Thursday, September 4, 2008

Culture Shock: Why the Homeless Don't Come To Church

Approximately 30 to 50 percent of the homeless are committed, baptized Christians. Yet most of us don’t see them, or even the working class, in our churches. This is not because the homeless or the lower social class don’t go to church. Rather, they have their own churches. Here in Portland, there are churches that specifically target the homeless, and many churches that specifically welcome the working class. There are missions, bible studies, individual worship services and many other venues for the homeless to worship and serve God.
If you don’t see the homeless in your church, it likely due to a cultural difference. Every church is not just a spiritual experience, but a cultural one. We have certain customs and kinds of worship that are specifically for our cultural group which, on the other hand, push away those of different cultural or social experience. For instance, if we speak English in our congregation, we do not offer a welcoming atmosphere to those who only speak Spanish. This is not a bad thing, but we shouldn’t wonder why no Spanish-speaking people come to our services.
Similarly, if everyone in our church is clothed in suits or dresses, smells good and has a small group of like-dressed friends with whom they associate exclusively, it should be no wonder that homeless people, even if they wandered into the church, wouldn’t feel welcome. If the church has a number of unspoken rules, such as not speaking during the sermon or Bible readings, not making statements in the middle of the service, not pacing or making wild movements in the middle of an aisle, then it is no wonder that the mentally ill wouldn’t feel welcome in our church. And most churches aren’t open to having people drunk or high in their service.
The homeless do not refrain from coming to these churches because they are not really Christian. Nor do they avoid them because they are greater sinners than other church-going Christians. It is because they feel uncomfortable, out of place and that everyone is judging them.

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