If I were to use the average church outreach program as a guide, I would have to assume that the average non-Christian is lazy, stupid, ignorant, unwilling to learn and suffering from attention deficit disorder. He has two kids that he loves but never spends any time with, leaving him racked with guilt. He is trying to hold a marriage together but his wife ranks a distant second to his career.
It really seems that this is the way many Christians regard unbelievers. Consider, for example, Bible translations. Though most Christians were brought to the Lord through an “old-fashioned version of the Bible,” those translations are apparently much too difficult for today’s unbelievers. After all, who could understand a difficult translation like “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” when we could use something so much easier like “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” Why would we want to give them God’s literal words and make them think when we could do the thinking for them? I recently heard a person in a Christian bookstore explaining to someone how difficult the New International Version is and convinced the patron to purchase The Message. If I was an unbeliever I would consider this insulting! The NIV is easily readable and understandable by anyone with even an elementary-level education.
Or what about preaching? We seem to believe that despite the fact that we all sit through two or three hour lectures all the way through post-secondary education, when it comes to preaching it had better be fifteen minutes or less or we will lose their attention. Having been raised in a television-saturated culture we assume they no longer possess the ability to sit still for more than 22 minutes. So we shorten the preaching and change it to feel more like a casual talk than expository preaching of the Word.
We no longer pray in church, believing that time dedicated to prayer will drive away “seekers.” Whatever happened to good old-fashioned congregational prayer? Our perception of the unbeliever’s attention deficit disorder has made us lose this practice.
Even our music shows the way we regard unbelievers. We somehow think that four verses of a hymn will bore them to tears, so we cut our music down to short choruses (which, ironically, we repeat ten or twelve times).
It is ironic that in an age where we so highly regard the New Testament church, we seem to lose sight of what made that church so great. Throughout Acts we read about the first Christians “praying continually,” “searching the Scriptures,” and studying doctrine. Yet in our churches we so often suppress the Scriptures, pray only before the offering and push doctrine away altogether. We do all of this to remain inoffensive to unbelievers.
I think unbelievers come to church looking for something different. If they wanted exactly what they experience in their daily lives, they would not need church. If a man sits in an office for eight hours a day why do we try to give him the exact same look and feel on his day off? Churches get noticed by being different, not by being the same. Let’s take pride in our differences and trust that God will use these to reach people for Him, just as he did with the earliest church.