Last week I met a girl in a coffee shop.
It’s not that uncommon for me to start conversations with complete strangers, male or female; sometimes we hit it off and become friends, other times it’s just a one-time chat. The interesting thing about this particular conversation is that, not only did we hit it off, but we kept talking for the whole week. Again, that’s not super unusual, but the interesting thing about her is, she’s not a Christian.
When the subject of religion came up, she politely clarified she grew up Christian, but she is NOT one now.
The more we talked, however, I began to see just why she left Christianity. The church where she grew up was quick to dismiss people for a plethora of sins. When she got her first tattoo, there was a massive freak-out that ran through her family and their church friends. She even said her brother had a best friend, but that friend came out as homosexual. The brother responded by never talking to that friend again.
At one point, my new friend summed it up concisely: “I associate Christianity with judgment.”
After hearing her story, I told her that if I grew up with her experience of Christians, I wouldn’t want anything to do with that religion either! I mean, who would?
There are always perks of being in an exclusive club, which is how many of today’s churches exist. You enter into a tribal “us versus them” mentality and get to be on the inside. You get to be the one determining who is in and who is out. For many people, this is attractive, as long as you’re the one on the inside. Many Christians defend these actions by claiming to be in pursuit of holiness. They seek a sort of purity for their lives, but do it at the expense of cutting out everyone who doesn’t align with their particular vision of holiness.
The problem is, that is so ridiculously far from the Christianity Jesus demonstrated that it’s laughable. Where in the Bible are we called to live in an exclusive club which casts people out for breaking the rules? Is that really how we are to live?
My new friend repeatedly told me throughout the week that she had never met a Christian like me, who was ‘cool’ and non-judgmental and had tattoos. I told her there’s nothing special about me, she has just been hanging out with the wrong Christians her whole life! I imagine that compared to them, most Christians would seem pretty good.
The problem is, her experiences in church had formed such a terrible picture of what Christianity is that she wanted nothing to do with it. And I can’t blame her; I wouldn’t either. What’s worse is, her experience is far from isolated. I can’t help but wonder how many people my age would still be in church today if they hadn’t been driven out by judgmental, angry and exclusive Christians.
So what’s the alternative?
Since hanging out with my new friend and introducing her to some of my community, I think we have slowly began to change her opinion of Christians. I’m not saying that my friends and I are exemplary Christians, or that we are better than everyone else and everyone should be like us. We have plenty of issues and weaknesses.
What I am saying is that my roommates and I make an effort to be welcoming—we try to go out of our way to welcome everyone, before we even discover if they’re a Christian or not. Because that has no impact on how we will treat them. We want them to be attracted to us in the hopes that we will in turn attract them to Christ. Far too many Christians are just blatantly unattractive that they drive people not only away from themselves, but also away from church and Christ Himself.
(You hopefully know by now I’m not talking about looking attractive, but one’s ability to attract people to themselves with love, acceptance, etc. Just like Jesus did, even if He wasn’t necessarily good-looking. The irony is how many pastors think it’s best to attract people by looking good or wearing expensive designer rags.)
So what does this look like? Here are a few do’s and don’t’s, though it’s far from a comprehensive list.
Do: Welcome everyone with a smile, regardless of race, religion, or sexual beliefs.
Don’t: Discard people like they’re rotten pieces of fruit. You don’t get “heaven points” for pointing fingers at others.
Do: Be open to all sorts of interests, from film to music to popular trends or celebrities. This doesn’t mean you need to like them in your private time, but nothing makes people want to walk away from you like saying, “Oh, you like the Kardashians? I HATE them!”
Don’t: Yuck other people’s yums. Just because you don’t care for something doesn’t mean everyone needs to know. Loudly disliking someone’s favorite (dirty) song doesn’t make you a better Christian, it just makes you unattractive.
Do: Listen to other people’s opinions and beliefs, even (gasp) people across the political aisle. They have their own personal reasons for thinking the way they do, but this doesn’t mean you need to be enemies.
Don’t: Get into comment wars. Ever. Or conversational wars, etc. Learn how to disagree with someone and love them at the same time. If you can learn that last one, you’ll go far in life.
Do: Be generous. Be kind. Be a good listener.
Do: Be stoked about Jesus. Nothing makes people curious about a subject like seeing others who are passionate about it. My new friend even told me she wants to check out my church because of how I “light up when talking about God.” Again, nothing super special about me, I’m just excited to connect people to Him!
I know this is all pretty generalized, and you would think it would be more widely practiced because of how obvious it is.
We will never win the world to Christ if all of our first impressions are just repulsive. Paul wrote often about not judging those outside the church (1 Corinthians 5:12), and Jesus told us that it is by our love the world will know we are Christians (John 13:34).
There is no excuse for being an unattractive Christian. Those people don’t just drive others away from themselves, but away from Jesus Himself. Let’s all work on drawing others to ourselves so we can point them to the source of love, joy, and life.