A little while ago an atheist gentleman made headlines by putting his his "soul" up for auction on eBay, the popular online shopping and auction website. Technically, he did not put his soul up for bidding, but for every $10 bid, he would attend one hour of church service. Jim Henderson, author of the book Evangelism without Additives and the creator of the website Off-the-Map.org, bought the soul of Hemant Mehta for $504. That meant that Mr. Mehta would be committed to attend church once a week for a year.
Mr. Henderson asked Mr. Mehta to visit different churches ranging in size, location, denomination and philosophy in order to help churches learn how unchurched people see them. I Sold My Soul on eBay is the telling of the auction, Mr. Mehta's background and belief's (Jain turned atheist), his visits and critiques of some of the churches he visited (includes a EFCA church, WillowCreek, Mars Hill Bible & others), and finally, his thoughts on what the church is doing right, what it is doing wrong and what it would take to convert him.
I found this book to be interesting, entertaining, and infuriating.
I enjoy learning about other religions and different cultures. I have never had any exposure to the Jain religion, and had no idea what beliefs they held. I also quite enjoyed the stories Mr. Mehta told of his experience with the auction, the publicity he unexpectedly received and a little more about general atheist philosophy. Mr. Mehta is an good writer and seems like a very intriguing person.
Many of the helpful comments Mr. Mehta observed are ones that you or I could have made. We would want to see passion and enthusiasm from the worshipers. Churches can always do more to serve the community they are part of. Don't get bogged down with tradition and ritual (when to sit, when to stand, when to sing along, when to listen, etc)
Many of the other comments Mr. Mehta made were criticisms which I found funny because they were things he did not like - but as an unbeliever, he should not have! He was critical of pastors using the Scripture too much in their sermons, preferring LakeView Church's(Joel Osteen) "more relevant" style, without "having to reference the Bible as much." He felt too much time was devoted to singing. Of course an atheist would think worship of a deity would be a waste of time.
The two most helpful observations Mr. Mehta had were that in some churches there was a sense of elitism - a country club mentality of I'm in & you're out. The other was more opportunity for dialogue with opposing viewpoints. I don't know that the Sunday service is the right venue for that, but I think it important for people of differing beliefs to have a platform to converse and see the other side.
As I read, I could not help but think of a food critic. Mr. Mehta came into different churches with his notepad making notations of things he liked and disliked. My thoughts also went the fact that if Mr Henderson were less interested in using Mr. Mehta for his research in making church appeal to the unchurched (which I am not sure should be done anyway), than in saving Mr. Mehta's soul, he would have sent him to one church for a year, and had him build some kind of relationship with the church body and it's leadership, rather than be a church critic.
I did find this book to be helpful in seeing the perspective of lost people (a term which "offended" Mr. Mehta - and should. The gospel is foolish & offensive to the lost), but I also believe that we should not cater our worship to them. Our worship is directed to God, for God and is to be about God. Non-believers, and especially atheists will not like that, regardless - and that is all right. He rightly mentions that we should be less inward focused and more community focused. It is in that reaching out to the community where we can be sharing our faith and leading others to Jesus, instead of letting their seeker church do the work of reaching the lost.
We need to be doing the work & the church needs to be equipping the people to do the work. Christians simply cannot sit back and pray that they're friends, family and neighbors would come to church with them and find Jesus. They need to also present Jesus to them everyday.