaps there are other reasons why people don’t visit us, namely, the broader scourge of sexual abuse within the church, a church largely unknown in the community, a bad encounter with a Christian person.
But there is also a theological reason why people don’t come knocking on our door. Dead people don’t come looking for life because … well … they’re dead. For this reason, churches committed to “attractionalism” often by-pass gospel matters. As the writer says, “Churches committed to attractionalism seek to curry favour among outsiders by highlighting how similar their members are to the world, whereas the Bible ties the church’s attractiveness to its distinctness from the world (Mt. 5:16, 1 Pet. 2:12)”.
Attractionalism is bad. Attracting unbelievers is good. As Alex Duke goes onto say, “Every church should want to attract unbelievers. In fact, 1 Corinthians 11-14 assumes their presence in our gatherings. Every time a church gathers, unbelievers should not only be welcomed but directly addressed; it should be a “safe place” for them, where their lifestyles will be challenged, not disrespected, where they’ll face confrontation, not prejudice.
Every church should desire to be attractive to the unsaved. We seek to be attractive by planning our gatherings with a concern for clarity and intelligibility (1 Cor. 11-14). We seek to be attractive by preaching sermons that offer connections to their worldview (Acts 17). We seek to be attractive by being hospitable (Heb. 13:2) and meeting needs (Matt. 25:35). We seek to be attractive by being people of sincerity, commissioned by God to speak of Christ with confidence that the knowledge of him will be a fragrance of life to some, and death to others (2 Cor. 2:14-17)”. And I can add that we seek to be attractive by having a building that is warm, comfortable and fit for purpose.
Our challenge is to be an attractive church without the pitfalls of attractionalism. Let’s never be so vain as to think that St Stephen’s is about us when it is about the Lord Jesus and his mission in our world.