Her basic argument is that our churches should be the places where everyone is welcome, people who have a lot of money as well as people who live on the street, people who have physical or mental disabilities, and those who do not, those who are hip and those who are just a little bit “off”. After all, every one of us are messed up in one way or another.
I pastor a church which is tremendously “un-cool”. We are a church in the middle of a big city, but not a “center city church” but an “inner city church” which is in a low-income neighborhood where many people from elsewhere don’t want to visit. Our building is an old Presbyterian church building which was built in 1931. It’s not the cool kind of old building, it is the “old building” type of old building — the kind with tape holding the carpet together, and water damage on the walls. We are a people who often wear second-hand clothes. Not the “vintage shop” kind of second hand clothes, but the kind that are passed down and purchased from thrift stores. Even my robe is second-hand (and missing a button). Our church has an organ, and not the beautifully-restored-old-organ type of organ, but the type of organ where some buttons don’t work, and it takes a while for the pump to spin up to fill the bellows, and some of the pipes don’t sound quite right anymore. We are a liturgical church, but not the hip emergent ancient-future kind of liturgy, but the grassroots community involved kind of liturgy.
We have people that have homes and people that stay outside. We have people with physical disabilities and people with developmental disabilities. We also have people who, on the surface, seem to have everything together but have unseen challenges. We are a people who share two main things in common: First, we are all broken in one way or another, and second, we all equally need Jesus.
When I first arrived, my biggest concern was to “brand” the church, advertise a kind of “hipster grit” rather than “low-income grit”. I wanted to draw in folks from the gentrified neighborhoods which surround the church. In short, I wanted to make our church a “cool church”. But there was a problem: we’re not a “cool church”.
We are an uncool church, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! We are a church that has problems, but every church has problems. The difference with ours is that our problems are often visible. We are a congregation that cares about one another in the best way that we’re able, we are a congregation who contributes in the ways that we know how. We are a congregation that participates how we feel that we are able. Some of us are empowered, some of us are not. Some of us are committed Christians, others of us are only there because we serve lunch afterwards. Some of us read the Bible every day, others of us barely know that there is an Old Testament and New Testament. We are all in different places, but we are all companions together on the journey of faith.
The biggest problem with becoming a “cool church” is that it is quite possible that we would feel uncomfortable to our current congregation, and this is the highest form of tragedy. Right now, if people are uncomfortable with us, it is because we may be too unrefined, too gritty, too broken. If someone has a problem with that, it’s their problem. But if we became the “cool church” and our congregation becomes uncomfortable with the change, it would likely because we would seem too refined, too exclusive, not friendly or welcoming. This would be a problem with us.
You can say a lot of things about our church, but one thing that you cannot say is that we are not welcoming and friendly. You cannot say that we don’t care about one another. You can’t say that we don’t welcome everyone who walks through our doors. So long as we strive for (and to some level attain) these things, we are headed in the right direction. Once we become a place where people do not feel welcomed or loved, this is when we begin to lose sight of our purpose.
Some days, I think that I would like to be the pastor of a “cool church”, you know, the church that everyone is talking about because it is so neat, its music is so great, the space is so great, the one that has so many programs, and does cool things together. But then I read my Bible and realize that this isn’t really what the church is called to be. That would be a social club. The church is called to be a community of broken people journeying together toward redemption. If any feel excluded from such a church, it is no longer a church.