One of the last papers of my seminary career has to be written in the area of ethics. I’ve chosen to write a paper on the ‘ethicis of space’, examining how space affects people and exploring ways churches can think about space and speak clearly with to others with their space (etheir space existing in their finished buildings, or the formation of space in their building plans, or by expanding their space in their communities through the development of ‘third places’).

I read something today that I felt really helped me understand one audience that churches are speaking to with their space – the de-churched. Here’s part of the passage I read, “An entire past comes to dwell in a new house. The old saying: “We bring our lares with us” has many variations.” (The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard)

Whether we realize it or not there are hundreds of people living in our communities that used to be apart of churches and no longer are. The reasons they hold for leaving the church (not the building but the community of God’s people) are as variagated as are their own personal stories. How can the church reach the de-churched? How can she speak a welcome to them in a manner that they can recieve? How can we be contextual to those who may be more aware of the un-normalcy of what we can normal than we are?

As we seek to reach the de-churched we have to realize that they ‘bring their lares with them’, and our space is one element of our message – whether we like that or not. Jesus put the emphasis on the internals of man, and that’s where we must put our emphasis, if their hearts are not confronted with repentence then nothing we do with our space will matter. But how can they be confronted with their need for repentance by us if we will not extend a welcome to them, a welcome that includes an intentional message about how God would have us use our space?

Ministering to the de-churched;

First, we need to see our context of ministry with the de-churched as a listening ministry. We need to hear why they left the church; what they felt or what happened to them in their old communities, their old ‘homes’; and where they’ve felt the conviction of the Spirit and Word as they consider their ‘homelessness’ without the church community?

Second, we need to pray for healing and conviction in their hearts and minds, for clarity of memory and clarity of truth. That God would apply his word to them and they would recieve correction for leaving the church. Leaving the community of saints is sin and must be transformed by the gospel, but our words are not the only place where that correction can come from. We should pray that either the Spirit would provide us opportunity or that he would speak to them through his word in places like Hebrews. We also need to realize that they may not have left the church, but rather were pushed out. The difference between these is huge!

Lastly, we need to consider the context and culture of our own church community and ask ourselves some difficult questions: are we the kind of people that is generating or contributing to the growth of de-churched? does our space exist for our comfort and satisfaction or does it exist to welcome in the un-churched and de-churched? are our shepherds wise and prepared to minister to these people (what does equiping look like for shepherding de-churched people)? where is the gospel in all of this, do they hear and understand it, do we hear it and understand it?

May the Lord himself be our light to them, may he minister to our hearts as we hear difficult stories, as we hold together costly and sacrificial friendships, and as we continue to approach His throne of grace for help and strengthening…