Stereotypes aren’t such a great thing - agreed? So why do we still do it? Nobody likes being pigeonholed into a vague typecast of their race, gender, group, lifestyle, class or religion. Sure, some people just accept it; some even get comfortable within it. But deep down, the spirit of the individual doesn’t rest easy in the arena of the stereotype. Prejudice has been and still is one of society’s greatest enemies. It squeezes people into ill-fitting boxes, emasculates the individual and opens doors to pecking-order-associated derision. Political Correctness is in the process of purging British culture of much of this prejudice. Sexist, racist and homophobic inclinations (at least overtly) are being challenged and changed. Political Correctness has also taken to task the issue of Islam since September 11th, striving to protect Muslims in the wake of the anti-terrorism backlash. So which stereotypes remain unquestioned? Are there any left? Well try this one for size: The church. Think about it. When was the last time you were accused of being ‘non-PC’ when accusing the church of being irrelevant? The church has to be one of the biggest label-wearers around. Out-dated; exclusive; happy-clappy; homophobic; cold; artificial; wishful; prejudiced; hypocritical; self-righteous; ashamed; weak; (etc…). We’ve all got an opinion on church, whether we’ve ever set foot in one or not. Everyone has something to say. Just look at the repercussions of an almost ordained gay priest: headline news, phone-ins, chat shows, opinion polls. You’re getting the point. Like me, you’re probably already carrying a fair amount of church/denominational stereotypes into this article. But, like we agreed, stereotypes aren’t so great, so let’s lay them down for a second while we clarify a few basics. First off: the church is all about people. In fact, the church is people. This has two major implications: one, it means that buildings and paraphernalia are only a sideshow, and two, it means that the church stuffs up sometimes. Forget about cold pews, hymnbooks or confession boxes. Though they may have come to symbolise church over time, in actual fact they’re only a distraction [as are plastic seats, video projectors and Perspex lecterns for those more ‘modern’ churches out there]. True church (the one the bible talks about) isn’t about articles and rituals; it’s about real people and real relationships (with each other and God). It’s community. And a real church made of real people makes real mistakes. It’s confession time: throughout history the church has harboured wrong attitudes, spoken lies, and treated people disgracefully. It’s become an expert at putting its foot in its mouth and then shooting it. To all the church-hurt people out there: sorry. But just like a corrupt backbencher can’t change the core principals of a party, the mistakes of humanity don’t alter the truth of what church really is. Church is about loving people. It’s about helping people out – whoever they are. It’s about support, encouragement and friendship. It’s a hospital for the emotionally and spiritually dead. Church is not some exclusive club for the elderly white middle class; church is, at its very core, cross-cultural, cross-generational, totally accessible and one hundred percent interactive. Church is also about pointing people towards Jesus. Newsflash: whatever the church might have tried to introduce you to before (a set of rules, a religion, an unexciting life), they got it totally wrong if they didn’t point you towards a relationship with Jesus. He’s what it’s all about. In fact, the bible says that the church is kind of like Jesus’ fiancée – so as you’d imagine the church is pretty hot on it’s husband-to-be. The bible also says that the church [made of people, remember] is the house of God. That means that God actually makes his home in amongst those strange looking people you see roaming the streets on a Sunday morning. He lives in his people [aka Christians]. This doesn’t make Christians walking, talking, divine kitchens and bathrooms, but it does mean that all God has and is (which is a fair bit), resides right there in them (no matter how weak, feeble or irrelevant they might seem). Church is essentially about two things: God and people. It isn’t some holy building where Christians come to experience God once a week; it’s a community and a family of ordinary people which, 24-7, acts as a home, hospital and barracks. Church (done properly) provides a place of genuine love and acceptance, it offers a place where the broken can be made whole, and it provides a place where Christians can be encouraged, empowered and equipped to live out their day-to-day lives in radical pursuit of Jesus Christ. Not a church person? Maybe it’s time to address a few stereotypes.