A new friend of mine whom I have been learning a great deal from often suggests that most Christians are in an echo chamber. What happens in an echo chamber? You hear many reverberating versions of the sounds that you create. Basically, you hear many things that sound just like you. My friend describes the proverbial Christian echo chamber as a place where we have the same Christian conversations, drink the same Christian coffee, and do the same Christian things, all the while forgetting what the world sounds like. Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying…we are to be in the world…not of it. But if we are in the echo chamber are we in the world? If we are only ever meeting other Christians for coffee, inviting other Christians into our homes, or becoming friends with other Christians, will we ever be able to engage the world with the gospel? We so often surround ourselves with people who talk like us, look like us, think like us, and believe like us.
Consider also how many churches practice outreach. A big event is planned. Flyers are made. The most entertaining speaker is booked. Everyone is encouraged to invite someone else to this event. This could be called the “attractional” model of outreach, where the church hopes to have as many people as possible come to their event. Again, please don’t hear what I’m not saying. This isn’t a bad thing, but consider who generally shows up to these events. Most often it is folks who have already been churched in some way or another. Most churches experience growth through what I like to call “transfer growth”. The same churched crowd gets shuffled and re-shuffled until many are burned out on being invited to another church event. How often are we simply reshuffling the deck? One church grows at the expense of another. What about the growing majority of the population who is un-churched and has no interest what-so-ever in a church event? They are outside of the echo chamber, and we often have lost the ability to truly hear them, let alone be able to engage with them. So what do we do? How do we move beyond the crowd that is simply being re-shuffled?
First of all, if you are like me you are feeling challenged and overwhelmed. It can be easy to just want to throw our hands up and say…”this is just how it’s going to be.” The reality is that we realize just how much must change in our minds and hearts to break out of the echo chamber. It’s going to require that we do some research. It’s going to require some time. It’s going to require intentionality to look for those who are outside the echo chamber…and talk to them, ask them questions, learn what makes them tick…and then keep asking questions, until both you and the person find some level of common ground. I guarantee you that you will find it if you lean in enough, because there will always be at least one area of commonality…the Image of God. Every human being has the same needs and longings. Ravi Zacharias (a philosopher and theologian) says that every human being (whether they know it or not) is trying to answer four questions: 1) Where did everything come from? 2) Why am I here? 3) How do I decide what is right and wrong? 4) Where am I headed after all this? Listen for these questions, or statements that point to these questions.
If we are willing to research our way out of the echo chamber we will begin to learn what those outside sound like. Over time we will more quickly be able to understand them. They will feel like we understand them, and a real connection will be made.
It is important to point out here the value of putting this into practice as a whole community. If just a few of us are researching our way out of the echo chamber and folks “out there” come to be with the rest of us then will the rest of our church family be able to also make a real connection with the “outsider”? When someone comes to be with the church family that doesn’t look like us, sound like us, or think like us how will the church body response to them? We know the “right” answer to this which is to say, “Of course we would receive anyone no matter what, because that is what Christ calls us to do.” But will the person sense that? Will their “image-of-God receptors” pick up a real love and welcome in the same way they were invited in by the individual who went outside of the echo chamber?
Let’s take a brief look in Mark 2:13-17 at how Jesus’ kingdom works:
13 He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Notice that Jesus was drawn to the tax collector in verse 13. Tax collectors were not in the “religious echo chamber” of Jesus’ day. Jesus invites Levi to come be with Him. The next thing you see is Jesus having a meal at Levi’s house with other sinners and tax collectors. This means the “inviting” that Jesus did was not an invitation to an event or to synagogue, but to time with himself. What does this mean for us? We are inviting people not to an event or church function, but to a Person. Spend time with people. Ask them about themselves. Ask them to explore the big life questions with you. The key in all of this is that we are inviting people to the person of Jesus and we are with them all along the way. Levi was one of the Twelve with whom Jesus spent the majority of his life.
Who are the few with whom you are willing to spend a large amount of time? Are you willing to shift your rhythm of life to give time to those few? I write as one who is still learning this myself, so I “invite” you to join me “out there” so that we together can research our way out of the echo chamber and into the most dignifying calling we could be given…joining in the Lord’s work of redemption through personal evangelism. You will not find a more joy-filled calling in this world.