The Unlikely Evangelist

Centurion's servant Paolo Veronese

Unearthed in a longish Andrew Sullivan thread about atheists relating to religious culture:

Recently a young fellow who openly identified as atheist began attending the same church I do, and by attending I mean fully participating: small group meetings, community service projects, Sunday School – the whole nine yards. It turns out, he is there for much the same reason I am, because he needs friends and community and a church can be a good place to find it.  He is welcomed with open arms and loved by everyone.

Fast forward to a recent Sunday meal with a young couple who also turned up at our church.  When the question was asked how they found out about our church, the answer was through our young atheist friend.  ”We thought if you accepted him, then we’d have a place too.” As it turns out, our atheist has been the best recruiter our little church has ever had.  I count at least eight regular attendees he brought with him. Some of them were already people of faith, some were searching, and others were just lonely.

I love that kid and the way he has opened up space in our midst. The church should be a place of refuge for everyone and when it truly is people just might start coming.

This is remarkable for a variety of reasons – perhaps most that the church has been so embracing of this young man and that he has reciprocated by inviting so many people to this church. On another note there is something about this story that is quite satisfying to me but that I fear some would find dissatisfying: we have almost no way to identify this church or its denomination or its theology. It reads as broadly Protestant to me, but who knows, maybe the writer is a Protestant convert to Catholicism who still uses Protestant language. I suspect this is in the American South where church still has something of a central role in allowing people to find social connection in the broader community. But I have no idea. Is this church mainline? Is it Reformed? Is it Pentecostal? We don’t know. So no one gets to boast about how missional their tribe is and conversely no one gets to criticize another tribe for being so apostate as to having an atheist act as their chief evangelist.