A few years ago David Kinnaman led a research project and wrote a book to answer an important question. He sought to discover what people outside of churches think about churches. Sadly, his findings were not as positive as we would like. Kinnaman found that people outside the church do not actually know what churches are for or in favor of. They only know what we are against.
Fair or not, the reputation of non-church goers in our community is that we are anti-science, anti-drinking, anti-smoking, and some would conclude anti-fun. If the reputation churches have is being against stuff, it is no wonder that non-Christians want so little to do with us. Have you ever known someone who had a reputation to always be antagonistic and negative? If so, you probably did your best not to spend a lot of time with that person. If we do not want to be known by what others believe we are against, then we have to be able to communicate what we are for.
As a Christian, can you honestly answer what we are for? On a heart level we know what we are for, but it is hard to sometimes verbalize. I believe a church, as a fellowship of believers should be about these things. First, we are for love, because it is by the unfathomable love of God displayed on the cross that we have new life. We are for reconciliation and redemption, because it is by the sacrifice of Jesus that we have found forgiveness. We are for mercy, because we know that God has given us a second chance even when we do not deserve it. That just begins to scratch the surface of what we are for as followers of Jesus Christ. We should also have a reputation of being for justice, compassion, gentleness, peace, and joy. Truly, one of the greatest tragedies the church has suffered in western culture is that we became known for what we are against instead of being known by what we are for.
The bigger question is how do we communicate the values that we are for and that define us as a faith community? How do we let those around us know what we stand for is so much more important than anything we might be against? There are a couple of places in the gospels that can help direct us. Jesus communicated what he was for. He elevated an obscure commandment from Leviticus to be the second greatest commandment as “love your neighbor as yourself.” Then in the gospel of Matthew we have Matthew 9:36 which states, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them.” Jesus had compassion on the crowds because he was for them, he loved them, and he ultimately went to the cross for them and us.
We are the North Judson United Methodist Church so perhaps what we should communicate is that we are for North Judson. We are for showing compassion, love, and mercy to this town. We are for being a place and a presence of peace, gentleness, and joy in our community. However, we have to do more than just say that. Henry Ford once said “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” If we want to communicate that we are for North Judson, then we need to do it in our words and actions.