A friend recently causally remarked how odd it was to want to drive into the city to go to church. As it turns out for this particular church, thousands of people do just that each Sunday. They drive 5, 10, 15, 20 miles to go to church. When my spouse was in the Conference office and our family got to pick our church instead of being assigned to one, we drove past 5 or 6 United Methodist churches to the one where we felt at home. At that time we were also looking for a strong youth program for our daughter, and this church had one. But the point is that we did not go to the church nearest us.
People also don't necessarily go to the nearest or neighborhood grocery store or mall. We have the freedom to go where we want and to find what we need. So the question remains, should we expect people to necessarily attend their neighborhood church?
Again, when my spouse served a large downtown church, people drove as far as 40 miles to attend. Yes, 40 miles each way, each Sunday to come to church. Must be something special about that church? For that family, they wanted their children to attend the church where they had friends.
In our Conference, all pastors are being asked to chart out their neighborhoods and map out where their members live. Sure, it's always good to see, know, and serve the people in your reach. But these days churches can have a much farther reach than their neighborhoods or where they think they can reach.
I know of one small church pastor who started posting his sermons online. Many in the congregation thought it was a huge waste of time. Who would see it? And if they did, they probably wouldn't come to their church. But surprise, they did. And that church now extends the light of Christ around the world.
We in the church shouldn't settle for only those people we can see, we should reach out so that people will see Christ through our church, whether in our neighborhood, city/town, state, nation, or world.