Many years ago, when Fred Craddock graduated from seminary, he pastored a small church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. It was a beautiful little white church up on a hill. At that time Oak Ridge was rapidly expanding. Lots of people moved to town to help in construction work. Many of the newcomers lived in a mobile home park located near the church. The trailer park swarmed with newcomers, including a large number of children. Fred saw all those new people and thought, Our church ought to reach out to them. So at the next board meeting Fred recommended a plan to reach out to the newcomers.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said the chairman of the board. “They might not fit in here very well.”
Fred said, “But they live right next to our church. I think we should invite them to worship with us.” But Fred got resistance to the idea. They finally decided to table the discussion and deal with it at their next business meeting.
At that meeting a leader of the congregation said, “I move, that in order to be a member of this church, you have to own property in the county.”
“I’ll second that motion,” said another man. Fred was mortified and passionately spoke against it. But in the end the motion passed. As a result, no effort was ever made to reach out to the newcomers. Soon thereafter Fred left that church.
Twenty years later Fred and his wife drove past Oak Ridge on a trip through Tennessee. Since he was single when he served that church, his wife had never seen it. So Fred decided to show it to her. As they drove to the church, Fred told his wife that painful story of how the congregation refused to reach out to newcomers in the community. It took a while to find the church. Lots of new roads and homes had been built in the area, but they finally found the spot. The beautiful white-frame church sat on the hill as always, but something seemed different. Out front stood a big parking lot full of cars, trucks, motor homes, and even motorcycles. As they pulled into the lot, they saw a big sign in front of the church. It said, “BBQ: All You Can Eat.” The old church had been converted into a restaurant! Fred and his wife walked inside, and the place was packed with all kinds of people. White and black and Hispanic. Rich and poor. Southerners and northerners. Fred said to his wife, “It’s a good thing this isn’t a church anymore. If it were, these people would not be allowed in.”