By Jeff Bahr
Liquid Church, a Christian worship group that adheres strongly to the principle “take church to the people” is forging ahead with a polling idea that might be considered risky on its very face. On four consecutive Sundays beginning on Sept. 16, Liquid Church will ask parishioners at its Nutley and New Brunswick venues for their views (via cell phone text messages) on such potentially explosive topics as:
-Can a Christian vote for a Mormon?
– How would Jesus handle hot-button issues such as gay marriage and immigration?
– Is the next generation of Christians moving beyond the “Culture Wars”?
– Do you have faith in God or government?
Operations Pastor Rich Birch believes that the idea of church taking its cue from its parishioners is one whose time has come.
“I think a lot of times there’s a popular notion that churches want to tell people what to believe and where to stand politically,” explained Birch. “We’re trying to stand that paradigm on its head – we’d love to hear from our people. So we’re trying to find a way to express the teachings of Jesus in a relevant way and we think this is one of those ways to do that – to try to engage our people and find out what they think.”
Such shared knowledge can go a long way in fostering a better understanding between groups who often find themselves at odds, according to Birch. “I think if we can get around and talk the issues through we can find some common ground… even within our church. This time of year politics is on the tip of everyone’s tongue – they’re talking about these things.
We’re trying to have a conversation as a church about that and how it intersects with our faith.”
Questions to be asked during the survey are predominantly of the yes/no variety, according to Birch, but the question about Jesus’ take on hot-button issues like gay marriage and immigration should elicit a more complex response from parishioners.
“That question in particular we’re looking to handle later in the series,” Birch said of the query that may prove most divisive. “As a church, we have spoken about the gay issue in the past… Not immigration so much. We’re going to reopen some of that dialogue and see what people think.”
This is the first poll of its type ever undertaken by the church, according to Birch. So far the feedback has been positive.
“We’re the first church that we’ve seen that has done this (live polling during services). The response has been real positive anecdotally,” the pastor said. Birch then told of numerous cards specially printed up to invite church members and their families to the polling services. “We ran out of them completely and had to get more printed…People were so excited!”
Polling answers will be returned live during each service, in “real-time” according to Birch.
“We’re going to ask the question and they’ll actually see their results live on the screen,” he said. “We’re also going to do a bit of a follow-up – a ‘what did we learn?’ post-it series for the press.”
Lead Pastor Tim Lucas knows only too well what can happen when people openly discuss potentially inflammatory topics, but he remains undeterred and fully committed to the idea.
“Growing up, I was told never to discuss three issues in polite company – politics, sex and religion. But this Sunday, we’re going to hit at least two … with the potential for all three!” he said in a press release.
“The Bible tells us to pray for all our leaders and that includes our Republican governor and our Democrat president. I’m hoping the Scriptures can lead us to bridge the partisan divide and find faith for the future of our country,” added Lucas.
The Liquid Church was founded by Lucas in 2001. It currently holds services in Nutley, Morristown and New Brunswick. Its unusual name traces to a biblical passage, according to Birch.
“The reason the name is ‘liquid’ is because Jesus at one point refers to himself as ‘living water,’ ” he said. “So we think that any spirituality should be refreshing – not dry and boring. We have about 2,500 people (parishioners) in our three locations.”
Like other houses of worship, Liquid Church is involved in social outreach programs to local communities, but it also makes a global impact by providing clean drinking water to dozens of communities throughout the world.
“It (the service) fits in nicely with the liquid name,” said Birch with a chuckle.
Live audience polling events will be held on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. at the following locations:
Nutley – John Walker Middle School/Sept. 16, 23, 30, and Oct. 7
New Brunswick – The Heldrich Hotel/Sept. 16, 23, 30, and Oct. 7
Morristown –Hyatt Hotel/ Sept. 16, 23, 30