In 1980 a country singer named Johnny Lee recorded a song entitled, “Looking For Love (In All The Wrong Places). The theme of the song centers on the woeful lament of a man who vainly looks for lasting love in honky-tonks and bars. His hope is that one day he will finally find his true love, even though he seems to understand that the places where he is looking are not the right places to find such love.
Most of us would agree that looking for true love in a honky-tonk or bar is an exercise in futility. The reasons ought to be obvious because of the nature of the environment in such places. While some may argue that these are simply places where adults can go for entertainment, the truth is that these are places where the opportunity for ungodly activity of various kinds is facilitated, if not encouraged. It doesn’t make sense to look for sincere love in a such a place.
In a similar manner, it seems that many today are looking for God in the religious equivalent of honky-tonks and bars. We hear much today of what it takes to attract the world to the church. Church growth gurus have done studies and surveys to discover the kinds of things that appeal to the so-called “unchurched.” Their suggestions to church leaders cover the spectrum of possibilities. The result is what might be called a “theme park” approach to Christianity.
The people in the pews become consumers, and church leaders are marketers trying to win their patronage. The surveys say the unchurched are intimidated by the formality of Christian worship. So preachers wear blue jeans and T-shirts to preach. Sermons become chat sessions or talk shows, complete with guests, Q&As, and applause. Worship becomes a media-driven pep rally, replete with thumping rock music, albeit with Christian themes and words.
Lost somewhere in the mad rush to look for and to attract the unchurched is the simple message of Jesus Christ, who said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” (Jn. 12:32). In 1 Cor. 2:1, 2 Paul said, “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” The implication of these statements is that Jesus Christ and His death on the cross is the one and only attraction to bring people to faith in Him.
Many may try to justify their attempts to attract the unchurched by noting that Paul became all things to all people so he might win some (1 Cor. 9:22). The fallacy of this argument is that Paul did not attempt to “Christianize” worldly activities in order to draw the world into the church. Rather, he simply adapted his message and approach to preaching the gospel so that he would not personally be an impediment to faith in Christ.
The power to draw people to Christ and to change their lives is vested by God in His word. James said it is the implanted word that saves us (Jas. 1:21). Paul said that from childhood Timothy had been taught the sacred writings “which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). We an only find God in His book, the Bible. We can only find salvation in His book, the Bible. Let’s stop looking for church growth in all the wrong places, and return to God’s word.