I went shopping at Target today. I was in the area and remembered that I needed deodorant. And toilet paper. So, at about 10:30, I parked, went in, and picked up my items.
I don’t normally shop at that time of day. I’m usually at my desk, but today I was driving between meetings and had some time to kill. I like going shopping midmorning on a weekday. The stores aren’t crowded, so you can usually get in and get out fairly quickly. Most of the shoppers are moms, usually with kids in tow. They have basic household items in their baskets, and from the looks of it, this is probably a weekly trip for the latest needs.
Also present is an assortment of senior citizens out for an item or two (like the guy today with nothing but a pack of Depends). They’ve already been up for six hours, so they’re primed for some activity.
And then you’ve got a guy like me, in suit and tie, grabbing deodorant, which makes you wonder if I’ve already run out, or if I’m about to. And if I’ve already run out, what did I do this morning? Did I pinch the remnant of the white stick in my fingers and apply as if it were a crayon, or did I use the wife’s brand? Did I wear anything at all? Did I dump on the cologne and hope no one would notice? Shopping on a weekday makes the imagination wander.
But here we all are, united in purpose. We’ve got different needs, some more urgent than others. We’ve got a reason to be here, and we feel like we belong. We usually get what we came for and return home to use or consume our new item or two. A day or so later, we’ll forget we even went, filing the trip in our mind where all of the mundane and repetitive events get filed. Unless we get in a car wreck or run into an ex, it’s like we were never there, save the waste in our trashcan, the food in our stomach, and the new toothpaste in our cabinet.
Can church be like this? Can each of us come with different needs and all be met? Can a church effectively reach the old, the young, the family, the visitor, the selfish, the giver, the wanderer, the opportunist, and the regular? And how many of us go week in and week out and wonder why we even bother?
It seems as though churches meet lots of needs of those who darken their doors. Churches retool and reprogram, hop on bandwagons and hot buttons. They offer mixers, concerts, networks and books. They seek to appeal to the masses in the name of 'being all things to all people' in hopes that membership roles will increase.
But I think that a church’s effectiveness is measured in meeting the needs of those outside the community. The church was built in order to welcome the outsider, but not just to a trendy service or a musical. The church was intended to feed the hungry, give to the poor, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless. The church was intended to give without expectation, love without condition, and forgive without hesitation. The church was not intended to multiply so as to become a majority. It was intended to grow in order to make neediness extinct.
The church needs not to seek to give to the wants of the insider, but to meet the needs of the outsider. Yes, the church should welcome all who have a desire to enter, but it does not need to do so at the expense of missing the needs of the world.
Like Target, the church needs to say, whoever you are, we have what you need. Unlike Target, the church must offer it services without charge in order to bring about the equality and justice of God’s realm.