He was looking for something else, but either the map on the internet was wrong, or the other church had moved. So he went into the storefront church.
The people were extremely pleased to have a visitor, and turned on the charm. They gave him a free book by one of their faith’s key authors, and took his name and email address. They followed up and he ended up going back for successive visits.
The he in the story is my son. He had enough Bible knowledge and spiritual discernment that the church, while having its own unique flavor, passed his religious smell test. Ultimately however, he moved on.
I’m always mystified at how certain churches survive. Springing up in strip malls, industrial complexes, and in the downtown core; these places of worship must attract enough people to 4 or 5 weekend services to pay a monthly rent plus utilities, and yet somehow many continue for multiple years.
There are usually reasons why their adherents have chosen not to associate with larger, established churches, but to speculate as to four or five key factors would be to miss forty or fifty others. There’s almost always something quirky or distinctive about their doctrine, but as in the above example, it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker.
It’s important to remember that the aforementioned established churches didn’t start at the megachurch level. Trace their history, if they have one, and you find storefront types of beginnings.
A passion for world missions (Christian & Missionary Alliance). A concern for the poor and underprivileged (Salvation Army). A unique movement of the Holy Spirit (Assemblies of God).
Or today, many churches are springing up around ethnic diversity. In major cities you can find large clusters of people speaking any given language, but in secondary and tertiary markets, you’d be looking at strip mall type of fellowship.
Some people feel that in North America, the ethnic church simply is the hot church-planting story for the present time. But it’s a complex one, as the second generation, born and raised here, don’t always speak the parent’s language. So you have worship services in the native tongue, and others offered in English. You have kids that have ditched the language, but are always under the umbrella of the culture.
This week I ran into someone else who had chosen a downtown storefront place of worship. He had left a major denomination and was seeking something else.
And I think the s-word is key and deserves one more: People are searching. Their hunt doesn’t necessarily lead to the congregation with the largest parking lot, but increasingly, I think something in the small(er) church environment will resonate with them.
No church library? No child care? No comfy seats and air conditioning? I don’t think they really care. Those amenities are not in their line of sight.
Which may suggest something else. It might mean people are really looking for the house church or what is often termed simple church experience. Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name… and they’re always glad you came.
There is something about the interactive and informal nature of certain types of gatherings that appeal to a wide demographic swath right now.
They say in music and art that every period is a reaction to the period it follows. My generation was raised on highly programmatic church environments. When I did a church plant a few years back in a Youth for Christ drop-in center, it was like a breath of fresh air.
Our advertising caption was, “Ever wanted to raise your hand in church to ask a question? Now you can!”
For my wife, doing a church plant in a condemned motel for the people who lived there and didn’t have cars to get them anyplace else; the experience she had totally wrecked her for status quo churches. She has a hard time now dealing with business-as-usual worship services, following an order of service that was written in 1940.
So when I wonder, “Who is attracted to storefront churches?” I really don’t have to look any further than the other side of the bed. And when I ask myself, “What would draw someone to attend a service with just a small handful of others?” I already know the answer.