By Rev. Kristin Joyner
For those who assume that going to a church means getting up on a Sunday morning to go inside a building, sit on a hard chair, listen to a sermon and sing, this is for you. For those who think you know what “church people” are like, and what they think about, this is also for you. For the woman who apologized that she tried church, but didn’t like the music, and for the friend who would rather have brunch with friends on a Sunday morning, this is also for you. Trust me, if being affiliated with church was solely defined by Sunday morning worship, I wouldn’t be there either. These misunderstandings about church is one reason that increasing numbers of people want no church affiliation. This is an invitation to get clear information about what church really is. Assumptions and preconceived notions are not how people should learn about the church, we need to share more stories.
Jesus was that person who went outside and walked the streets of his town. He met with people, listened to them and asked: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51)
And he said to us “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these” (John 14:12). Yet, the Church fell into ways that said “This is what we will do for you” instead of asking the question that Jesus asked.
And so people were done, checking the box “none” when asked about their religious preference. In the United States’ Pacific Northwest, we are called “The None Zone” because of the high percentage of people who do not identify with any religion.
I grew up here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, enjoying what many of those “nones” do identify with, the evergreen trees, mountaintops, rainforests, water activities and coffee. Many of those “nones” speak of their spirituality, but not of a religion. We are in a place where Heaven has become a literal mountaintop experience, a silent glide in a kayak on a glassy lake or the perfect frothy foam on a latte. It is a sin to not go outside on a sunny day, to close your airplane shade on the Mount Rainier view or to drink from a single-use water bottle. God is abundant in this zone. So where is the church?
I have been active in church my whole life, learning about God’s grace, creative spirit, and encouraging words. I found a place of care, family, courageous justice and stories of transformation. It breaks my heart to hear that people don’t want any part of it. There seems to be a disconnect, and I don’t think it’s about worship style and song choice.
I am a United Methodist. Around me I see United Methodist Churches feeding their neighbors, housing the homeless, advocating for justice and engaging with mixed cultures. Inside the buildings people grow in their understanding of faith, care for one another through life experiences of birth, celebration, cancer and aging. Small groups gather to learn about racism, the environment, girls’ education and global initiatives. Church is where people fellowship, learn and love in deep conversation, communal hopes and prayer. Many United Methodist Churches are doing the works that Jesus was doing.
Yet most people say: “No thanks.”
I have seen the church returning to its roots to ask Jesus’ question to the community: “What do you want me to do for you?” New expressions of faith have created communities that expand the traditional boundaries of church. The church is out in the world, getting to know their neighbors, caring about a generation of people who report loneliness and a desire for a life with meaning. The church offers a transformed life with meaning and connections to one another. Reconnecting to church can be the reconnecting that becomes the Beloved Community, where all people are loved and all know they are loved. Reconnecting to church isn’t defined by sitting in a pew, it is a way of being present in the community! But it appears that most people don’t know this.
My friend Lynne, an editor, and I were lamenting this disconnect one rainy day while sipping a hot beverage by the fireplace in a local establishment. It’s time, we determined, that current-day stories are told. It’s time to expose this inadvertent best-kept-secret of who the church really is, and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in today’s context.
You are invited and encouraged to look for the stories of church near you. To find a church, use the Find-a-Church feature or feel free to email us. It is likely that you will find a way to share life with a community that cares about what you care about.
The book Lynne and I envisioned, Filling the Void – Voices from the None Zone includes real life narratives from thirteen clergy and how their local churches are joining in with God in the transformation of the world. We pray that those who are wondering what the church is up to, or if it exists at all, will read these stories of hope and transformation and hear the old story that is good news for all.
Proceeds from the sale of this book will benefit the United Methodist Committee on Relief U.S. Disaster Response. Books will be available through Cokesbury, Amazon, and Market Square Publishing.
 Frykholm, Amy. Christian Century, “In the None Zone: Religion in the Pacific Northwest” December 2, 2008
https://www.christiancentury.org/article/2008-12/none-zone, accessed February 6, 2019
 Quentin Fottrell, Nearly Half of Americans Report Feeling Alone, Market Watch October 10, 2018. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/america-has-a-big-loneliness-problem-2018-05-02, accessed February 11, 2019
Rev. Kristin Joyner serves as the Associate Pastor of Community Engagement at Bothell United Methodist Church. Kristin is passionate about engaging in the communities locally and globally. For over a decade she has continued to develop relationships within the United Methodist Connection in the Democratic Republic of Congo, especially the young people of Jamaa Letu Orphanages. In addition, she works ecumenically to develop partnerships that will increase services for people experiencing poverty and homelessness.