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Last night I served at Pinellas “Hope City,” a tent city created to reach out to the poor and the homeless, to empower them through having physical addresses, job interview training, and more to re-enter the public square. One of the people at “Hope City” that I’ve gotten to know is a man named Bill. Bill’s a runner, a passionate runner. He started running as a kid when his parents took away his bicycle as a punishment. Pretty soon Bill realized that he was the fastest runner in his town.

Bill runs 5 miles to church and 5 miles back from church every Sunday. As anyone whose ever ran knows you have time to notice what’s around you as you run. Bill shared with us last night in our bible study at “Hope City” something he’s seen every Sunday that has brought him to tears. People, thousands of people who could be apart of a church community but aren’t. Bill says the main reason he believes they’re not is because they’re not welcomed.

‘Church people’s’ lives are too busy or too distracted to welcome in strangers, especially strangers like me who don’t visibly fit,” Bill shared with me in a side conversation.

I read a staggering statistic awhile back in a Barna book. The statistic said that 80% of people between the ages of 16 to 22 have spent at least 3 months in a church. Now there’s no way in the world that churches are seeing any where near that same number sticking to their communities. Why?

I think Bill gets it. I think Bill sees what most ‘church-going folk’ don’t. He sees the relational fences. Invisible to the church but visible to anyone who is new and seeking genuine community. During the bible study which was on Galatians 5 & 6 Bill broke down in tears, shouting that this is not the way God had intended the church to be. Bill understands what Christ means, he understands that Galatians 5 is less about legalism being confronted and more about communal inclusion being broadened though the two aren’t inseparable. He understands that Christ makes all the difference in the world! 

I’ll leave you with these simple questions – How can the church start to see the invisible fences that are so visible to the world around her? How can she see what Bill sees? Why doesn’t she?

(Photographic art by tempo, piece entitled “keep out“)