Chris Anderson has some great words to share in this post about messy churches: Sound Words: A Mess May Mean Success! « My Two Cents.
First, our churches must aim to reach the lost where they are.
I’ve been prone in the past to judge the effectiveness of a church by the condition of its attendees. If the people seemed to “have it all together” (e.g. they dressed up, had high standards, knew the Scriptures, etc.), I assumed the church was strong and effective. On the other hand, if the people had “issues” (e.g. they dressed immodestly or informally, were biblically illiterate, smelled of smoke, etc.), I assumed that the church was weak and ineffective.
The truth is, my means of measuring a church’s effectiveness was simplistic, and perhaps downright backwards! If, for example, a church is filled only with people who “fit in” and have no problems (wink, wink), it may mean that they haven’t seen any conversions for many years! And if a church has down-and-outers, it may mean that they’re reaching their community for Christ—and they’re reaching lost people, not just families looking for strong churches! So a “mess” may mean “success”!
Think of it this way: a house that is perfectly clean is probably a house in which no babies reside. And a house strewn with toys and smelling of soiled diapers—as uncomfortable as it may be—is probably a house where there is new life! And that’s great! To put it the way Proverbs 14:4 does, “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” Cleanliness and productivity are often incompatible. Ministry is messy!
We mustn’t be more “righteous” than Christ (I speak as a fool). Jesus came not to call the (apparently) righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). So He ate with publicans. So He ministered to prostitutes and adulteresses. So He—to His eternal praise and our eternal salvation!—“received sinners” (Luke 15:2). Mere improvement of morals is worse than useless; it’s harmful!
Bottom line: Don’t help damn people through your efforts to improve them! They don’t need to be more respectable in their sinful condition—though such respectability may keep Christians from feeling squeamish. They need the gospel. They need to be born again. They need heart change that results in habit change, as do those of us who have been saved for decades.