Found myself at Vine Street Pub a couple nights ago. It's a great place ~ there's a wide selection of beers, a decent menu with food that's relatively cheap and (not great, but) certainly palatable. They used to host a bluegrass jam on Saturday nights that I would get to every time I was in town, but sadly that's canceled.
The thing I noticed when I was there the other night, though, was the people. The place was hopping. I showed up at about 5:15, and got one of the last two places at the bar. The bartender didn't remember my name, but he remembered what I drink, which was nice since I hadn't been in for at least a couple months. By 5:15 there was already a line for a table, and it just got more crowded through the evening. People were coming in all night long. They were hanging out over dinner, over drinks, and over conversation.
I was looking around at the crowd and wondering why church isn't like this. There's the obvious, that the church doesn't serve beer. But beyond that, what is this neighborhood gathering place doing that the church isn't?
This pub is connected with their neighborhood. I'd be willing to bet that most of the people there lived within a 10 minute drive, or even a 10 minute bike ride. But the bar isn't trying to be inclusive, or multicultural, or politically correct ~ the bar isn't trying to be anything it isn't. But this pub has figured out what it is, and is being that as well as it can. And why can't the church do that?
I think in the church, we look at ourselves and see what we're not. We see that we're not connecting with the neighborhood around us; we see that we don't have as many people as we used to; we see that we're mostly white, or mostly old, or mostly middle income, or mostly of one ethnic group or another; we see that there aren't any young people any more. When we only see who we're not, we miss who we are, to our detriment.
Which, as I reflect back, is probably what I was doing the other evening at the pub. I was looking around and seeing who the church is not. But that still doesn't answer the question of who we are. Obviously that question will have to be answered differently in each different congregation or context.
What would it be like for the church to embrace who we are, unapologetically, as a starting place?