Every so often, I'll go out with a few others to share the Christian faith with people we don't know. We do this, and more Christians should be encouraged to do this often because "eighty-five million Americans" are "unchurched and unbelieving," according to Tim Chester and Steve Timmis in Everyday Church. And that same eighty-five million has "no intention on attending a church service," so unless we go out to them they are not coming to us.
Last month I went with a friend of mine to the Oceanside Pier to evangelize and witness with a larger group of other Christians. Find a public spot and go there to share your faith actively, purposefully, and lovingly with others. That's the idea.
But I've probably had the most fun going back to my old stomping grounds: the college campus. I love talking to college students about faith, religion, and philosophy because they are so willing to have a real conversation.
And if people aren't open to conversations that might stretch or challenge them, I can always say, "Do you consider yourself to be an open-minded person?" and that usually hooks them into a meaningful dialogue.
One of the best, most recent conversations I had was earlier this year with several college students on a nearby campus. I would walk up to a person or small group of students and say something like:
Hello there, I'm a pastor in San Diego and I'm doing a informal survey on college campuses to learn what students think about faith, religion, and church. Do you have a quick minute to talk?
(Most students were willing to entertain me.)
So with one college student named Nicole, I asked the question:
"Can I ask you why you left the church?"
Me: "What do you mean by rules?"
Nicole: "Like I can get that on my own and I don't need church to tell me what to do."
Me: "Wow, you're absolutely right. You don't need to go to church for that."
Nicole: *She had a curious look on her face
Now we ran out of time because of cross-conversations and other people in the mix, but if I had another minute with her I would have this to say to anyone who, like Nicole, has left the church because of all the rules:
You were right to leave church for that.
The church is the one and only place on this earth where you should be hearing something completely different from that.
Everywhere we go, everywhere we move, every word people give us is a list of rules. Do this, don't do that. Eat this, not that. Pick up the kids. Go to the grocery store. Take out the trash. Earn a paycheck. Do the dishes. Do the laundry. Be successful.
And the list goes on.
Not to mention all the moral rules we tell ourselves, and others tell us.
It's exhausting, and we truly don't need church for more rules. But what we do need church for is to hear that announcement that no other business, no other person, and no other to-do-list can give us:
It is finished. He has done it. Let your weary heart rejoice.
The church is the only place on this earth where we are supposed to hear the full, whole, and unruly gospel message. That good news about what God has done in his Christ for me and for you. That Jesus has followed and kept every single rule that God has required of us perfectly, and through faith in him, God counts his perfect record as if you had been a rule-keeper too.
But sadly, many are like Nicole and they have left the church because they have enough people telling them about what to do and have never heard anyone tell them "It has been done." They have left church because the church was too busy giving them more rules to follow instead of preaching to them the gospel of grace. The worst thing the church can do is fail to give people like Nicole the most important news entrusted to her, and the only news that can ultimately keep people from leaving church again and again.