This week I returned to my old stomping grounds in Dallas, Texas. My wife and I lived in Carrollton and Arlington while we were still dating and for the first few years of our marriage. It’s amazing how things have changed just in and around our old apartment complex where we used to live in a relatively short amount of time. We also visited an area of town known for it’s high end shopping and stores and restaurants. I had my first experience in an IKEA store, which upon entering, my wife declared, “Welcome to the mother ship of shopping!” Boy, was she right! Rows and rows of things that you never knew you needed until they were displayed in an oh-so-friendly manner. And, there was room after room of all kinds of things for your home. We wound in and out of the aisles and I realized that they were herding us in one direction like a cow heading towards the branding chute. But, I was so amazed by all the products and displays that, hey, I didn’t really mind all that much. And, I have to say, the prices were really good on a lot of things. And, there was all kinds of furniture and closets and kitchens that you could design on your own or with the help of one of the associates. Closet systems, tables, entire kitchens, even entire homes could all be designed to your liking.
As we were leaving, I thought about how our churches have become much like my experience at IKEA. We try to offer something for everyone. We try to offer the slickest, coolest kids program in town. Our youth program is second to none – complete with video games and their own worship experience. We have every kind of small group imaginable. Our programs reflect our culture much of the time, and dare I say it, maybe even more than they reflect the heart of Jesus? We want to reach people and think that by offering all these programs and a “build your own church experience” mentality that the people will come and we’ll be able to speak to them and share the Gospel.
We tend to ask the questions, “What do people want? What will bring them into the building? What can we offer them to keep them? How can we draw people into our building?” But, how many times do we stop and ask ourselves, “What would Jesus want? How can we go outside of the building to reach people? How do we meet people where they are like Jesus did? What will make the people want to go out of the building and share the Gospel and serve Jesus and the community?”
To be fair, I believe that many of these pastors and people running these programs have great hearts and want to do the right thing and want to reach people for Christ. But what Gospel are we presenting to the people who walk through the doors? Are we presenting a “Choose your own Gospel adventure…” Or are we presenting the way of the Cross? Are we presenting the “Lay it all down because that is what Christ has asked us to do” Gospel? Or do we continue to present a “Come to church, give more money, and bring more friends” because that’s what a good little Christian does kind of Gospel? Much of the time, though, it seems we continue to ask the wrong questions. How would our experience of church differ if we started asking different questions? Maybe some of it would look the same. Maybe a LOT of it would look very differently. But, the first step is to start asking different questions.
And leave the design-it-yourself experiences to IKEA. Because, let’s face it, they do a great job at it!