Although I can't share all the details, just to respect people's privacy, I want to share about a few conversations I've had over the past couple of weeks.
One was two weeks ago at a bible study I'm leading. The dynamics of that group are really interesting but among those who are a part of the group, we have some people who would tell you they aren't yet followers of Jesus, though they're thinking about it. There are also some people who are just coming back to church after being away for years as a result of some painful experiences. The discussion that night eventually turned to the idea of how TFC is such a "safe place." As each person told their story of connecting with church at TFC, the theme of "safe place" kept coming up in their story. I almost cried listening to their stories. It was so incredible.
And today I had lunch with a guy who is becoming a good friend and is a bouncer at one of the clubs we serve through our Love Wins ministry (see label below). This friend has no church background, admits to knowing little or nothing about God and the bible but is finding himself irresistibly drawn to our church. He said he loves coming and listening to me talk about this whole Christianity thing. To be honest, I can't remember all the details of our conversation but I do remember almost being in awe as he told me why he feels so welcome at TFC. One main thing is that we accept him for who he is, that "I don't have to be perfect to feel accepted at your church."
His coworkers have kept waiting for us to become "crazy, just like all the other Christians" or to start preaching at them, but since it's never happened, they've come to accept us as legit. That we really are the people we seem to be. And now that he's been to TFC a few times, his coworkers have been asking about the church. He told me not to be surprised if some coworkers show up at TFC sometime soon!
Creating an atmosphere like what we have at TFC has taken a TON of intentionality and we've still got work to do, but conversations like those are so affirming.
I have found however, that TFC is NOT a safe place for everyone. We are NOT a safe place for people who have rigid views on what makes a church a church, the grace of God or the essentials of living for Jesus. I've taken some major heat from well-meaning but misguided Christians who think I'm leading the wrong way. But I know that were I to follow their advice, TFC would no longer be the "safe place" that we're working to make it.
I guess every church leader or church planter needs to ask who they're willing to exclude in setting the values of their church; those who insist on conforming to good but extra-biblical standards or those who don't feel welcome in a lot of other churches. The latter will result in a growing faith among Christians who share that vision as well as a growing faith in the lives of future Christ-followers.