Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What if church were more like a coffee house?

As I sit here in a coffee house, a common occurrence in my life, the sweet aroma of coffee creeps into my thoughts. This smell always fills me with a sense of comfort. No matter the strangeness of my surroundings this nostalgic smell serves as a reminder that there is some consistency in life. Memories pour in and out of my mind. Memories of meaningful conversations. There were honest, vulnerable, and deep conversations when life was tough and I needed a listening ear. As well as humorous conversations filled with outpourings and expressions of life's beauty. Coffee, and thus coffee houses, brings together a rather odd assortment of people. A community of strange, mismatched people gathered in one place in search of fulfilling a similar want or need. Coffee, as simple as it may be, reminds me that no matter life's pain and difficulties there is support. Life will be okay.
Now, transfer this concept to the common, everyday American church. These days I sit in church and I wonder, why? Why does church not evoke the same concepts as a coffee house. Where is the sense of community found at a coffee house? Why do people enter a church and feel isolated and alone? Why do people sit and squirm as if forced to attend, only to split out the doors the minute the sermon has ended? Yet, people flock to coffee houses all across the country. What is wrong with this picture?
If this is what church is like why do we even go? We show up. We go through the motions. We greet one another; often with awkward handshakes and reluctancy. Sit through another mediocre and dispassionate sermon; genuine heartfelt sermons seem few and far between anymore. Then we go home. Arriving home with neither a better understanding of God nor a restful, authentic experience of community. Instead it is as if we can check off yet another obligation on our inconvenient to-do lists. When did we begin to view church as an obligation? When did church become nothing more than a staple of being a good, moral American citizen? Church is no longer about a striving to learn more about who God is together as a community. A place where to be vulnerable is to be human and it is okay to be imperfect. Where expressions of pain, hurt, and frustration are accepted with grace, not shunned as unimportant or evidences of a lack of faith. This is the community I crave. This is the community the world needs to witness; not pristine examples of perfect people, but real people. The church is not perfect. It never will be. So, why are we so afraid to show the world what they already know we are? Perhaps if we are a little more honest with ourselves and our desperate need for God then church would become more than traditions and awkward social situations but a vital part of life.
What if church were more like a coffee house? Not in the sense that church is advertising and selling a product to the public, but in the way we present ourselves. Just maybe a coffee house mentality, a community oriented mindset, is what it will take to reach a generation of lost, unloved misfits. What would it take for the church to focus more on the community and less on the color of carpet being installed in the atrium? What is required for us make those outside our walls feel important? They should not have to commit to buy anything or be present a certain number of Sundays for us to make them feel important and validate their frustrations in life. This type of behavior should be a natural outpouring of our desire to be like Christ. So, why shouldn't the church be more like a coffee house?