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Crazy Church—Why Christians Fear for Their Guests!

Churches are a study in variety.

Some are grace-filled, gospel-centered. Some are judgment-filled and man-centered. Some are controlling and abrasive. Some are safe and healthy for spiritual growth. Some are Spirit-led, some are Spirit-quenching. Some are formal, some are relaxed. Some are stiflingly stiff, some are refreshingly personable. Some are caustic and critical, some are godly and gracious. Some are hostile and some are happy. Some are issue-oriented, some are gospel-oriented. Some are cold and unfriendly, some are warm and welcoming.

The list goes on.

Funny thing is, no matter the church—ALL the Christians that attend there are just regular, broken people who have been redeemed by a wonderful Saviour. Nothing more.

Over the last 37 years of my journey with Jesus, God has intersected my life with a lot of Christians and churches. Without a doubt, one of the saddest statements I ever hear from a Christian is this:

“I could never bring someone to my church!”

That’s a heart breaking statement. And it’s revealing of a broken church-life.

When someone says this to me, I always ask, “Why?” The responses vary, and are revealing:

—I would be completely afraid of what they would hear! (Code language for, we don’t use discretion and are prone to “loose-cannon” style rhetoric or poorly contextualized dogma.)

—I don’t think anyone would be friendly to them! (Code language for, we are infocused and don’t notice new-comers. We don’t expect visitors, and when they come, we assume they won’t be back.)

—I don’t think they would understand it. (Code language for, we don’t contextualize truth to a lost person. We are a church for the “saved” not the “lost.” We minister primarily to people who  already “get it.” We are clean, we don’t like to deal with messy.)

—I think they would be scared off by the politics. (Code language for, we fight over silly things and have lots of business meetings, and my lost visitor wouldn’t clearly see Jesus over all the mayhem.)

—I think the issues would be a distraction to them. (Code language for, we don’t preach the gospel or practical Bible at our church, we focus on issues and “deeper Theology”—as though we can get deeper than the gospel.)

—I think we’re too old-fashioned for my friends. (Code language for, we’re just “Little House on the Prairie” and the 21st century mind won’t connect. By the way, this is not a doctrinal thing, it’s a cultural thing. It’s a style question, not a substance question. Truth is not old fashioned, it’s timless.)

It’s heart-breaking to me, to think we could cultivate an environment the church family tolerates rather than celebrates! ie: “I go to church here, but I would never subject someone else to this…”

It reminds me of Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians. Their issue was bigger than the abuse of spiritual gifts. And our problems today are not much different. Outsiders were coming into the church at Corinth, staying for a few moments, looking around, and were completely ostracized by the internal culture. The church was so infocused, tunnel-visioned, and attached to “their box”, that they completely marginalized and stiff-armed the outsiders who needed Jesus. They wanted church “their way” and couldn’t have cared less about unbelievers.

The first-time guests looked around and said, “These people are crazy!” 

And they never came back. And the church was okay with that. They probably said, “We’re a peculiar people! We knew they wouldn’t like us!”

“If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?” (1 Corinthians 14:23)

According the the Apostle Paul, crazy church is not a good thing. Outsiders looking in shouldn’t see “crazy.” If they do, they run for their lives and never look back. In their minds, Jesus=crazy. Gospel=crazy. The Apostle Paul said, this is NOT GOOD!

Some Christians think “crazy” is a badge of honor. As in “peculiar people.” They relish the outsiders view that they are insane. They call it “contending for the faith.” They are happy that lost people never return! This is tragic! It should break our hearts that our internal culture (not our doctrine) would ostracize a searching soul.

Look it up. Study it out. See the whole context. Peculiar people doesn’t mean bizarre! It simply means we are “unto God!” We are His. We are supposed to shew forth HIS praises and His light, not our own weirdness or odd “churchy” cultures.

Yet so often, our “church-ianity” masks biblical Christianity. Our “Christian-ese” prevents people from really seeing Jesus and His grace and love. Our stiff, formal personalities or our “shoot from the hip” opinion-laden, Bible-shallow, shot-gun messages cause the “unlearned” or “unbelievers” to look around and say:

“These people are crazy.” (As in, nuts, looney, out-to-lunch, cultic, “I would never consider their beliefs as plausibly credible…”)

Here’s the biblical point—Paul indicted and rebuked the church at Corinth for perverting the clarity of the gospel by over-laying it with an ostracizing culture of odd behaviors. Are we guilty of this?

Call me crazy for being intellectually honest with facts about Jesus, fine. Call me crazy for placing intelligent faith in a risen Saviour, fine. Call me crazy for not believing the gospels are cleverly made up fiction from brilliant people who then died for their fiction, fine. Call crazy for my beliefs—I can handle that kind of “crazy.”

Call me crazy for my cold, disconnected, ostracizing church environment? That’s something I need to fix!

If Christians are afraid of what their guests will experience at church—what are we doing? What are we thinking? How in the world do we reach the world if we’re not able to welcome them into our fellowships?!

The overwhelming majority of people we reach for Christ are not going to be saved at their door-step. They’re going to be saved through providentially cultivated relationships with loving Christians and grace-filled Christian bodies that show them real faith and friendship, coupled with clear gospel instruction over and over again.

Scaring people off with “crazy” isn’t a badge of honor. It’s a disgrace. We’re called to magnify Jesus, not mask Him. That means our job is to make Him more clearly seen. But so often our personalities and “how-it’s-always-been” culture just pushes people away from a very attractive Saviour. They rule Him out before they ever see Him!

The New Testament Church was not a club for believers. It was not an insider thing. It was designed by Jesus to be the most powerful resource of evanglism! Authentic worship, fellowship, community, prayer, teaching, preaching—these things are not just for the insiders! These are for the outsiders! These are our greatest “outreach tools.”

A healthy church is designed to be an HD display of the reality of Jesus Christ and His genuine love amongst admittedly broken and messy people. That’s attractive to other broken people! A church is just a bunch of messy people trying to tell their messy friends about a Saviour who can rescue them from their messes.

A healthy local church—a welcoming environment—is the best “soulwinning” ministry we can possibly have! The love, the warmth, the Holy-Spirit presence that flows in a community of humble believers where Jesus is preeminent is absolutely attractive, convicting, and convincing to a lost heart.

Let’s put aside the pretense. Let’s lay aside the crazy. Let the church breathe, fellowship, worship, and enjoy life in Christ. Let the church open her arms to outsiders again! And let the outsiders come in and experience acceptance, love, grace, and Jesus.

Let the gospel take center-stage. Let grace thrive. Let Jesus be seen clearly. From the parking lot to the final prayer—preach a gracious, loving, patient gospel that accurately portrays the Saviour.

A healthy church is a place where people love to bring other people. They expect a solid, heart-confrontation with truth, but they know it will be surrounded with grace and genuine love.

Are people afraid to bring someone to your church? Why?

Doctrine? Okay—don’t change anything. Culture? Well, that’s something we can fix.

The gospel is absolutely alive and powerful. But if we hide it under craziness, then our church family will NEVER want to bring an outsider. And the outsiders that “happen by” will simply drop their jaws and say:

“These people are crazy…” (And not in a  good way.)

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  • Love it!

  • Cary, I love your spirit and your balance. Without even a hit of compromise of your biblical convictions, you call us to adapt our culture, like a family adopting a new child, to make our message and our gospel make sense to a world waiting for a Savior. I love it! Keep it up!!

  • Thank you for saying these things so well! This has been our journey this past year or so, and it is refreshing to read your articles.

  • This is great, one of the best things I’ve read in awhile. I’m passing this on to my church.

  • Great article! I have heard many people say over the years say how that they were afraid to bring visitors to their church. Just plain sad!

  • Excuse the typos.

  • I love what you are saying. But until you get specific are you really saying anything at all? I remember speaking at Eric Cappacci’s National Youth Workers Conference. He was saying much of the same things you just articulated to a rousing chorus of amens. But many of the people who were shouting Amen had peculiar churches that unchurched would think are “weird” I think what they thought he was saying and what he was saying were two different things.

    What you are saying is AWESOME! I want to know what you mean by not looking weird. Andy Stanley says some of the exact same things. And unless your church has changed drastically since I was there last. I don’t think it looks like Northpointe. So what does it mean to not look peculiar? I am curious what you mean by that.

    Great article. I think it is very well said. I guess my fear is if everyone gets to define what they mean by normal than we all agree and we all stay weird.

  • Ben,

    I understand exactly what you’re saying. Not to put words in Cary’s mouth, but here’s what I took from it.

    1. An overall vision of your worship experience from the perspective of someone who has never been to your church….maybe even A church…before. Not that we are to make it seeker-senstive, but we also aren’t to make it uninviting by our church minions walking around calling everyone “brother.”

    2. Instead of preaching to “get amens” preach with honest humility about the struggle. Let that first-time guest sense that you empathize with him. So instead of saying, “all you sinners need to get down here and repent cause you ain’t right with Gawd.” You could say, “I’ve been where you are – struggling with right and wrong. You aren’t alone. In fact, we’ve all been there. Come today and find freedom from the grip and bondage of sin. You will find that in the gospel – in Jesus.”

    3. Without saying too much, make sure you’re truly comfortable with your church being diverse (racially, spiritually, preferentially, etc…) Make sure it’s ok with you for people that don’t live as “strict” as others to still feel the freedom to serve in the church…especially in ministries like greeting and parking. It takes people’s guards down immediately.

    4. Create real opportunities for people to get in small groups and see that the guy that sings in the choir struggles with his spiritual life. That the lady working in the nursery is also a single mom. That the usher has been trying to quit smoking for a while now. (That one is pretty much true in every church. LOL!)

    Those are just a couple. Others would include being first-class in materials, screens, sound, video, etc…

    Cary, feel free to tell me that I just completely swung and missed.

  • Ben and Josh,
    I attend this church and have for many years. Pastor Cary serves the local people of our community. I don’t have any clue to what your background or expectations are for a local church. When local people from our community walk inside our church when we are assembling, they are welcomed by the Holy Spirit working thru the various gifts we have been given to demonstrate our faith in the cross, our hope in the return of Christ, and our love for one another. He is teaching us to do this more and more – we are growing deeper into our community and stronger in our faith. Thanks for reading and I hope you can join us one day.

  • Trying to define this for each church would be a mistake. No region or culture is exactly like another, and cookie cutter approach to church form assumes that no culture is different from another. Missionaries usually get this. They go to the field, discern what form of ministry will be most effective and then they begin to love people, preach Jesus, and teach the Bible in a form and format that doesn’t ostracize the people they are trying to reach.

    So, I believe I said as much as I could without over stepping my bounds. Each pastor and church has to define the answer to these questions in their own environment. I do want to restate, I’m not referring to watering down of changing the substance of our doctrine. I think I made that clear in the post.

    The real litmus test of this article—ask people in your church “Are you afraid to invite your friends to our church.” If you can get an honest answer, you might be surprised at how many are fearful for their guests, and the actual reasons why. If it’s because of the doctrine, don’t change a thing. If it’s because of the attitude, the persona, flippant pulpiteering, undiscerning dogma, or other extraneous stylistic reasons… crazy church.

    I hope this helps.

  • When hearts are prepared to be directed by our Heavenly Father, there are no limits to what those hearts can accomplish through daily accepting of His direction. God is fully aware of our condition and our great longing for churches who are being prepared by Him (not self motivation) to touch the hearts of the broken people of New England. Thank you To Pastor Cary and his family for leaving their home
    In California, and obeying His plan for their part in His specific plan to water our parched land.


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