MainStreet Covenant Church was founded in 2011 on the following verse:
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. 17 He went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there.
One of my core convictions as we began forming this community was this: Most Americans today will not come to church on Sunday to hear a sermon. Therefore, in order to share the message of Jesus with them, we need to find ways to meet people where they can be found – i.e., “in the marketplace day by day” (Acts 17:17).
While most churches are focusing their time on trying to attract people to their Sunday services and offering programs to those inside their buildings, where are the leaders and churches finding new ways to engage in conversation with spiritual seekers beyond the walls? If many aren’t coming to church, how can the church go to them?
Yes, according to Acts 17:17, Paul’s missionary efforts in Athens had a two-pronged approach. He had two key mission fronts. First, he went to “church on Sunday” i.e., the synagogue on the sabbath, to preach to the religious folks who shared his holy book and core beliefs in God. We see this earlier in Acts 17:
“When they arrived [in Berea], they went to the Jewish synagogue. These Jews were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they eagerly received the message, examining the scriptures carefully every day to see if these things were so.”
In a Berean culture where people share your respect for the Scriptures and are open to the message, this strategy may work. This was small town America in the 1950s — think Mayberry! A church on every corner. Families in their Sunday best all filing into churches on Sunday just as religiously as Americans today gather around the TV to watch Sunday football.
Church planting was easy, too. Each new town that sprung up had a group of Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, etc. who came together to build a church. Everyone revered the Scriptures, even if they didn’t read them. And nobody thinks twice about the Ten Commandments in the Courthouse in a Berean culture.
Yet, to his credit when Paul landed in Athens he immediately recognized he was no longer living and preaching in a city like Berea where people “examine the scriptures carefully.” Athens was a very pagan, pre-Christian culture — as pre-Christian as 21st century America is becoming post-Christian. People didn’t read the Bible. If they did, they read it alongside a dozen other religious books. They were a cosmopolitan people, open to all kinds of different spiritualities, and the only thing they didn’t tolerate was a religion that intolerantly claimed to be the one true religion. Sound familiar?