It is the middle of convention season. All over the country in convention centers people are gathering to celebrate the things they love. While there are a whole host of small, local conventions, some of these gatherings are truly massive. The San Diego Comic Con, for instance, has an attendance of 130,000. For over a decade I have regularly attended my own large convention: Gen Con in Indianapolis. Gen Con is this month, and I will be joining 60,000 or so people for the best four days in gaming.
Whether it is a gaming convention, a comic con, or a fandom gathering people go to conventions to enjoy and celebrate something they love. Convention attendees know that everyone else at the convention is there for the same reason that they are. Even though a convention can have thousands of attendees there is an instant connection that exist because everyone knows they share the same passion with everyone else that is there. It is common to hear convention attendees express that one of the appeals of going to cons is that they can fully and truly be themselves. It is common to hear convention attendees to refer to their favorite cons as “a second home.”
I cannot help but compare the convention experience to the church worship service experience, because on paper they should be similar. In both instances people come together based around their passion, they gather to do something they enjoy, and they gather with people who share the same passion and enjoyment. The numbers point out that more and more people want to attend conventions just as it seems less and less people are wanting to go to church. Across the board conventions are becoming more and more popular while church attendance and involvement is declining. Even though the experience of a convention and church have a number of similarities there seems to be a key difference between them.
Perhaps the difference might be that conventions are a place where people feel free to be themselves. That is not always true in churches. It is common for people to feel a pressure to put a best self forward at church. It is common for people to hide behind a mask of being blessed, when the reality is they feel like they are falling apart. Churches are sometimes guilty of being places that lack genuine authenticity because everyone wants to be seen as happy and having it all together. For far too many people there seems to be a real fear of facing judgmental glances if they show up in a church and do not meet a certain image. If we are being honest, then for a lot of people the feeling that church is a place where they cannot be themselves is a fair criticism.
It is also a critique that all followers of Christ should collectively work to address. In Romans 15:7 Paul wrote “welcome one another therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” In some translations, the word translated as “welcome” is instead rendered as “accept”. This speaks to the kind of hospitality that followers of Christ are to show towards one another. The most effective way we welcome one another is to intentionally create an environment where everyone feels accepted. In order to do this churches need to be places where people feel free to be themselves. No matter how quirky they are, no matter how much their struggling, and no matter how broken they might be. This means we do not judge and we do not make qualifications. We should not create false images of some ideal expectation that everyone should meet. Instead we mutually celebrate what we have in common: The saving grace made known by Jesus.
Jesus Christ extended grace to us to accept us just as we are, mess and all. Those who seek to follow the example of Jesus, should do the same. We should welcome one another by accepting each other just as we are. Churches are not meant to be collections of perfect people who gather inside the building walls to be protected from a corrupting world. Instead churches should be gatherings of imperfect people who gather to celebrate and worship the perfect Savior we love. May we all be willing to accept one another just as we are, so that church becomes a place that feel like home for everyone.