Nerds Wanted: Why Your Church Needs Nerds

Most people would read a title like that and think. “This is kind of insulting. The church needs everyone!” And they would probably be right. The church does need everyone, and it should be there for everyone. Unfortunately, the nerd population of a lot of churches does not always have this demonstrated to them. I’m not saying that we like it, but churches are among the more segregated institutions on earth. Dr. King did not refer to Sunday morning as “the most segregated hour in Christian America” in vain. If you get really involved at your church, you will find that there are groups of people who are “in” and those who are “out.” This is not an indictment of the church so much as an indictment of human beings, combined with the fact that churches tend to be pretty homogeneous, when they’re not crusading against that sort of thing.

There’s an old saying that “20 percent of the people in a church do 80 percent of the work,” and most of us know that 20 and 80 are pretty generous numbers. If you look beyond how “busy” that makes some people, it shows that there are a lot of people in our pews who are not centrally involved in the church’s work, beyond coming to some events and participating in some programs. Add to that the fact that there are some people in every group whose interests are a bit “different” from other people’s and whose social skills are not the best, and you have a recipe for excluding the nerds. I’m probably stereotyping here, but I imagine that the real-estate, retail, legal, education, or medical professionals, who work with people every day are a lot more likely to be in the “20-percenters” than the IT professionals who work in a cubicle farm all day or the professional entomologists. The people who coach and play sports or attend classical plays tend to be more central to our leadership than the people who collect anime, wear star trek uniforms, paint lead wargaming figurines, and frag each other at network parties. We might go out of our way to include people of different ethnic backgrounds or economic circumstances, but we draw the line at people who are a bit “weird.”

And that’s too bad, because, quite often, the “weird” people of our churches have thought deeply about some of the important issues of the day and are just waiting to be asked for their opinion. They may feel very passionately about the church’s mission, even though they are not asked to provide leadership for it, and they bring some of the essential skills that a modern institution needs to really stand out. How many doctors can make a really killer web page these days? Who in your congregation can set up a live video feed on a big screen, so you can have a class directly taught by a missionary in the field? What “upstanding member” of your community is different enough to propose truly imaginative ways of reaching homeless children? When we’re all worried about what our kids are doing on the Internet, who really knows their stuff about it enough to help others learn to deal? Beyond that, people with what might be an otherwise “offbeat” persona might think about issues in different ways, seeing things that the rest of us cannot see. They may more readily identify issues that are important, but under-emphasized. They might even be able to help us understand oppression and the general feeling of powerlessness that comes with it, because they have experienced it at some point in there lives.

I’ve read that adults who grew up feeling “different” (as many nerds have) tend to be much more focused on social justice and ensuring that people are treated fairly than those who did not. Many of these people, after all, have had extensive experience with being bullied as a child and having been passed over for opportunities as they grew. This is precisely the kind of person who would pour heart and soul into helping others, if they were given the chance. If you could tap into these otherwise silent people in your congregation by finding ways to reach out to and include them, who knows what might be possible?

I can’t speak for everyone in every congregation who is a bit out of step with everyone else, although I have tended to be that guy, even when I was in the front of the room. But I think that I have a good argument here. Everyone needs to belong to a group of fellow-travelers in faith. Every congregation needs every member who has chosen to walk with it. Every group has people who seem a bit out of step, but, for some reason, wants to be a part of what that group does. Every person has gifts and passions that can contribute much to whatever group they are in. Everyone matters. Everyone is loved by God. Deal with it.

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