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Meat-Market Ministry

If any church should be struggling with a meat-market problem, it should be us.

With the smell of alcohol in the air, beautiful, primped and perky twentysomethings flood the Mayan Theater—L.A.’s hottest salsa nightclub. The artsy clothes, the sculpted hair, the perfect teeth; these types of people are everywhere in L.A. The club energy is high, and it feels like you’re in the middle of an Urban Outfitters photo shoot.

And the flirting …
Eye contact.
Partial smiles.
Small talk.
Numbers exchanged.
Welcome to Mosaic.

Having been a part of the Mosaic community for years, you might think that I have witnessed the above-mentioned scene hundreds of times.

After all, Mosaic’s average age is 24. We are 80 percent single. We have a lot of aspiring actors, actresses, models, dancers and other industry-types among us. That means there are literally hundreds of culturally “beautiful,” stereotypically insecure, single twentysomethings who are a part of our community. If any church should be struggling with a meat-market problem, it should be us.

But we aren’t.

This confused me for a while until I started having conversations with people within Mosaic. Over and over, there was one fact that I kept coming back to, one conversation I kept having.

Mosaic just isn’t that great of a place to get dates.

I first discovered this a year ago when I invited a friend of mine from the OC to visit Mosaic. She was a beautiful blond college student who was already a Christian but was looking to be a part of a Christian community. I invited her to the Mayan gathering, and throughout the night she flirted with several guys. I sat back and let her do her thing, smiling for most of it. Later, when we got into the car, I asked her, “Well, what did you think?” She went on and on about a few cute guys she met.

“So, what do you think of those guys?” she asked me. “Do you think they like me?”

I laughed.

“Oh they like you, I bet. But they’re still trying to figure out what they think about Jesus.”

“You mean they’re not all Christians?”

“Nope. Not one guy you talked to was.”

“Oh,” she said quietly.

She never came back.

One of the reasons why meat-market ministries flourish is because every person there is already a Christian. Couples go to meet other couples. Guys go to meet nice, young women. Pretty Christian women go to meet polite, upright guys.

Where did we ever get the idea that church is a place to meet mates?

Most people who stay away from church do so because of the Church’s bad reputation, not its good one. Why would they want to date narrow-minded, hypocritical weirdos? Only Christians go to church to meet other Christians, and if that’s all we’re drawing in, then that’s a sure-fire way to cultivate a meat-market culture.

The leaders of Mosaic have said many times that two signs of a healthy church are sexual immorality and heresy. This means that any healthy church is reaching out to people who are sexually immoral and heretics. Put another way, when you engage a sinful world, you attract people who are full of sin.

We get this from the first-century Church. Paul had to put out fires of heresy and immorality all the time. Half of his letters were written for this purpose. This should be expected when a community of followers of Jesus chooses to engage a dying world.

The city of Corinth during the early days of the Church was fraught with temple prostitution. It was a normative and frequent experience to have sex with a male or female prostitute, like going to a baseball game or to the movies. Can you imagine what it was like when temple prostitutes began giving their lives to Jesus and inviting their friends who were not yet His followers?

Imagine sitting next to five women you used to have ritual sex with, along with your new girlfriend. Imagine introducing them to each other on a Sunday. It could get a little awkward.

But this is the reality—and the privilege—of a community that follows Jesus toward those who are broken and searching. These are the stories of Mosaic and other faith communities where the focus is on serving the world and not ourselves.

I was at a party a few months ago that Mosaic was hosting for college students at an L.A. art school. After working the room for a while, one of my friends introduced me to a girl named Rhonda. We made small talk, and eventually I asked, “So this school is pretty expensive. Do you get a lot of scholarships?”

“No,” she said. “I drive to Vegas on the weekends and strip to make money.”

Well. There you go.

Another friend of mine, who I met at the Mayan more than a year ago, told me that he wanted to start his own religion.

OK, then.

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These are the people who frequent our gatherings—Vegas strippers and future L. Ron Hubbards. They are non-practicing Muslims or practicing lesbians. And they are all searching for God.

When the person you’re looking at could be a Vegas stripper or a guy who wants to invent his own religion, it shifts your paradigm a bit. In a “nice Christian” world these are not “good” people. These are not the best people to bring home to mom and dad. As leaders you have successfully ruined the dating pool of Christians looking for other Christians. The meat-market mentality is stunted when the search for God becomes more sacred than the search for dates.

The problem with meat-market ministries isn’t their inclusiveness; it’s that they’re not inclusive enough. The more inclusive a community of faith becomes, the more discerning it has to be with the issue of dating. This discernment process slows things down and helps get rid of the meat-market mentality and the people who hold it. A follower of Jesus probably wouldn’t pick someone up at a bar. Our gatherings should have people at them who went to bars the night before. Mosaic meets in a nightclub so that people who go to bars feel more comfortable. Maybe our churches just don’t have enough of a bar mentality?

Another deterrent from the meat-market mentality is creating a culture of meaning. Scripture reveals that everyone has a desire to live a meaningful life. Mosaic’s pastor Erwin McManus says, “Human beings have a knack for creating meaning out of meaningless things and rendering meaningless those things that are most meaningful.” One way I see this happening in many faith communities is through making romance, dating and marriage more sacred than doing justly, loving mercifully and walking humbly with God.

In singles ministry, the object of the game is often to get married and get out, rather than to steward your life as passionately and potently as possible to a world that desperately needs it. Many churches do series after series on dating, relationships, romance and marriage—it’s no wonder people can only think about getting married, getting a job, getting kids, getting old and getting dead.

In short: We make matrimony more meaningful than stewardship.

The problem facing churches isn’t in becoming a meat market; it’s when we don’t challenge the meat to become muscle in the body of Christ.

I was talking with an amazing woman at the Mayan the other day about the whole dating scene. She told me, “I’m having too much fun to settle down right now.” She’s actively involved in many significant ministries at Mosaic. I jokingly said she should get a shirt that says, “Sorry—I’ve got stuff to do.” If any guy wants to partner with this woman for life, he’s going to have to learn to run with God—fast!

Another of my friends is a witty, charming, all-American soccer goalie on staff at Mosaic. He doesn’t date a lot, but thinks he’d like to get married someday. I asked him why he doesn’t date more, and he laughed and said, “That’s not such a good idea for me right now.” From his experience, most girls want guys who will be all about them. The same could be said about what men look for in women. The fact is, the more passionate someone becomes about serving the world on God’s behalf, the smaller the potential dating pool becomes. My friend knows this intuitively. While women want him and men want to be him, he doesn’t really care; he’s got stuff to do. God is changing the world, and this guy wants to be a part of it.

These are the heroes of our culture. We have heroes who are married, too, but we place much more emphasis on becoming who God destined us to be, unleashing the greatness that God has put in us and serving the world on God’s behalf than we do on becoming dateable, marriable or whatever. An empowerment culture will trump meat-market mentalities any day. Changing the world is simply more exciting than hooking up, and when we begin to shift our focus toward that end, the meat-market mindset is revealed for what it is: shallow and unfulfilling.

Do people still meet people at Mosaic? Sure. Do people still get married at Mosaic? You bet. But people are drawn into our community not to meet someone beautiful, but to be a part of something beautiful.

meat•market (n): phenomenon where various hormone-filled twentysomethings flock to a given location for the implicit yet overt purpose of connecting with others in a romantic manner, often to the detriment of the location’s intended function. See fitness center, singles support meeting and growing number of churches.

Key Questions
• How can we ruin the dating pool by making people Christians wouldn’t want to date our main priority? Do we create a space where people without God feel welcome and cared for? What stories can we tell?
• How do we consciously or subconsciously value becoming an ordinary American family over doing something extraordinary in the world? How can we change that?
• Do we have respect for the seeker’s journey? What are some trappings of religion that get in the way?
• Do we have an empowerment culture? Do we have a piece of God’s adventure waiting in the wings for our people to be a part of so they have more to do than just hook up? Do we make heroes out of the people who join in the adventure?

Jason Jaggard serves as a catalyst for emerging teens and college students at Mosaic, L.A. He is currently earning his M.A. in theology from Golden Gate Theological Seminary and an M.A. in entrepreneurial leadership from the Mosaic Leadership Centre. He loves film, reading, eating great food and can occasionally be found playing basketball poorly.

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