Elvis has left the building. Maybe it’s time for the church to do the same.
In the community where I serve as a pastor, there are roughly 164,000 residents, and 112,000 of them are not actively engaged in any church. That’s 68% of our neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, friends, and family. That’s 68% too many.
While our churches trade sheep, the disengaged go to work, school, have cook-outs, go to the lake, watch ESPN, and, for most of them, church isn’t even a blip on their radar. I’ve talked with several people who live in our neighborhood, and when I tell them I’m a pastor, they say, “Oh? At what church?” When I tell them, they ask, “And where is that?” I point down the street, and they say, “You know, I’ve driven by there for years, and I never knew that was a church.” Believe me, if there is any structure that looks like a church, it’s our structure. They didn’t know we existed because they weren't looking.
Our churches can have dynamic music, practical preaching, a great kids’ program, and still not reach those outside the walls of the church building. Yes, Christians should invite people to join them for a worship service. But do you know what the problem is? Many unchurched people don’t have any Christian friends. And that also means that many Christians don’t have any unchurched friends. We swim in different ponds.
For that to change, we have to adopt a “go-to-them” strategy rather than a “come-to-us” strategy. This is exactly what Jesus did for us. He didn’t say, “Climb the ladder, and join me in heaven.” He came down the ladder—He IS the Ladder—and He came to us. Just as He dirtied His hands by coming to us, He expects us to get our own hands dirty.
The great missionary, C.T. Studd, once penned the words: “Some wish to live within the sound of church or chapel bell, I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.”We need to BE the church, not just GO to church. We need to stop soaking in religion at the expense of spreading the love of Jesus to the masses. God doesn’t want us to sit comfortably in the euphoria of worship while the world around us sits in poverty, injustice, and hopelessness.
A friend of mine is going on a short-term mission trip. When I asked him how I could pray for him, he said, “Pray that God will bring a change to our hearts, so that we can reach the hearts of others. Some of the people going on this trip are upset because they won’t be able to take their favorite brand of coffee or their specialty coffee cream. They’ve forgotten that we are to go and serve, not go and be served.”
How easily we can lose sight of the mission of Jesus. Church-ianity is about our agenda. Christ-ianity is about God’s agenda. As Johnnie Moore once wrote, “God’s not waiting for us at the altar. He’s waiting for us to take the altar to the streets” (Dirty God, 172).
If Elvis left the building, so can we.