What’s in a name?
Last week, while walking with my family around the neighborhood, we passed by the elementary school, with a yard sign out front. A church was renting the space on Sunday.
I kind of cringed at the name while I snapped a picture. For one, “Oasis of Love” sounds kind of funny. If I moved to Nevada and opened a brothel, I might call it “Oasis of Love.”
But even more so, I cringed at the second part of the name, “Family Church.”
There were lots of things this church could’ve done. They could have used just the word “church.” They might have paired it with the word “community.” They may have called their church a “worship center.”
But of all the choices they had, they used those specific words. And in so doing, they illustrated what many of our churches are guilty of, a guilt that I thought about while I walked home with my new little family…
…Our churches have made an idol out of family.
You Need Not Apply
Everyone knows that American churches aren’t doing so well, on the whole. We aren’t exactly growing in the ranks.
Knowing this, if I were building a church from the ground up, I don’t think I would pick a name that caters to a particular population.
We know who this church is for, families. This is a church where families are welcomed, where families are served, where families will find themselves in the majority.
And by that act of catering to families (which seems like a pretty safe bet), churches are basically saying to a whole lot of other people, “You need not apply.”
Single people? “You need not apply.”
Empty nesters and retirees? “You need not apply. You’re boring anyway.”
Infertile couples? “You need not apply. We don’t want your sadness.”
But What *Kind* Of Family?
I know I’m picking on this one particular church. But I can think of a handful of churches just in my city that share this problem. By their very names, we know who is welcome and who is not as welcome.
Even more than catering to families is the fact that these churches, more than likely, have a particular kind of family they have in mind. They are hoping the right kind of family will come through the doors.
These kinds of churches like nuclear families, of course.
They like suburban families.
A relatively healthy level of affluence would be nice, so they can be tithing families.
Families in which everyone is healthy and normal are good too. Families with special needs children are hard to deal with and make the aforementioned families uncomfortable.
Single-parent families aren’t ideal, since they probably need more than they can give.
Families with rebellious or struggling children aren’t great either, since they don’t give a positive image to the church.
Really, the best kind of family is the one that can check the most boxes on a list of socioeconomic factors, use the fewest resources, while contributing the most money.
So when you make it your business to start saying you are a family church, it just makes good business sense to really define your audience.
The True End of Traditional “Family”
You may be thinking I’m extrapolating a bit too much from a name, and you might be right.
But you know I’m right.
Even churches by other names idolize family. We have made family our object of worship.
We ignore those untidy little verses in which Jesus says that following him will become an issue that divides families. Brother against brother, children against parents. Jesus didn’t come to bring unity, but a “sword.”
I love my little nuclear family, and I hope I get to keep them forever. I hope we stay healthy and loving toward each other.
But we know that our churches preach “family” as more of a social institution, a cultural battle, than a spiritual reality. That’s why we are still so divided. It’s why we don’t love the people who are outside our “family.”
The day we start loving the others, the people who are not in our family, is the day we realize that we were all a part of the same family all along.