Some churches are seeker-driven. A growing number are purpose-driven. But one church in Denver, Colorado has positioned itself as jaded-driven. Dave Terpstra, teaching pastor of The Next Level Church, shares how his own disillusionment with ministry made him question the wisdom of targeting the unchurched rather than pursuing the increasing number of church dropouts, like himself, filling our culture.
C.S. Lewis once said, "One courts a virgin differently than a divorc?," (or something along these lines; I've had trouble tracking the exact quote). Even back in the mid 20th century, Lewis recognized that reaching people with a jaded perspective of the church (divorc?s) would require a different strategy than reaching those without any church experience to begin with (virgins).
Certainly there are still some in our culture who are "church virgins," but it seems increasingly more common to find people who have had some church experience or interaction with the Christian sub-culture that has left them jaded. The dominance of Christian media, marketing, and political influence in recent years has only increased this likelihood.
By now we're all familiar with Willow Creek's mission statement: "to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ." Clearly, they are trying to reach the irreligious church virgins. The question is, how long before there is no one left who is "irreligious" or "unchurched"? I'm not suggesting that every American is actually religious and churched. Instead, I'm suggesting that whether they have attended a church or not, most Americans have formed an opinion about Christianity, and are far more jaded toward the church than we might want to admit.
So, is it wise to continue wandering the countryside in search of the increasingly rare church virgin, or should we be finding strategies to reach the herds of church divorc?s roaming our culture? At The Next Level Church we have chosen to go after those who are jaded, not only because of their number, but because most of us in leadership were in that place not too long ago.
During my first year at seminary, I successfully blew up two youth groups. I couldn't get along with the pastors of the churches I was serving, and it was messy. I can't in a few words describe my pain and shame about those failures. Despite bearing some of the responsibility myself, the experience left me with a jaded perspective of the church and its leaders. Deciding to leave the church altogether, a mentor and friend recommended that I attend a church instead of work at one. He connected me with TNL (The Next Level Church).
After a year and half at TNL, my view of the church had changed and my perspective was far less jaded. However, six weeks after I was hired on staff, our senior pastor resigned due to a major pattern of sin in his life - another opportunity to become jaded. But this time something was different. This time the pain was not something unknown. I had felt it before, and through his grace God allowed me to help others who were feeling it for the first time.
Because of the growing number of people in our culture with a negative perspective of the church and Christianity, we have adopted a strategy at TNL to intentionally reach them. We are seeking out the divorc?s. One of our core purposes is to introduce and reintroduce people to God and his Church.
The term "reintroduce" means something to people around TNL. Our community is full of "church divorc?s," people who have been burned by the church in the past. This reality has informed everything from how we welcome people in our services ("Maybe this is your first time at church, maybe it's your first time in a long time; you are welcome here just as you are"), to what illustrations I use in my talks. And we have seen God bring those who were disenfranchised by the church as well as church-virgins through our doors.