If you’ve not bought and read this book, you should. As the title suggests, it’s intelligent, witty, and unconventional. And it’s a useful guide on how to be more attractive to the unchurched.
The author, Hemant Mehta, is an atheist. He grew up in the Jain religion, and until writing the book, had very little experience with Chrisitianity, other than the experiences anyone growing up in the US watching TV would have.
Mehta, a founder of the Secular Student Alliance, a national organization of atheistic college students, put his soul up for auction on eBay. He offered to attend church for one hour for each $10 bid. The two highest bidders were a couple of pastors, with the winner bidding $504!
The winner was Jim Henderson, who wrote Evangelism Without Additives, and who had Mehta attend several different churches around the country, small, large, and mega, country and urban, high church and low church. He asked Mehta to post his impressions on a blog, and the blog was so popular it led to this book.
Mehta remains an atheist. He’s affable, highly analytical, keenly observant, and offers an outsider’s perspective on how Christians come across in church, which is, to me, invaluable.
Over the next few days, I’ll post regarding his suggestions for how Christians can do church better. Obviously, as a non-believer, he often doesn’t understand why we do things, but there’s a lesson in that, too. If after attending all these churches our behaviors still seem strange or even rude to him, we’re not communicating very well with our visitors.
You see, for years we Christians have sought to build our churches by attracting members from other churches. After all, everyone went to church or, at least, used to. There was little need to explain our behavior to visitors. And we really only needed to explain the doctrines that separated us from other denominations. The doctrines held in common by all Christians — faith, Jesus, the Resurrection, etc. — needed no explanation or defending.
But now, we’ve come to understand the importance of bringing the unchurched to Christ, and many of them have no idea why we act as we do. And this makes Mehta’s insights invaluable for any church with a heart for the unchurched.
I will, of course, at times disagree with Mehta’s advice and suggest my own spin. There truly are places where he so misunderstands us that his advice will be impractical, but the fact that he feels the need to offer his advice is always instructive.
I should also note that I believe the assembly is for Christians, but with sensitivity to visitors. I think 1 Cor 14 is quite clear. But for most churches, worship is considered the primary entry point into Christianity. We tell our members to invite their unchurched friends to worship. Therefore, we need to be highly sensitive to visitors. We can’t just assume they understand. If our members are really doing what we ask by inviting the truly unchurched, their friends will be perplexed and even offended if we don’t become more thoughtful and more seeker sensitive.