When The Dentist Is Better Than Church
I've been sitting in the lobby of the dentist office where my kids go to get their teeth cleaned and such. It's easily the most magical dentist office lobby I've ever seen.
Seriously, it looks like a Disney attraction. It has a jungle theme and there are resin figures of giraffe, meerkat, a large elephant eating popcorn and a ring-tailed lemur on the ceiling. There is a huge TV playing a kid's movie, iPads for kids to play video games. There's even a TV in the corner with "adult" programs.
And there's free wifi.
I watched my littlest kid getting some pretty awful work done on his teeth one day. I was standing on the other side of the door looking through a window. He had on cool tinted googles and was playing video games while looking at a screen on the ceiling.
While getting his teeth messed with.
The dentist I went to as a kid once numbed one side of my mouth to pull a tooth and then started pulling the tooth on the other side. Then he grumpily numbed the proper side to pull my tooth out. I walked out of there feeling like my face was three feet wide. There were no video games, no elephants, no ring-tailed lemurs.
It was a terrible experience that I never forgot.
I've been thinking a lot lately about the way most unChurched and deChurched people relate to the Church. When you talk to people who don't attend church about why they don't attend church, they will often relate to you a story or two that's the church-y equivalent of my face-numbing experience.
The problem that most churches have is that they assume that worship has to be completely devoid of joy. Some Christians will share with you in enthusiastic and joyful terms about the new restaurant they visited, or the latest movie they saw. But when they go to church it's like they're going to... get their teeth pulled.
No wonder church membership and worship attendance in America is in a free fall.
It doesn't have to be this way. It doesn't matter the form in which you worship--whether you have a "high church" liturgy with lots of stand-up/sit-down stuff, organ music, choirs, etc. OR you have a casual atmosphere with a band, videos, coffee, etc. If you don't worship with joy, people don't want to hang with you.
In Psalm 84:1-2 we have this declaration of joyful, reverent worship:
How lovely are Your dwelling places, O LORD of hosts! My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD; My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
Imagine if those of us who claim to follow Jesus brought a new sense of joy to our gatherings. Imagine if we committed to authentically and fully creating space where unChurched and deChurched would have incredible, joyful and wonder-inducing experiences when they visited our churches.
Imagine a new generation of worshippers who love coming to church, serving their church, being the Church. The last time I took my little guy to the dentist he had some serious work done and came out with a mouthful of gauze. "Dad, can we stay here a while?" he asked me. He wanted to watch a video and play some video games in the lobby.
My kid... didn't want to leave the dentist's office.
May those of us who follow Jesus rediscover our authentic joy in worship. May we create space for grace within our worshipping communities. May we find creative, imaginative and wonder-inducing ways to know and to show Jesus to the world.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us now and always. Amen.