I am not m even 100% sure what my title means exactly. But this is a phrase I hear a lot in Baptist circles today. We need to plant a church for the unchurched! Or all churches must be a church for the unchurched!
What does this even mean?
It sounds like saying "We need a baseball team for non-baseball players!" Or "We need a Chinese restaurant for people who hate Chinese food!"
First of all, in the entire New Testament there is not the phrase "church for" anybody. There is the "church of God" the "churches of Galatia" the "church of the Laodiceans" etc.
What is a church for the unchurched?
What is meant by unchurched?
Do we mean a church of the unchurched? That doesn't seem like something that jives with Scripture.
Here's the only thing I see that "unchurched" can possibly mean: not regularly gathering with a local church. If it means something other than that, well I don't understand language!
So if someone is not regularly gathering with a local church what does that mean? Here are two options:
1. They are lost. They are in rebellion against God. They need the gospel. They need someone to go to them and share the good news of the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
2. They are saved but living in sin (not gathering with a church is sin - Heb 10:24-25, 1 Jn 3:14, etc). They need the gospel. Specifically, they need church discipline. They need confronted with their sin and called to repentance. If they refuse to repent we are to assume they are in category 1 (see above).
And yet, a big drive behind our current affinity based church planting craze is that we need 'church for the unchurched.' We need churches to consist of lost people? That isn't even possible (well, yes it is 'possible' but it isn't a church). Or does it mean we need churches made up of unrepentant people who've skipped out on regularly attending a church? That doesn't make sense either!
Do we mean we need to create church meetings that are just inviting and comfortable to lost people or unrepentant church members not attending their church? If by inviting we mean friendly, that's fine. But if it means we need to create church services for lost/unrepentant people, well that's not a church gathering!
As I have discussed this affinity based stuff with people over the years, I really am convinced that many well meaning people think the main, regular gathering of the church should be focused on reaching lost people. You will not find that anywhere in the New Testament. We don't need a church for the unchurched. We need a church for the churched! Or how about I just say the biblical term: we need churches.
Wait. You don't care about lost people!? Don't you want to see people saved!? Absolutely! But this isn't the purpose of the regular gathering of Believers. Sure, a lost person may wander in, and if so I hope they hear the gospel and repent and believe! But our regular gatherings are for Believers (see 1 Cor. 14:26). Churches in the New Testament weren't set up to attract unbelievers to their gatherings.
A church is not required to gather in a building to be a church. She may meet in a home/homes or even a shop. But do we think this warrants turning the church gathering into a circus, rodeo, or rock concert? Do we think this warrants intentionally not gathering on Sundays because that's a good day to hunt? If so, we've missed the purpose of the local church gathering in the New Testament.
What is the church to do? A church should gather for worship, ordinances, edification, the Word, discipline, discipleship, giving, fellowship, prayer, etc. And then, she should scatter to proclaim the gospel to the lost.
If any unbeliever is in your regular gathering, he ought to feel conviction and be called to account (1 Cor 14:24-25).
What biblical basis is there for setting up the main gathering of a local church to be tailored for lost people or unrepentant church members? Beloved, there is no basis for this. We must quit any such practices in repentance.
Back to the baseball analogy. It's like we see tons of people who don't like baseball, so we'll change it up! Replace a bat with a hoop. Get a bigger ball. Play on a court not a diamond. Doesn't look like you're playing baseball anymore.
We do need to honestly asses our current situation and seek to align what we do with Scripture. I am in no way giving the established church a pass. In fact, I'm saying that's where reformation, revival, revitalization or whatever word you want to use needs to happen.
Perhaps I'm fighting a losing battle with this but my hope is the people of our denomination will consider these truths and adjust our church planting, and established church, practices accordingly.
For help: A short 9Marks article
Or you can watch this "funny" YouTube video (which would be a lot funnier if it didn't hit so close to home!)