One of the issues that bugs people who stay away from church is the concept of Hell. It even bugs a lot of church-goers. The thinking is, "An all-loving, all-good God cannot possibly desire the eternal conscious torment of souls in flames." Many people are offended by "preachers" who proclaim a "Turn or Burn" ideology. They find it offensive that someone proclaims themselves as judge and condemns people to hell. In my own life experience, I remember hearing a number of messages at large youth events and other Christian gatherings that pushed listeners to think about death, and invite the hearer to ponder "where will you go when you die?" My response is, if that's the choice, then who in their right mind would even see hell as an option. Of course the person will choose Heaven! Duh! Maybe a better goal isn't choosing a final destination, but whether or not I have a relationship with the living Lord Jesus Christ, and living as his follower.
One of the ways to get around this issue is to explain away hell, either it doesn't exist, or it means something other than what we (21st Century Culturally-influenced Christians) think it means. The response to that is usually, "that's great, but...scripture says...do you want to take that chance?" There is a great book about the interpretation of Hell in scripture titled "Her Gates Will Never Be Shut" by Bradley Jersak. I highly recommend you read it with a teachable spirit. Regardless of the interpretation of what hell is, or whether or not it exists, the real issue I see is two-fold: Condemnation and Manipulation.
As I described above, the problem most of us have with Hell is how it's used in trying to convince people to be Christians. Most people don't like being stereotyped and judged, yet that's often how people hear this type of preaching. It doesn't fit with the concept of "God's love" or the character of Jesus Christ. I don't see Jesus telling the lost, "Hell is coming! You're going to burn!" He says, "The Kingdom of God is near!" This is Good News. It baffles me how often The Good News is lost because of the way Hell is used as a tool to condemn people.
The other problem I have with how "Hell" is often used is it feels like a manipulative tool. I have people ask me if I'm a "Fire and Brimstone" preacher. I assume they mean do I warn people of hell and how terrible it is. No, that is not me. I like to focus on the Good News of Jesus. We are all afraid of death. A lot of preaching about hell pushes us to reflect on the temporary nature of life and the fact that we will face death. This plays on our fears. To me, using fear to get someone to make a decision is unethical. I want people to make an informed decision. One that you're sure of regardless of your emotions. It can be emotional to decide, but it's not only emotional, or even primarily emotional. If anything, it's a relational decision. Will you walk with Jesus Christ, the way to God, the truth and the life? Kind of like getting married or other big commitments we make with people. You can be persuasive without using Hell and Fear as a tool to manipulate.
So, I am okay with the concept of Hell just not how it is typically used. Jesus obviously spoke of it, and warned us about judgment. But mostly, when it came to preaching to and helping non-religious people, the least and the lost, the poor and the oppressed (those fully aware of how Hellish life is)--Jesus proclaimed the Good News of Heaven. He attracted people by heavenly miracles, and wondrous teaching. When he did speak of Hell, he usually spoke with the overly-religious hypocrites about Hell, the ones who thought they were "in" and better than others who were "out". The Good News is Jesus has overcome death and hell. Heaven is here! And Jesus is the Way to be a part of it. Love like Jesus and see what happens! Jesus doesn't need manipulation. He doesn't mess with your mind, and play off your fears. Jesus Christ is so awesome, so good, so abundant with love, he is calling your name and drawing you to him. He is The Healer. He is The Forgiver. He is The Liberator. He gives life and peace. He is Love...like you've never known before. He will change your life in ways you didn't imagine possible. Will you be his disciple? Will you be a part of Heaven? Live like Heaven. Love like Jesus.
I am a United Methodist Pastor, but I'm trying to re-define that as a Missionary sent to my corner of the USA. What would it look like for you to envision your life as a Christian more like a Missionary than a Church-goer?