Is Your Church a Fallout Shelter?
One of my favorite movies is Blast from the Past starring Brendan Fraser. The movie follows the Webber family, and is set in the 1960’s, when everyone thought that a nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was possible. The father spends months building a fallout shelter in preparation. Eventually, a plane crashes into the Webber’s home, causing him to believe the end has arrived. In his mind, it’s the beginning of a nuclear war, so he takes his pregnant wife to the fallout shelter. The massive steel doors to the shelter are armed with time locks that, once engaged, could not be unlocked for thirty-five years. No worries of anyone getting in…or out.
The family is secured in their shelter while the world above continued as normal. During the first year, the mom gives birth to their son Adam. While sheltered for safety, the world above drastically changes without the Webber’s knowledge. Then finally in 1997, the timer releases and unlocks the doors. Adam finds himself immersed in a society where his language, dating skills and understanding of life in general is outdated and irrelevant.
Today, many churches in America have behaved like the Webbers. They have built their own fallout shelters with steeples and stained glass windows, bell towers and wooden pews, and even modern music and cool lights. Regardless of the shelter’s design, the purpose is the same – protection from the sinful poison outside in the world. The doors may not have time sensitive locks, but that’s okay. People rarely show up anyway, and if they do, they don’t stay long.
These churches are safe and predictable. If they are challenged to change, they’ll push back. They’ll call anything new a “spiritual compromise.” Their loyalties lie more to past traditions than Jesus. These traditions are guarded at all costs, even if means not reaching unchurched people. They are stuck, hiding in a fallout shelter, while the people who are far away from God, walk right by them. When these churches do attempt to reach someone, they have about as much luck as Adam Webber trying to land a date in 1997, using his 1960’s dating techniques.
In today's context, just about every church is trying to figure out how to re-open and get people back together again. The pandemic has forced churches to re-think mediums for reaching people. Smaller churches that never had an online presence, now see the value of a digital strategy. But many of the things I see online aren't much different than what their Sunday looked like before Covid-19. The content is designed for Christians, not for people who are not Christians.
When a church becomes stuck, they are no longer relevant to the people they are supposed to be reaching. I am not saying that showing up in skinny jeans, t-shirts and flip flops will bring unchurched people through your doors. This is not merely a language or dress code issue; this is a heart issue. Whether we like to admit it or not, the world has changed, while many of us hid in a fallout shelter. Think about it. In the 1950’s it would not have been the least bit weird for an unchurched person to walk into a service and see everyone in suits, ties and dresses. More than likely, he or she would probably be dressed the same. That was the culture for most of our country.
Reaching people of this generation, and the next, requires us to accept the culture of today and leverage it for the gospel. While gospel must remain unchanged, we must be willing to do whatever it takes (short of sin) to reach people for Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:20-23). This means we have to come out of our shelters and remove the obstacles that may be keeping unchurched people from showing up on Sunday. Or worse, causing the ones who do show up, not to come back.
How do we get the culture of our church unstuck? How do we maneuver through culture change without losing our values and vision? I wish I could tell you that changing the dress code was the instant fix, but it isn’t.
Here are three things you can do to start a journey towards church health.
- Complete a church health assessment; see where you are. What is the heart of your leaders? Who are you reaching? How many are you reaching? How many are staying?
- Review your messages and sermons. Are they inwardly focused? Do they promote evangelism? Are they relevant?
- Assess your facilities. Review your order of service. Talk about your connection points for new people. Ask yourself, “Is our church one that unchurched people want to attend?”
Get your team together and discuss these questions. They could radically change your church’s gospel effectiveness.
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