by Bob Whitesel, Biblical Leadership Magazine. 12/6/21
During the pandemic more worship services, including holiday events, have moved outside. And while the novelty of this has attracted some, should these outdoor venues continue after the pandemic?
I believe they should for three reasons.
First, the outdoor venue allows people to experience worship from their cars, which can be important for physically challenged people.
Robert Schuller tells a story that changed my view of drive-in worship. It seems that early in his church-planting career in Garden Grove, Calif., he was unable to find a suitable location to hold their worship service. So, on a temporary basis, they used a drive-in movie theater.
Of course, the novelty of a “drive-in church,” coupled with the image of car-crazy Californians, led to national media attention. As a result, more people began visiting the church and the church grew.
But the drive-in theater location was only meant to be temporary. Once they had enough money, Schuller and his team intended to build a traditional church building, without drive-in options.
But then a woman from the church contacted Schuller. She explained how her physical disabilities made it hard for her enter a church building and be comfortable. Even if she was able to enter, uncomfortable stares from ushers and congregants gave her less than a peaceful experience.
She explained to Schuller that she was like a full participant in drive-in worship. And she asked them to continue a drive-in option with the new church building. Schuller’s mission statement had been “find a need and fill it.” And with the drive-in option, they had stumbled across an under-reached people group: those with physical challenges.
In response, their new facility (and every other worship facility Garden Grove Community Church built) offered a “drive-in option.” Drive-in options are not needed because they are unique, but because they can connect with an underserved, physically challenged community.
Second, the outdoor venue allows people who are susceptible to illness to worship in a safer environment.
Research shows (Flavil Yeakley, Univ. of Ill.) that a motivating factor for many people who visit a church is personal illness or death of a family member. Our church visitors are often asking spiritual questions about life, health and death. And not surprisingly, in the new normal there is an increasing interest in health and the cleanliness of our churches.
Outdoor venues are safer for those with compromised health. And this reminds us that everyone should have unrestricted access to worship opportunities. A poignant example was when children, often viewed as social nuisances, were welcomed by Jesus unreservedly. Matthew 19:13-15 describes it this way (The Message):
One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened: “Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.” After laying hands on them, he left.
Third, an outdoor venue allows people who don’t yet feel part of your church-going culture, to join you semi-anonymously.
Our dress expectations, insider terms and unspoken territoriality are all too familiar to non-churchgoers. Not surprisingly, visitors become apprehensive when entering our unfamiliar cultures.
Yet Jesus asked us to humbly make the Good News accessible. Mark 6:7-13 (The Message) describes Jesus’ inaugural instructions to his 12 apostles this way:
Jesus called the Twelve to him, and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority and power to deal with the evil opposition. He sent them off with these instructions: “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple. And no luxury inns. Get a modest place and be content there until you leave. If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.” Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits.
And, Paul descried actions he took to minster cross-culturally, stating:
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Cor. 9:19-23, NIV).
Did this mean Paul changed his theology for different cultures? No, according to verse 21. But he did change his language, his illustrations and his locales, “so that by all possible means I might save some.”
During this pandemic God may be pushing you into new ways to connect with underserved portions of your communities. Look for the fruit from these endeavors and ask God to give you the boldness to expand your proclamation of the Good News.