Editor’s Corner: An insider mentality

By Amy Forbus

While on an Arkansas road trip last month, I saw signs in the yards of two churches, at opposite ends of the same county, bearing the same message:

“EXPOSURE TO THE SON PREVENTS BURNING”

I said a quick prayer of thanks that neither marquee belonged to a United Methodist congregation and tried to shake it off, but here I am writing about it, so it must have had some impact. A negative one, to be sure.

Church-culture insiders with an appreciation for puns may chuckle at the brief little quips commonly found on church signs. But are we trying to reach—and change the minds and hearts of— “insiders”?

Statements like the one above (as well as the harmless-yet-hackneyed variety, like “Come on in! We’re prayer-conditioned!”) may affirm a reader’s suspicion that Christians have nothing of value to say. At their worst, these messages can repel the very people Jesus calls us to reach: those who aren’t part of the church crowd… who think of Genesis as a band that was big in the ‘80s, not as a book of the Bible… who have no idea what that guy in the rainbow wig meant with his “John 3:16” poster.

In his Mission Plan, featured in the Sept. 20 issue of the Arkansas United Methodist and available online at arumc.org, Bishop Mueller outlines 10 steps for us to take as a Conference; as
clergy and laity; and as local churches in our current cultural context.

Point 10 falls under the category “Next Step for a Changing Culture”: The churches of the Arkansas Annual Conference will connect with the previously churched, de-churched and never churched, especially the “nones.”

Who are the nones? The easy answer is that they’re the people who check the box “none” when asked about their religious preference.

The more uncomfortable answer: They’re your next-door neighbor, your waiter at the new restaurant you tried last week, your kids’ friends (and possibly your kids), the checker at the store, your pharmacist, your college buddies… we are surrounded by nones. And aside from possibly identifying with the term “spiritual but not religious,” they’re not going to buy into platitudes.

It’s time to dig deep and learn to share what our faith really means. We must remember that we have more than platitudes to offer. We have the unreserved love of Christ, which doesn’t do us any good if we don’t give it away to everyone we encounter.

Many churches already use their signs to share opportunities to connect with the congregation, and that’s valuable. Some signs share open-ended statements that can prompt conversations about faith. The most important way to connect, though, comes through each of us. Intentionally or not, our daily interactions proclaim our faith. We need to make certain it’s not an insiders-only message.

To reach me, send an email to aforbus@arumc.org.