When I was a kid, an experienced youth pastor once told our youth group he thought many churches were like self-licking ice cream cones. I didn’t understand that comment at the time, but now nearly 15 years later, I think I may have grasped the meaning.
Almost every church I’ve ever been to has been “missional” or missions-minded, meaning they put emphasis on evangelism. This idea comes from Matthew 28:16-20, also known in church circles as “The Great Commission”, or Jesus’ mission for His church. But the reality is that many Christians and churches try to seduce unbelievers into sanctuaries or Christian homes through sales and marketing tactics “for Jesus”. When that doesn’t work, and unbelievers refuse to play by a Christian’s or church’s rules, they are simply rejected and shunned without so much as a backward glance.
“Charm is deceptive…” (Proverbs 31:30)
Many churches and Christians think that looking pretty will bring non-believers in droves, so they strive to provide pretty music, pretty lights, pretty people, pretty teachings, and pretty youth rooms. But the people attracted to all these pretty things are mostly other Christians drawn by objects shinier than what they currently have. After talking with a variety of skeptics, atheists, and other assortments of non-Christians, it seems the only people impressed by the work of these pretty churches are the members of those (or other) churches.
I believe in the sincerity of most Christians, but the methods of many are backwards. If you want to impress an atheist, have an honest, non-combative conversation with him/her. If you want to witness to a skeptic, talk about God’s character and use the Bible in a friendly way. If you want to be able to explain the differences between your religion and another, study up on Scripture, not just the latest Christian author.
“You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces…” (Matt. 23:13)
Most atheists and skeptics in the United States have Christian backgrounds and are at least somewhat familiar with the Bible. They have often become cynics because no one would/could answer their hardest questions, and they have received much abuse and rejection at the hands of those who profess to know Love. As Christians, we are charged with, “Speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), instead I have often read quick, sometimes even heartless, pat answers from Christians in response to comments from questioning unbelievers. It would have been better for those Christians to have said nothing at all. I even read one comment from a Christian once that said they would rather only talk with those who are already Christians or at least “seeking Jesus”. That’s quite a statement and hardly “missions-minded”, but one that most churches and Christians echo, even if they do not say it out loud.