What should the church be? A place where you go to meet someone like you, or a place where unity in diversity is the name of the game?
I think in this we have two divergent approaches to what the church should be. And the approach taken will determine a lot about what a church looks like.
On the one hand – if church is a place where you go to meet someone(s) like you, then we would expect to see different churches geared towards every “people group”, and in our churches we would design small groups and programs around every different interest and age group. This is the case in many places.
On the other hand – if church is a place where unity in diversity is not only an integral part of the design, but is portrayed as something to be sought after, then that would mean that our churches will be designed in such a way as to not be centered so much around bringing people together based on demographics and interests, but more about bringing people together around ideas and concepts and doctrines – no matter what stage of life they might be in.
I must say that for me, the second option is the more intriguing – and the more Gospel-driven. I think that unity in diversity is one of the greatest strengths of the body of Christ, and something we should seek after. If we are constantly surrounded by peers and people who are basically just like us in the way they think, their socio-economic status, their stage of life – then we will be poorer people as a result of having a very narrow view and experience.
If single people or young married couples without kids are in fellowship with people who have kids – actively spending time with them, then guess what happens: Yes, they have to deal with stuff they don’t usually have to: screaming kids, messes, tantrums. But guess what else: they learn from observation. They get to observe how those parents deal with their kids – for better or for worse. Rather than being a bother, this should be taken as an enriching experience. Part of the reason is because through being parents, those people have learned something God and walked with God and grown in ways that they couldn’t have otherwise. The person with kids has something to glean from the one who doesn’t – and those who don’t have kids have something to glean from those who do.
If upper-middle class people are in fellowship with lower-middle class people, what happens? Yes, they might feel uncomfortable with some things – there is an obvious cultural divide between economic classes in our society – but guess what else: presuppositions are challenged on both sides, and that is healthy and makes us grow.
In 2005 my wife and I planted a church in Eger, Hungary. In the beginning, the church only had one demographic: college-aged girls. They were all friends, they all hung out all the time. And that was fun and great for a while. Later on others joined the church – the oldest person in our fellowship was 40 years old, and we became known in town as the “youth” church. That was fun and great for a while – but do you know what happened? The people in the church began to complain and bemoan the fact that there was no one in the church who was different. There was no one who was older, who they could glean wisdom from. There were really no minorities to add cultural and economic diversity. God did add those elements to that fellowship in time – but the point is that they realized that they were poorer for the fact that they were surrounded with people who were basically the same age, same stage of life, same basic interests, etc.
Let me say that God’s vision for the church is much bigger than a group of people who gather together to find other people who are like themselves and share their interests. God’s vision for the church is that it be an oasis where the principles and culture of His Kingdom are present and cultivated, for the flourishing of life and the growth of human beings ultimately to the full stature of Jesus Christ.
Don’t limit your view of the Body of Christ to a lesser vision of it than what God intended. Embrace diversity, seek out diversity – for your own sake, for the sake of others and for the glory of God and the building up of His Kingdom. If the body of Christ is truly a body, and each member has been given a distinct gift to share and a role to play in the lives of others to mutually build each other up and help each other grow – then don’t not limit your experience of the body of Christ to just ‘someone like you’.