Commentary by Robin G. Jordan
On yesterday’s edition of AnglicansAblaze I posted two articles on the controversial bouncers at the church door commercial in the United Church of Christ ad campaign, "Still Speaking". The UCC ad unfairly stereotypes orthodox Christian churches. This stereotyping is strongly reminiscent of the political attack ads of the recent elections. The glee with which this ad has been greeted in some liberal circles confirms this impression. The ad also reinforces popular misconceptions about orthodox Christianity and orthodox Christians. Orthodox Christian churches that are seeking to reach the lost, however, do not bar gays, Blacks, Hispanics, divorced individuals, or unmarried couples living together. Mainstream Anglicans like myself differ from those of more radical views in that we do not believe that sin is part of God’s design for us or our fellow human beings. We believe that those who are serious about following Jesus Christ must at some point turn away from their sinful conduct and not go on living as they have been living. This is what our Lord himself teaches. They are expected to adopt a life style more consistent with our Lord’s call to repentance and holiness. We do not advocate that sinners should be barred from the church. Jesus came to heal those sick with sin. We have no bouncers at the church doors. (Those who appoint themselves as bouncers do not have a place in a Great Commission church.) Rather we have greeters whose ministry is to welcome newcomers and to make them feel at home. Indeed this is a ministry that all church members and regular attenders share. Our goals are that newcomers will make friends, find their niche in the church, move from inquirers to believers to full-fledged disciples of Jesus Christ, discover their "divine design", and fulfill God’s purpose and plan for their lives.
Television executives have accused the United Church of Christ of having ulterior motives for submitting the controversial ad. They allege that the UCC knew that the ad would be rejected and submitted the ad so that the denomination could accuse the networks of censorship. The UCC, of course, denies such motives.
The United Church of Christ claims that the focus groups of the ad company that it employed discovered that people were not attending church for the very reasons that liberals have postulated that people are not attending church. Churches are not welcoming enough; they are not inclusive enough. One must wonder whate else did these focus groups discover. Were these findings ignored because they did not fit with the preconceptions of the liberal UCC and the ad company itself. One must also wonder at whom these focus groups were targeted. In what segments of the population in what areas of the country? What are the demographics and the psychographics of the population segments targeted?
The Rainer Group found in its study of the formerly unchurched that most of these people had begun to attend church because someone had invited them to a church service or gathering. These findings are published in Surprising Insights from the Unchurched. Those who have a negative attitude toward the Christian faith or have had a negative experience with Christians, Rainer and his associates found in a study of the unchurched were a fairly small group. They often lived in rural areas. Those who were open to the Christian faith and would be likely to attend a church if invited formed a significantly large group. The results of this study are published in The Unchurched Next Door. Rainer concluded that the main reason that more people are not attending church is that Christians do not know many unchurched people and those that they do know, they are not inviting to church. The question is not one of churches becoming more welcoming, more inclusive in order to reach the unchurched. Rather it is one of Christians developing an appreciation for the need to form more relationships with unsaved people and to invite them to church; and then acting on this appreciation.
Two methodologies that are proving their effectiveness in reach the lost are the Becoming a Contagious Christian Training Course and the Alpha Course. Both use methods that Jesus and his disciples used to reach the unsaved. The Becoming a Contagious Christian Training Course "helps ordinary Christians develop confidence and skills that enable them to effectively share the Gospel with people they know". It encourages Christians to rub shoulders with the lost, to form friendships with them, and to "value their unbelieving friends". The Alpha Course is a brief introduction to Christianity which can be offered in the non-threatening environment of someone’s home. Alpha meetings begin with a meal, followed by a video presentation or short talk and small group discussion. Christians participating in Alpha meetings are encouraged to let their non-believing friends do the talking and to listen respectfully and non-judgmentally to what they say. Alpha gives non-believers an opportunity to get to know Christians and visa a versa. One church with which I am acquainted, the Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Kenner, Louisiana, uses both methodologies to reach the unsaved in the community. The church has grown to the point where it has two church services on Saturday evening, three on Sunday morning, and two on Sunday evening. It has outgrown its present rented facilities and is building its own campus.
This kind of ad is not needed to reach unbelievers. The United Church of Christ claims a 25% increase in church attendance in Cleveland where the ad was initially aired. However, the UCC offers no data on what segment of the population responded to the ad or how long this increase in attendance has lasted. The goal of a church truly committed to the Great Commission is not increased worship attendance or even more church members, It is to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and to lead the lost to him. It is to make fully-functioning followers of Jesus Christ and effective Christian leaders, who reproduce themselves. It is to plant dynamic Gospel-focused, Christ-centered churches that multiply themselves. If the UCC ad campaign is not helping that denomination to achieve these purposes, then the UCC is wasting its money.