“Our doors are open” reads a sign that often stands in front of our church. It is meant to be literal and figurative, both as a sign to “come on in!” and also a message that we are open to everyone of all ages, race, sexual identities, economic levels, faith understandings and family configurations. There’s probably not a church anywhere that doesn’t say something of this sort; all churches claim they welcome everyone.
I saw a post on Twitter a few months ago by a blogger who was looking for photos of churches with open doors. But she was specifically looking for photos of churches with their doors opening out, looking from the inside out. She had googled “open church doors” and discovered many lovely photos of churches with their doors open, all looking welcoming and inviting. But she noticed that the perspective of all these pictures was of people going in, not of church members going out. She asked for churches to send her photos of church doors opening to the outside, and she posted them under the hashtag #openchurchdoors. I sent a photo of my church, Westminster Presbyterian, which she included in her project, and which I’ve attached here.
Her project made me think. It’s true that most churches spend a great deal of time and energy thinking about attracting visitors. “If only we had more people in worship,” we say. “What can we do to attract young families?” we ask. “Remember the old days, when the pews were full,” we say. Now, there is nothing wrong with wanting to share our church with others. In fact, it is a good thing, and I’d be the first to say that the worship, fellowship and educational opportunities at my church are wonderful and worthy of checking out. But if all we do is wait for people to come through our doors, then we are missing the point of what Christian life is about.
Jesus’ commandment to his followers was very simple: “Love one another.” Over and over, he repeated this message in many ways: “Love your neighbor.” “Feed the hungry.” “Comfort the grieving.” “Clothe the naked.” “Heal the sick.” All his instructions were very direct: Do something! There are very few stories of Jesus in church (in the temple, that is), and the few there are end badly, with Jesus saying something that irritated the faithful and enraged the church leaders. Jesus did most of his preaching out where the people were, on the beach, on the hillside, in the streets, in the poor areas or in friends’ homes.
Churchy people have terms for these different perspectives — churches are either “attractional” or “missional.” The “attractional” model tends to focus on programming (more classes and groups, better music, etc.) in the hopes of making the church experience better for its members and more likely to draw people in. The “missional” model says “get outside your doors and be active in your community, developing relationships with people where they are and helping and serving others.” Attractional churches tend to be internally focused; missional churches tend to be externally focused.
The irony, we are told, is that churches that shift their perspective from internal to external are churches that will grow. Churches that focus more on meeting the needs of others than on meeting the needs of themselves will thrive. On the extreme end, some modern churches abandon their buildings and take to the streets, worshiping in public places and doing more mission and service work than programming.
I admit that I’m somewhere in the middle between being an internally and externally oriented Christian. I love the worship and education at Westminster, and I believe that we need collective worship and faith formation to nurture the spiritual growth that helps us to go out and live our faith. I also believe that our building is a house of God which serves the community in many ways. But I also know that our real call as Christians is to follow Christ’s example to serve others and to love our neighbors, and that requires walking the walk outside the church doors every day of our lives.
So, I invite you to “come on in” to Westminster or any other church in our community, but also to “get out there” and serve others outside the church walls. Church doors open both ways.