September 18, 2014

Craving Cool

 

“Building Congregations around Art Galleries and Cafes as Spirituality Wanes”
Amy O’Leary, NY Times 12/29/12

* * *

If we can’t have our megachurches, we’ll find another style that suits us.

Amy Leary’s recent article in the New York Times shows that the spirit and principles of the church growth movement are alive and well among evangelicals, even as the evangelical world and subculture they created continues to wane. Leary begins by pointing to a warehouse “church” that is “part of a wave of experimentation around the country by evangelicals to reinvent ‘church’ in an increasingly secular culture.” 

If I hadn’t seen those words just last week, I might have sworn this was a piece from the 1970′s or 80′s.

Read the article and note the catchwords the author picks up from those she interviews. It’s all about “marketing the church to millennials” and “connecting with the community” and “drawing more traffic” in venues and with approaches that will ostensibly appeal to those who are “spiritual but not religious.” In order to reach such people, the thinking goes, we too must appear spiritual but not religious and disguise our faith in “post-Christian” wrappings. “Many have even cast aside the words ‘church’ and ‘church service’ in favor of terms like ‘spiritual communities’ and ‘gatherings,’ with services that do not stick to any script,” she writes.

The article reinforces a suspicion I’ve always had about these kinds of approaches. Leary quotes Warren Bird, director of research for the Leadership Network: “For new leaders coming out of seminary, ‘the cool thing is church planting. The uncool thing is to go into the established church. Why that has taken over may speak to the entrepreneurialism and innovation that today’s generation represents.’”

Is it possible it might also speak to the fact that it’s way cooler to do the “cool” thing?

I spent the early part of my ministry serving in older, established churches. Many times, the music was old, the atmosphere decidedly “uncool,” the pace of change glacial, commitment to tradition strong, and there was precious little immediate gratification from regularly measurable “impact.”

One of those churches had a group of young leaders and their friends who became excited about the “seeker-sensitive” contemporary services a new church in the Chicago suburbs was using to reach their community (yes, that would be Willow Creek). It wasn’t long before they too were meeting in a movie theater, doing drama and contemporary music that they enjoyed. When I arrived a couple years later, they had eviscerated the traditional congregation, destroyed friendships and seriously damaged a neighborhood church ministry that had been there for generations. The new ministry grew largely through the transfer of Christian young people from traditional churches who decided to pursue what they liked — a more exciting, “cooler” religious experience.

Just listen to the words of Houston Clark, whose company “designs spaces and audio-visual systems for churches nationwide.” Catch the motivations inherent in the approach. “Every generation wants their own thing. Kids in their late 20s to midteens now, they really crave intimacy and authenticity. They want high-quality experiences, but don’t necessarily want them in huge voluminous buildings.”

For me, there’s the rub. We want our own thing. We crave the experiences we define as essential. We want them in the form and fashion that we denote as “high quality,” when and where we want them. I’ve observed that this is not only the mindset of the people we’re trying to reach, but it is often our “ministry” mindset as well. Why would anyone want to go to an old, boring, traditional church or ministry and be forced to deal with all the crap I don’t enjoy instead of having continual excitement and gratification in a cooler setting?

The entrepreneurial spirit that aims to satiate people’s craving for ever new experience is alive and well. We call it “ministry,” and it’s cool to be a part of it.

I don’t know. I always thought this ministry thing was about people and building relationships and sharing Christ together.

Comments

  1. The last thing we need at church, is to have ourselves handed back to us.

    The church ought be counter-cultural, and not mirror it.

    • petrushka1611 says:

      You and Chaplain Mike are right on the money.

    • Agreed, Steve.

      I believe church planting is desirable for many new seminary grads now because they want autonomy, to be their own boss. They get to skip years of serving as youth and children’s ministry leaders for next to nothing in terms of salary, and be the “lead pastor”, “teaching pastor”, “BPIC” (big pastor in charge), whatever you want to call it. Isn’t that the American dream? Planting allows for individualism to be expressed, to avoid having to conform to any fixed mores.

      The problem with this is that the church isn’t designed to be individualistic and autonomous. It’s designed to be a community, with proper checks and balances (eg., episcopal oversight). I find it amusing that churches who are “independent” and “autonomous”, claiming “the Bible as sole authority” are the result of a reformation that happened in part because people didn’t like the idea of a pope; yet the end result is a system of “mini-popes”, whether it be the pastor, elder board, or deacons, who interpret scripture for themselves, interpret and exercise church discipline, etc., without regard for tradition or accountability.

      I’m not anti-planting…I just think that our western ideal of “rugged independence” is contradictory to the idea of church. And I totally agree with Steve that we are called to be counter-cultural. Why should church be just a poor copy of pop culture? A lot of folks out there are hungry for something that looks, smells, feels, and sounds different from what they can get at any rock concert or self-improvement seminar (and I’m not against contemporary worship, either…). A lot of folks are looking for the warmth of community, not a well-produced show.

      I find it interesting that the Catholic Church in America has put out a series of commercials featuring guys like Lou Holtz, encouraging folks to “come home to the Catholic Church”. I think the timing of this is impeccable. In a time when many young adults are just tired of shallow, surface spirituality, along comes a mystical, deep alternative to what we’ve known for the past 30 years. There’s a great video that floats around occasionally…I think it’s on youtube…A discussion between NT Wright, Brennan Manning, and Fr. Richard Rohr about the future of the Church, and Manning says something along the lines of “I believe that if you’re going to be a Christian in the future, you will be a mystic.” I think this is true… Breakin’ out the icons, baby!

      Interesting conversation all the way around today.

      • Lee, the Caholic parishes I know of often try a version of “Come Home for Christmas”, but never in my memory has it been this well coordinated and focused. Sadly, what happened long ago to Jews is happening to Catholics….when people use these identifiers, it is cultural only, and has NOTHING to do with real faith or practice.

        Many of the “non-church” churches that have sprouted up around here are like the everglades…….impressive to look at, but an inch deep. I don’t think one can soft-soap the Gospel, hiding it behind jargon and flashing lights, and expect any real conversion or Christian faith to grow. The soil is too shallow, and these members will drift away once the novelty wears off, or they get a better offer for fun on Sunday nights.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Many of the “non-church” churches that have sprouted up around here are like the everglades…….impressive to look at, but an inch deep.

          Some years ago, I coined the expression “As deep as a coat of paint.”

        • I LOVE your phrase, “non-church churches”. That’s pure gold. Do you have that trademarked, or am I free to start using it? :)

      • David Cornwell says:

        “I’m not anti-planting…I just think that our western ideal of “rugged independence” is contradictory to the idea of church.”

        And they should be well planned and supported. It’s very difficult work.

        Every year or two new advertisements hit our television and papers about a new “cool” church starting with a young “dynamic” preacher wearing jeans and looking sloppy and unkempt and promising that this church will offer something different. Part of my disdain for the appearance of these pastors has to do with my age and the way I was raised.

        I also have to wonder just where the new attendees are coming from. I seriously doubt that they are new converts to Christ. So they have to be “shoppers” leaving another church over one issue or another. Our city doesn’t have droves of new people moving in.

        I agree with the missing element of mysticism, so long as it’s Christ centered. We can’t explain everything nor can we explain away everything. Icons? I’ll have to think about that! But they do have tradition and meaning behind them.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Every year or two new advertisements hit our television and papers about a new “cool” church starting with a young “dynamic” preacher wearing jeans and looking sloppy and unkempt and promising that this church will offer something different.

          “Jeans and sloppy and unkempt” as in “Young Dynamic Church-Planting Pastor’s Uniform”?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I believe church planting is desirable for many new seminary grads now because they want autonomy, to be their own boss. They get to skip years of serving as youth and children’s ministry leaders for next to nothing in terms of salary, and be the “lead pastor”, “teaching pastor”, “BPIC” (big pastor in charge), whatever you want to call it. Isn’t that the American dream? Planting allows for individualism to be expressed, to avoid having to conform to any fixed mores.

        And if you rustle enough sheep from the other old-fogy churches to grow into a Megachurch, you become the Megachurch CELEBRITY Lead Pastor, CELEBRITY Teaching Pastor, CELEBRITY BPIC of an ever-bigger Megachurch!

      • Another problem I noticed in the mega chruch scene is what do you do when the Senior Pastor stays put? Some organziations hire pastors and then groom them to take over the mega chruch. Well what do you do if you enter a church under that pretense only to learn that the Senior Pastor decides to stay longer…or not retire.

        It reminds me of how business operates…promote, promote, promote and climb the corporate ladder.

      • cermak_rd says:

        The benefit of a bunch of mini-Popes is that no one reigns supreme and one can always high off to another religious community should one’s particular mini-pope get unbearable.

        And, as a former Catholic, let me just say, if folks are looking for a warm sense of community, about the last place you’ll get it is a Catholic parish (at least in Chicago).

    • “The last thing we need at church, is to have ourselves handed back to us.
      The church ought be counter-cultural, and not mirror it.”

      Exactly….but evangelicalism doesn’t want to really be counter-cultural…too much chance of losing comfort and power.

      “The entrepreneurial spirit that aims to satiate people’s craving for ever new experience is alive and well.” – That’s one of our societies greatest ills… and the church does very little to address it – instead it copies it. It’s the church adopting the big business ethos of libertarian free-market fundamentalism in order to ‘compete’

      • cermak_rd says:

        isn’t it either that or shrink to having minimal affect on anything? Fact is, while you may use the term sheep rustling, more often it is a matter of the sheep are leaving church Alpha for better or worse. If they opt to attend church beta isn’t that better than just dropping out and becoming non-affiliated?

    • Oh, but Steve, you should see the market research on this kinda stuff. It really, REALLY sells! Who know the Kingdom of God ™ could be such a cash cow?

      • David Cornwell says:

        Yup, Jesus didn’t realize how many brands he was setting up. “Christian” sells. Stores, catalogs, books, stocking clubs, weight loss programs, money management, on and on. Jesus didn’t know he was a capitalist.

        So– market research is important.

      • ummmm…… Steve Taylor ????

    • That applies to doctrine more so than marketing efforts. Any objective observer would have to admit that the changing doctrines in the church regarding the sacraments, charismaticism, contraceptives, abortion, homosexuality, ordination of women, the historicity of the creation accounts and Christ’s virgin birth and resurrection, and so on, doctrines that persisted for hundreds of years without any deviation, were driven by cultural forces and changing mores, and not any new evidence or insights into scripture.

  2. This is manna for my soul today.

    ‘The uncool thing is to go into the established church’ – I couldn’t agree more. It’s exactly what I am doing and it is HARD! Not because it’s difficult in the current UK climate to be a minister but because of the attitude of fellow Christians that what I am doing is a waste of time and a ‘small’ thing not worth paying attention to – people like me are pretty much ignored and unwanted in our denomination and I witness the same attitude across the UK Christian denominations – the Christian world is seeking the next big new thing to save us from falling numbers.

    In ‘The Pastor’ Eugene Peterson describes this attitude as perpetual adolescence – he’s right! It’s not ministry, it’s not healthy and it’s not going to work! It’s way past time for the church to grow up.

    • +1

    • God bless you for sticking to it. Lord, send us more ministers with this attitude!

    • Ali,

      “the attitude of fellow Christians that what I am doing is a waste of time and a ‘small’ thing not worth paying attention to – people like me are pretty much ignored and unwanted in our denomination”

      From my vantage point, this looks and sounds a lot like what Jesus endured. So I’m guessing you’re in damn good company! Keep it up, girl!

    • MelissatheRagamuffin says:

      +2

  3. As a teacher of mine used to like saying, ‘If young people go to church, they should go to church to find that which they can only find in church.’

  4. And the quotation from Michael Spencer that is on the bulletin board here today (as of 1-4-13) speaks a bit to this too. Christianity is more than “being nice” to everyone. He says, “The incarnation is an essential part of Jesus-shaped spirituality.” I know people who do believe that Jesus resurrected, but they don’t believe in the incarnation as reported in the Gospel stories. When intellectual types find out that you DO believe in the incarnation, they look at you as if you still believe Santa flies all around the world and comes down chimneys. I know what some of you are saying….He doesn’t?! :-)

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > When intellectual types find out that you DO believe in the incarnation,

      No, this is a sweeping generatlization [and one can define "intellectual" as "one who does not believe in the incarnation" - thus making your statement always true?].

      There are “intellectuals” where that would be true. And there are intellectuals for who that would certainly not be true; as there are intellectuals who do believe in the incarnation themselves.

      • “there are intellectuals who do believe in the incarnation themselves.”

        Oh, that is definitely true, Adam. I just mean SOME intellectuals who think anyone who believes the whole “Jesus story” is an idiot!

  5. > “now, they really crave intimacy and authenticity.”

    The number of times I’ve heard/read the term “authenticity” in the last year…

    > They want high-quality experiences, but don’t necessarily want them in huge voluminous buildings.”

    Because small==authentic ? Really, to a demographic I believe it does [even if that small bit is just the exposed pinkie of a massive corporate entity, but the exposed bit must be small].

    At least I could argue with “seeker sensitive”, I could say “what do you mean by ‘seeker’? Is that an appropriate term?”. But the term “authentic” is exponentially more opaque and self-referential. Once someone drops the ‘authentic’ bomb the conversation is going nowhere.

    Something bad has happened to language itself. People always had catch-phrases and special-words. But, I feel at least, how language itself is used has become an impediment to dialog [it now feels impolite to just ask someone "What does that mean?"]. I hope it swings around, and a more authentic way of speaking becomes vogue [pun somewhat intended].

    Maybe when the spiritual-but-not-religions just slide into being just the not-religious (inevitable, IMNSHO) and we get closer to two camps: the religious and the not-religious. Then we can go back to a much more honest [I didn't say authentic!] state of affairs. I hope.

    > ‘The uncool thing is to go into the established church’

    Yep.

    > The entrepreneurial spirit that aims to satiate people’s craving for ever new experience is alive and well

    Nail, head, hit! “Entrepreneur”, right up there with “authentic”.

    The “Entrepreneur” is clearly the heroic figure of the Millennials.

    [Aside: I was born in 1972, so Gen-X, I have no idea who the heroic figure of my generation was. The "slacker"? possibly when we where younger. And that does somewhat describe young me (hangs head in shame). So that isn't much more high-minded than the "Entrepreneur". Maybe they will grow of it too].

    • How do you define authentic? That was the problem I leanred….be open and real in friendships. Confess your demons and then see what happens. As I leanred there are some sins that are acceptable and some sins that are not acceptable. If are any of those sins deal with a sexual nature you are screwed. That’s what authenticty can get you.

      • > How do you define authentic?

        Personally? At this point – I don’t. Culture occasionally ruins words, nearly completely eliminating their usefulness. They are better left to die.

        I’d put “Authentic” in this bucket; along with “fundamentalist”, “organic”, “synthetic”, “justice”, “spiritual”, and for Christian communities I’d [yes, scandalously] add “grace”, “legalism”, and “judgmental”. These words don’t help communication. People use them and either mean nothing they can describe or quite possibly sometime entirely other than what the listener means. If you need to use of these words – find a more specific word for what you mean or just say it descriptively.

        Or else there is always the dictionary – but when a word is used in a connotative rather than denotative manner that is really of only limited use. When a millennial uses “authentic” they mean it as a connotation.

        • Randy Thompson says:

          A lot of perfectly good words have died somewhere along the line and have become zombie terms.

  6. And, we are surprised? Yesterday, Jeff used the term “purpose driven live,” which, of course derives from a mega-selling book by a mega, mega church pastor. The first sentence reads, as I recall, “It’s not about you.” Then, the book proceeds to be all about you/us.

    Last night, my wife and I were in an old, established church just North of where Chaplain Mike lives for a pastor/spouse event. I have been there a number of times in the past. Initially, I felt sadness because the church isn’t nearly as large as it was 30 years ago. I looked at the rack for name tags–not a lot compared to the past. Later, my wife mentioned that a volunteer helping serve the meal said that they had actually closed down the nursery for about a year as no children were coming (their young adult parents may have been seeking something small and authentic, spiritual, not religious, etc., elsewhere). Recently, they have reopened the nursery as some children are now coming. As we left, I sensed the struggle but also had hope that they will continue faithfully to try to follow Jesus and serve in his name. That doesn’t sound all that exciting and even glorious, but I pray that they will keep on the path, even if it doesn’t seem all that cool.

  7. I was immediately struck by the lack of historical context to the “insights” presented in the article. NYT quotes Warren Bird, the director of research for the Leadership Network (church trend tracking firm), as noting, “It’s unsettling for a movement that’s lasted 2,000 years to now find that, ‘Oh, some of the things we always assumed would connect with the community aren’t connecting with everyone in the community in the way they used to.’”

    Really? :-) I can’t help but chuckle. Is this “we” referring to those who may have assumed (as noted earlier in the article) that “stadium seating for huge crowds, Jumbotrons and smoke machines” are the things that would always “connect with the community?” Some assumption. Would have been interesting for the reporter to question or probe that idea for its roots.

    Seems to be a very narrow view on our Christian history and tradition. However, I do think that the distinction in our discussion between the “established” and “entrepreneurial” church is a false one. Christians have always been called to be with Jesus Christ, but also to go out to wherever people are. Within just a few chapters in the Gospel of Matthew, to “stay here and keep watch with me” (Mt 26:38) and “go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). As a Catholic, I have certainly seen many parishes succumb to the temptation to not be missional–to not be concerned about the spiritual welfare of those who may live in the neighborhood, but never step on parish property. Without neglecting the flock “on the inside” and the sacred worship that deserves the reverence established churches can often offer, I think there is some balance to be found. When the entrepreneurial is connected to the established, flowing from it and feeding into it, I believe we can most fully live our out vocation as Christians, in local churches, in the world.

    Looking within my own faith tradition (Catholicism), I think we in parishes in the U.S. probably err too much towards not thinking outwards in our efforts…so from that perspective, the NYT article is a good starting point for a discussion on what that balance should be (http://practicalevangelization.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/the-parish-outside-of-the-parish).

  8. I agree with the points Chaplain Mike makes here, but think there’s a danger of viewing all new forms of church ‘inauthentic’, as opposed to the ‘real’ church you might find in a traditional denomination. If a group of Christians are meeting in an art gallery or cafe and calling it church, then fine. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, in the same way there’s nothing inherently wrong with hymns or liturgy. There is of course immense value in tradition, and the wisdom of the past, but also in creativity and ideas. I’m not sure its matters how you ‘do’ church really.

    • Agreed

    • If it doesn’t matter how you “do” church, then how can there possibly be any value at all in hymns, liturgy, tradition, creativity, or ideas? I say how you “do” church is incredibly important, and this is precisely why tradition and creativity are both valuable.

      Where you “do” church is quite negotiable, on the other hand. It’s usually determined by economics more than anything else.

    • MelissatheRagamuffin says:

      I’m not sure – scripture says let everything done in order, and a lot of times I look at these people and think that there’s nothing resembling order there.

    • cermak_rd says:

      There’s a Quaker meeting that takes place in an Art gallery in Oak Park. It’s a lovely gallery and a great and beautiful space for worship. Given the Quaker “liturgy”, it’s probably a better choice than a gothic inspired church building.

  9. This really is a significant problem. My church is feeling the pinch right now as a couple of “cool” churches have moved into the area. We’ve lost several families and numerous young adults to one of them. But I don’t think all hope is lost for churches trying to be Christ centered with a gospel focused message. We still get quite a few people coming out of cool churches who, after spending a few years in them, found the core to be kind of shallow.

    Here’s a good look at some of the movement in the Anglican Church in North America right now (from CBN of all places):

    http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2011/december/anglican-fever-youth-flock-to-new-denomination-/

  10. Just read the NYTimes article. The corporation has swallowed the church. All of the terminology these new pastors use is corporate-speak. Jesus has left the building & ego has taken over like kudzu in His departure. These pastors show a shocking lack of depth in their theological understanding. Yes, Jesus met people at the well & marketplace, but that was not where He worshipped. The way they use scripture as merely a starting point before adding all their other STUFF & calling it worship reminds me of the reason Martin Luther wrote his 99 Theses when there was only the breath of the gospel in all of the Catholic Church’s pomp & tradition. Is it time for a new reformation?

  11. As with many things that get posted here, I can’t quite give this piece a hardy amen. Perhaps it’s because I was once guilty of being a pastor of a “cool” church (although, we never really thought of ourselves that way). We were a satellite congregation of a much larger church, and we tried to reach out to people that it seemed like most churches were content in ignoring. I guess that’s the thing. I don’t like talking in marketing terms when it comes to church life, either. I think it cheapens the reality of people’s live. But I do think there are demographics whom many churches don’t do a good job a reaching out to.

    The fact is that most people naturally want to be around and hang out with people who are like them. That’s simply human nature. We like our own tribe. It’s been my experience that most churches simply don’t do a good job of welcoming new people in. This is coming from someone who’s been looking for a church home in for nearly the last two years since moving. We’ve gone to all sorts of churches in the last two years spanning the range of traditional, mainline, EO, Vineyard, and sadly, in none of them have we felt like anyone even knew we were there. It’s not that going to get noticed should be a motivation for attending church, but if you go to a service and no one says hello, gives you a hug, or would not know if you were there or not, it makes the experience feel very empty.

    I think the thing that’s been hard is that all through my life I’m used to be in the center of action of churches. My dad is a pastor, so the church was our life growing up. In college, I was always in “leadership” positions in campus ministry, and after that I was always involved with churches at some level. So moving 1,000 miles away, it’s been quite odd to suddenly be an outsider. It’s been very educational for me. In one respect, I’m very thankful for the experience, because I get to see what I’ve missed all these years. I see how I’ve not reached out to people enough, and I see how painful that can be to people.

  12. Marcus Johnson says:

    Similar conversations are happening in higher education. We want accommodation and inclusion, but how far do we go before we lose the core values and primary goals that make us who we are?

    On a slightly different note, however, is it possible to concede that there may be something inherent in more traditional styles of worship that unnecessarily alienate people of different cultural identities? I might not be the popular voice here, but these traditional styles of worship seem to have been created in an American-European cultural context and tend to privilege predominately White audiences. Is it possible that, when people say they want “cool,” some of them are really saying that the way we worship alienates or distances them because of their cultural identity, and we either don’t see the problem or refuse to acknowledge it?

    • There is no culture in the world where traditional Christian worship is not understood and practiced. If it “alienates” some, it could be because it’s all about God’s words and not about them. It doesn’t connect to them because they are bored with God’s word. Besides, liturgical Christian worship is actually the most culturally flexible. Look how it is practiced in Latin America or Africa. The cultures there bear a significant practice on how the celebration is done, and a plethora of people are connecting with it.

      That being said, gregorian chant, incense, pointy hats, stand-sit-kneel, and renaissance to baroque hymnody may actually make a service difficult to comprehend or participate in for a Westerner unfamiliar with their own cultural heritage (most these days, it seems). I’m all for meeting people where they’re at. But that doesn’t mean throw away the tradition. It can be re-presented in modern, accessible settings, and it should continue to grow and adopt new ideas and contributions, the way that church tradition always has.

      But in my experience, the vast majority of people seeking “cool” want to jettison all tradition and reinvent Christian spirituality from scratch in a way that suits their own personal fancies. I grew up in what used to be a “cool” non-denomination. The shallower your roots, the sooner you become passe.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Nothing gets old-fashioned faster than over-relevance.

        Except maybe Pretentious Over-Relevance.

  13. mattpurdum says:

    It doesn’t matter what the building looks like. What matters is what our hearts look like. Simple.

    • Agreed

    • Jeremiah 17:9. I don’t think God blesses our good intentions. I think he’s more concerned with faithfulness to His words than our emotional status.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Regarding Good Intentions(TM), isn’t there a road that’s supposed to be paved with them?

        • I cannot speak for Matt. But I’m going to guess that Matt is not speaking of “intentions” or “emotions” as much as that God sees the heart.

          “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

          • Um, yes. The whole point is that the heart of these men were wicked, so regardless of how great the looked on the outside, they were not pleasing to God. But none of us has a heart of such purity that God is pleased with it, save Christ. David, being the “man after God’s heart,” is a type of Christ, and not a moral example for us to follow. God is pleased with our hearts when he sees Christ in us, not because we’ve somehow caused ourselves to love God more. But “having our heart in the right place” is used as a justification for all sorts of things in churches that are not helpful. God also wants his truth in our minds, because apart from it, we’re only loving a God as we imagine him to be. Apart from faithfulness to God’s Word, on what grounds do we say the love in our hearts is for the God of the Scriptures?

          • Of course our hearts are not pure. But our hearts can recognize our own depravity and receive God’s forgiveness by our faith in Him. And out of our hearts comes this need.

  14. If the Good News of Jesus Christ is being preached to people who would never set foot in a “traditional” church, isn’t that a good thing? As long as God’s Word is NOT compromised, what setting the Good News is preached in seems irrelevant.

    • No one is suggesting that there be no innovations, no new wineskins, no recognition of our need to “be all things to all people.” There is certainly another side to this coin, and traditions that become boundary markers should always be challenged.

      I’m responding to the stated motivations in the article and my experiences, in which I’ve heard the same things far too often. In my view the Church Growth movement was built on shaky foundations from the start, and merely updating our definition of cool won’t make them any better.

      There’s also this pesky idea from Jesus about losing one’s life that keeps coming back to me — and isn’t that the very antithesis of craving cool? Why, for example, don’t we find many articles about moving into inner city or neglected rural areas to plant churches? Don’t those people need Christ too? Why don’t we hear of people with a vision to revitalize old traditional churches or to begin congregations in the midst of the exploding senior citizen population?

      Too obscure? Not enough growth potential? Too damn hard?

      • I do know of quite a few church planters that went to the inner city… Rural areas would seem quite a bit more challenging. You’d be dealing with a much smaller pool of people to draw from. It would be damn hard!

        It strikes me that the concept of “coolness” may need some defining or some further thought. I guess it’s a relatively new idea historically, but at its heart it has to do with wrapping in layers of falsehood or pretense. It seems that pretense can go both ways. I’ve been to churches that are more traditional or liturgical, and it seemed to me that where was a different type of pretense happening there. Just as a “cool” worship leader might be wearing torn jeans or whatever to project an image of cool, the congregants of a wealthy mainline church project their pretense by dressing a certain way, driving certain cars to church, and so forth.

        I do think that it does come back to the concept of authenticity. Most people do hide behind masks or facades at some level. Ideally, it would be nice if church was a place where we could get beyond that, but it doesn’t seem like it’s any easier in most churches.

        • Of course, but we’re responding to a particular trend here — people going into church planting because it’s the cool thing to do (their words not mine). I don’t see multitudes of seminarians rushing out to plant liturgical mainline churches because it’s so cool!

      • Great point. You are right. It is ALL about motivations. Absolutely, we NEED to lose our life for His. And that message should be presented in ways go beyond traditional boundaries, like you said.

        We have a new pastor in our “traditional” Calvary Chapel church here in Vancouver, Wa. He’s young and very energetic. At first I rolled my eyes and his style has taken some getting used to. He even has dreadlocks!! ;) But most of all, he LOVES our Lord Jesus and His Word…UNCOMPROMISED. He planted some churches in the S.F. Bay area and has now taken over the Senior Pastor position in our “traditional” mega church. He has taken his ministry into our local inner city and is appealing to a new generation and a “culture” that may have otherwise been put off by their own “ideas” about church and God. And by doing the “cool” thing in downtown, he is drawing these beloved people into God’s family. :)

      • Hey Chaplain Mike, regardless of how we all view these things, this is why I love this website and have become an Imonk addict. You and Jeff, and Michael Spencer, of course, provide such a valuable service through your messages and the forum for these interesting discussions in helping us grow closer to our Lord Jesus. Thank you for all your hard work and transparency. :)

      • cermak_rd says:

        But moving to the inner city to plant churches would be silly, most are already quite well populated with churches and said churches are usually run by folks with a similar background to the demographics of the neighborhood.

        Rural churches would also be hard as a lot of them are dying, along with their towns.

    • If the Good News of Jesus Christ is being preached to people who would never set foot in a “traditional” church, isn’t that a good thing?

      I bet it would be, but you haven’t convinced me that this is indeed happing with all the innovators out there. Too often the scissors are taken to the content of the message, and not just the traditions used to convey it. The traditions were made to protect against this.

      This whole “get people saved through any means at any cost” is soteriological utilitarianism, and it is the rallying cry of those who introduce all manner of circusry in the name of Jesus until it starts to look like the Kingdom of God was meant to be a media empire.

      A Gospel without a church, a savior without a cross, preaching without doctrine… by the time you’ve bent over backwards this far to gain an audience you’re not still giving the original message. There’s enough people today would never come close to a contemporary church either because we’ve convinced them the whole thing is a waste of time by being so desperate for their attention. Fireworks and magic tricks are not what is required for the gospel to be proclaimed so that hearts brought to repentance. Faithfulness to the message at all costs IS required.

      • I see what you are saying and its a GREAT point. It is all about motivation without compromising ONE THING about God’s Word.

      • And I cannot speak for anything other than what I’ve seen in our community….which is God’s Truth transcending generations and bringing folks together by appealing to ALL generations.

    • Joel, whenever I hear this hip, trendy, worn out line that “as long as the gospel is being preached”…..blah, blah, blah, my skin starts to crawl. I have to ask, what Gospel are you referring to? Because guys like TD Jakes would claim they are preaching the gospel. Guys like Mahaney and MacDonald claim they are preaching the gospel, and yet, specifically in Mahaney’s case, people’s lives have been ruined at his “church” due to sins that were covered up by the leadership. But hey, they’re “preaching the gospel” so who cares right? Ted Haggard was preaching the gospel too, right?

      • Gary, I see your point and we’re on the same page. I think “hip” and “trendy” needs to be defined because when I think about those words I don’t equate them with a distorted view of God’s Word. I don’t know what Jakes, Mahaney, MacDonald or Haggard preach so I can’t comment. I will take your word that they aren’t the best sources of Truth. I’m referring simply to the Truth that we are saved by Grace through Faith in Jesus Christ alone. That the bible is the inspired Word of God. That if we love Jesus, we obey His Commandments. More of HIm, less of us. Die to ourselves and follow Him. Is this right?

  15. The message we preach in my denomination is one anyone would love to hear – forgiveness, love, and grace upon grace – all through Jesus’ gift of himself to all people. Problem? There are no new people hearing it – I’m preaching to the choir most Sundays. It’s not the message, it’s how to get it out to people who will not, would not, step inside this 100 year old building at 10 am on Sunday. I see the problem not as one of message, but of placement – maybe that’s why the church plants and coffee houses are important; they attract a new crowd, a crowd that may not ever have the interest or fortitude to walk into a ‘traditional’ venue.
    So we plod away at what we do in this old congregation, reaching out with free meals and Christian Ed to the local kids who don’t go to church, hoping that what little we do will somehow become something more for them down the road. There are days, though, when I get really, really down, because it appears to the outside world that we are not doing anything at all.

  16. When we are continually church planting for the wrong reasons, we also give wrong ideas to the culture around us. When young pastors keep going out to plant new churches, while ignoring the churches around them that need pastors, they confirm to the society that your typical church is not worth attending and is not worth saving. They also confirm myths, like that of old people being stuck in the mud and unwilling to change. They also confirm that real church is boring and needs to be spiced up by not-churches that spring up.

    You get the idea. There are times when planting churches is very merited and should be done. But, the planting needs to be done for the right reasons and in the right spirit.

    • Spot on.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And the young pastor planting a new church becomes it’s Founding Apostle/Man-o-Gawd. And with enough Sheep Rustling, the new church becomes a Megachurch with a CELEBRITY Founding Pastor…

    • “They also confirm myths, like that of old people being stuck in the mud and unwilling to change. They also confirm that real church is boring and needs to be spiced up by not-churches that spring up.”

      Myths??? I think your myth is the reality of most young people out there, and it is why they have deserted traditional churches in droves.

      • Agreed. Great point!

      • Mike no doubt that happens, but in the past few generations I have seen the opposite. Older folks have graciously put up with wholesale changes and pervasive denigration of the traditions they hold dear, while younger people simply do not have the capacity to receive anything that looks or sounds traditional.

      • I think your myth is the reality of most young people out there

        Speak for yourself, grandpa. :P

        I think this “reality” is an internally projected misconception in the minds of some. It comes about as a result of seeing how much fun other churches are and having our pride hurt because our own church won’t even try to keep up. Young people deserting churches in droves are not the height of wisdom and supreme example of ecclesial methodology that all churches out to follow. Many are doing so for wrong or shallow reasons which we justify when we cater to.

        I’ve worked mostly with older people in my church work experience. My best friends at every church I’ve served have been at least twice my age. Boy are they willing to try new things! This concept of the old fuddy-duddies who insist that tradition is a closed cannon is a tired and abused straw man. It is a good and salutary thing for the seasoned among us to object to impending iconoclasm. The problem is, imo, to many people don’t know how to introduce change gradually and tactfully in a manner that respects continuity with the past. The straw man may have been true at one time, but by now the exodus has progressed to a point where the original stalwarts have died and the rest just want the youth back so they don’t feel so dead themselves. They’re more than willing to budge, believe me.

        Also, the idea that church is “boring” is most certainly a myth. Yes it’s not entertaining at all times, but that’s not what it’s supposed to be. It has a much more important purpose, and when “fun” becomes the orienting directive, these more important causes are often marginalized. Young people leaving traditional churches to find more fun eventually leave newer churches because non-religious entertainment does a far superior job of providing what they are looking for.

      • The point still stands though. These young “pastors” make it a self fulfilling prophecy. Why not go in and pastor one of these older churches? The reason of course is because that would be hard work. Much easier to do your own “church” where the hipsters who attend hang on your every word and annoint you their pope.

    • There are many areas in America that are in legitimate need of more churches. The rural areas. But that is not where the planting efforts are concentrated, and that reveals something, imo, about their true aims. The big urban centers with discontent youth to be drained from multiple small parishes are always the targets. Truth be told, in those places, the LAST thing we need is a new church. They need the current congregations to be more faithful. Where are the valiant young seminarians charging into battle with the goal of helping turn congregations around to recover their focus, reform their spirituality, and prioritize more efficiently? Nah, it’s easier to write them off and start over doing it my way. The problem is THEM, the solution is ME.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Rutlers go where there are sheep to rustle.

        Just like robbing banks because that’s where the money is.

    • EXCELLENT point Fr.!!!!

  17. When I graduated from Seminary in 1990, quite a few of my class mates (myself included) were very interested in Church Planting. I think that our primary motivation was: “We can go to an established church and spend ten years banging our heads against the wall as we attempt to introduce new ideas, or we can find like minded people who share our vision, and focus our energies on actually advancing the kingdom.”

    • This is a great motivation, in my humble opinion. :)

    • This bespeaks an exaggerated view of the importance of our efforts and innovations to the kingdom of God. It doesn’t hang on the brilliance of our strategies. IMO, “banging our heads against the wall” is a very important part of the spiritual formation of young church workers. There are times we need older, wiser voices to stomp on our egocentric parades and prevent us from inflicting bad ideas on hapless congregants. I personally do not believe the church needs a whole lot of “new ideas,” I think the old ones work fine, and banding together groups of like-minded people to do things we all like is actually counterproductive to the mission of a church because it breeds cultural exclusiveness.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “Nine out of ten New Ideas are really Old Mistakes. But to a generation who were not around the last time these Old Mistakes were made, they seem like Fresh New Ideas.” — G.K.Chesterton

        Only thing that’s missing is “What could possibly go wrong?”

      • I don’t understand the notion that, by appealing to a younger “hipper” culture, it’s to the exclusion of the older “traditional” culture. As long as God Word is being preached, shouldn’t we let God renew our minds and hearts so that ALL generations can begin to see beyond our own “culture” to love on each other in Jesus?

        • Really? You’ve never seen a church market explicitly to youth at the expense of alienating the older generations and throwing away their traditions for novelties? Never?

          Believe me, I am a both/and kind of guy. But my observation and experience is that the people with a new gimmick to sell are pushing the either/or approach, not the elderly. My whole point is that we can add new stuf without having to start over from scratch. This is what a community of love and mutual respect should look like. I am a dogmatic proponent of multigenerational worship. But church tradition (the one that was handed to us from previous generations, not the one we invented yesterday) is not a culture: it transcends culture, adapts to culture, outlasts cultural trends, and speaks cultural truth to cultural power.

          • If we want to really keep “church tradition”, lets start meeting in our houses. :)

            If churches are alienating people, how can they call themselves a Christ centered church? As long as God’s Truth in Jesus is the message, I don’t care if churches meet in dance clubs at 2:00 am.

            What irony there is in this discussion on a website founded by a guy who wrote a book called “Mere Churchianity”!! It’s about Jesus, not traditions.

          • If a church is small enough to meet in someone’s house, they probably should! But most congregations outgrow that rather quickly. I’m sure every church is an alienating experience to somebody. I suggest we attempt to minimize that where we can without changing the message. But boring and alienating are not necessarily the same thing.

            You can’t dichotomize Jesus and tradition. Words have meanings, and Jesus gave us several which he expects to continue to pass on. He also altered some Jewish traditions and gave them new meanings, which we continue to observe today. To have Jesus without tradition is to ignore Jesus’ own words when he commanded us to baptize. As soon as you say a single defining word about who Jesus is and what he did, you are giving doctrine. The Gospel of Jesus Christ IS a doctrine. How you communicate this doctrine is your tradition. You can’t have Jesus without tradition. The question is, will you continue in the one you received, or will you start from scratch and invent your own? Spencer was also one to argue for an ancient-future faith, insisting that recovering the past was a key to the future.

          • As someone that has social anxiety, sometimes I think I’d be happy to never set foot in church again. ;)

            When you say “tradition”, do you mean Jesus’ commandments? Or something else?

          • “The Gospel of Jesus Christ IS a doctrine. How you communicate this doctrine is your tradition.”

            Got it. Never mind. I missed that obviously.

            “(Tradition) transcends culture, adapts to culture, outlasts cultural trends, and speaks cultural truth to cultural power.”

            This is my point. Why can’t there be “tradition”, as you call it, or God’s Word communicated in a different package (ie, coffee shop, park, house, etc.)? If “tradition” is communicated through the singing of Hymns or “rock” music, what difference does it make?

          • The commands of Christ are the basis of Christian tradition. The marketing strategies of religious entrepreneurs are the basis of another tradition. But I’d say the admonitions of the apostles count as part of tradition too. You know, like, the entire New Testament.

            God’s Word is always communicated through “packaging.” The thing is, some packaging has remained consistently effective at handing down the faith to successive generations for centuries. It should not be discarded lightly. Style of music is highly irrelevant, imo, but texts are not. Some words are more faithful to the Gospel than others. We sing all our hymns with rock music at our church. But we sing them with choir and organ too. The important thing is that the words we use point to Christ and the music doesn’t distract from that. But often when people insist on a specific style of music, text has become a secondary concern for them. Bad idea, imo.

          • Agreed. :)

          • Joel,
            Jesus said some pretty alienating things, according to the New Testament. The very idea that we are sinners in need of a savior is alienating. If we do not accept that alienating fact as truth, we do not know who Jesus is. It’s true that putting an unnecessary stumbling block between someone and the gospel is a scandalous disservice to the gospel, but that doesn’t mean that every stumbling block is unnecessary. There are cultural expressions that are incompatible with the gospel, despite protestations to the contrary. The disagreement here is about just what criteria need to be used to determine what expressions are and are not compatible with the gospel.

          • Hi Robert, this is true. I meant that if young “hip” churches aren’t ministering to or excluding (or alienating, as Miguel said) older generations then there is something wrong with that. A Christ-centered church, whether it’s “hip” or not, should welcome and minister to all ages, regardless of how they present the Gospel of Jesus. Its been my experience in our church that the young and “hip”, middle aged, and seniors, despite having different “cultures” and outreaches, all come together to worship and serve our Lord Jesus.

            What would you say is an expression that is not compatible with the gospel?

          • Joel,
            Incompatible: using Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” during the Holy Communion as an anthem would be an example; using potato chips and soda as the elements for Holy Communion would be another. Yes, both have been done, and in two completely different churches in different denominations. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

          • I see. Yes those seem just a little ridiculous, distracting and downright unbiblical. I think if I’d witnessed that I’d become a Lutheran too. :) I guess my defenition of “cool” or “hip” doesn’t include that kind of stuff. I think of it as delivering the Good News of Jesus Christ in a way that might attract a younger audience without compromising God’s Holy Word. Maybe I’m getting “outreach” confused with “church”. Communion is Sacred. Baptism is Sacred. Jesus’ Commandments are Sacred.

  18. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    “For new leaders coming out of seminary, ‘the cool thing is church planting. The uncool thing is to go into the established church. Why that has taken over may speak to the entrepreneurialism and innovation that today’s generation represents.’”

    Because if you plant a church, YOU are the Founding Apostle — just like Jack Hybels, CJ Mahaney, Mark Driscoll, et al. And with enough sheep rustling, YOU can grow YOUR church into the next Megachurch with Its Founding Apostle/CELEBRITY Pastor.

    The new ministry grew largely through the transfer of Christian young people from traditional churches who decided to pursue what they liked — a more exciting, “cooler” religious experience.

    i.e. Growth through Sheep Rustling.

    And what happens when something other than this Church Of What’s Hip Now comes out with An Even More Exciting, “Cooler” Spiritual Experience?

    The entrepreneurial spirit that aims to satiate people’s craving for ever new experience is alive and well. We call it “ministry,” and it’s cool to be a part of it.

    And five years from now it’ll be as “cool” and “relevant” as Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In is today.

  19. “For new leaders coming out of seminary, ‘the cool thing is church planting. The uncool thing is to go into the established church. Why that has taken over may speak to the entrepreneurialism and innovation that today’s generation represents.’”

    This is an unfortunate use of the word “cool”, I agree. But I also wonder if people who graduate from seminary might not simply be reacting to economic realities. The number of churches willing to hire a kid who just graduated from seminary and pay him a decent salary is dwindling. So on one hand, people just graduating may feel they are forced to go on their own simply to survive.

    I also think that the idea that old, traditional churches are filled with nice old church ladies and helpful older men looking to lend a hand is sort of romanticized notion that gets reinforced here. I’ve known plenty of people in traditional churches, and let me just say, Jesus’ term “brood of vipers” comes to mind in some situations.

    • So let me give you an example of how new church planters are avoiding that. I know of a church planted in a nearby community by an entrepreneurial pastor. He has no board. There are no votes. He is the decision maker. He runs the church as a small businessman would run a business. He hires the help, he organizes the program. I’m not even sure that his church planting organization has more than an advisory role in the work. He doesn’t want any of the trappings of traditional church organization — even free church type organization — because he wants to avoid all the inefficiency and conflict such structures create. It’s do it yourself church. He comes from a good evangelical school and appears to be a nice enough guy, but in the end he just set up shop and did it himself.

      Why not, if it works?

      • David Cornwell says:

        I know one or two of those, or rather have known them in the past.

      • CM….how long do you think it “will work” in the future? When anyone in any sort of power position has no accountability to anyone else, their own preferences and quirks and blind spots become institutionalized. Even a person with the very best of intentions will soon miss the plank in his eye, and get angry with people who point it out.

        I have much more faith in churches with history, tradition, and oversight. The idea is to spread the Word of God, not to hide Him under glitter and hip-ness and try to sneak Him in the backdoor between the band and the performers on unicycles….

        • David Cornwell says:

          Some of these pastors will have the semblance of a governing structure, but will overrule it’s decisions almost without consultation. They operate with great egos, and many times have a little group of devotees who follow their every word, and literally follow them around physically if given the chance. I’ve seen this take place even in some traditional churches (mainlines) where a charismatic pastor gets carried away with himself and assumes great power.

          Sometimes this eventually will lead to revolt by a portion of the membership, and the result is gossip, rumors, hurt feelings, anger, and a split congregation. In a mainline group if this type of pastor can’t get his/her way he/she may feel “led” to start a new independent church down the road, pulling away a portion of the congregation.

          I’ve seen this happen several times, with shades of difference of course, but all pointing to an outsized ego who is used to getting his/her own way.

  20. There are several things on my mind. First I went to the website of the church mentioned in the article. Now when I’m popping up at churches in the DC area I spend a lot of time researching it before I show up. I don’t want to pop up at a SBC, Acts 29, or SGM church by accident. And I also want to know what theology they teach. The last thing I want to do is pop in a place sincerely seeking answers only to learn that the pastor drools at the name of John Piper. So I’m frustrated that many places don’t say what they are affiliated with, where their pastors went to seminary, etc…

    Another thing that bothers me is that I think some of these places have lost sight of what Christianity is. Why are some so concerned about “post modern faith?” The one thing that I kind of feel wooing me back to faith is love. If Christians dropped their idol worship of doctrine, church planting, mega star pastor worship, conferences, Calvinism, reformed theology, discipline, etc.. and just focused on a deep, and sacrifical love and grace they could accomplish a lot. As I move forward in figuring myself out part of me feels that some of these churches/ministries taught me horriffic theology that led me to make horriffic decisions in life. So I’m toying with the notion that maybe I just went from and minsitry/church to another one. If so…in my case that takes talent with what I dug myself into! :-P

    But if Christians just focus on love and grace while loving people like me that is what should be done. Many of you guys here taught me that.

    • Amen to this. Only us humans could manage to complicate such a simple message in Jesus.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “Because people are people, and the world is filled with tricks and twistiness yet undreamed of.”
        – One of The Whole Earth Catalogs

    • Eagle,

      “The one thing that I kind of feel wooing me back to faith is love.”

      That my good friend, is what IT is all about. There has been much ado made about nothing. But the buck stops there. 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 from The Message…..

      If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

      If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

      If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

  21. My experience is that “not your typical church” churches typically end up looking a lot like a slightly hipper version of generic megachurch evangelicalism on a smaller scale. Maybe with some coffeetable discussions mixed into the middle of sermon.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And what happens when what it means to be hip changes?

    • My experience is that “not your typical church” churches typically end up looking a lot like a slightly hipper version of generic megachurch evangelicalism on a smaller scale.

      Usually because they’re made up of the kids of the Boomers who are going to the generic evangelical megachurches.

      Here’s something I’ve wondered about the “we’re reaching the Unchurched” churches. What percentage of those congregations are actually former heathens who would never darken the door of a traditional-looking church, but thought “maybe there’s something different about the un-church,” gave them a shot, and ended up a devout believer–and what percentage are people who were raised in evangelical Christianity, went to youth group, never seriously left Christianity (with the exception, perhaps, of adoloscent or college-age periods of rebellion), and decided they preferred the un-church to the Boomer-run church of their parents?

      In my cynical moments, I feel like the cool, hip, non-traditional, non-church churches don’t exist because they are reaching nonbelievers, but because they let grownup youth group kids (who would be mortified to invite people to Grandma’s church, or even their parents’ church) feel like they are.

      • In my cynical moments…

        Because you’re a glass-half-full kinda guy. Us pessimists refer to what you call cynicism as realism.

        I, too, would like to know the number of truly unchurched these types of places are drawing. I do know two things for certain: I’ve seen countless un-churches draw younger generations out of established, traditional churches. All that accomplishes is driving a wedge between generations. Second, if all the stats of conversion rates and baptism given by such churches to bolster their justification were truly honest and accurate, the entire world would have been saved 10 times over by now.

        The only time I’ve ever seen an unbeliever “darken the door” of any church is when a believing friend took the time to invite them. I really do not think they are going to respond to our advertising. If they were interested, they’d seek us out. It’s people attending other churches who notice and care about the exciting new differences of the un-church.

        • Well, if I’m honest, I don’t just think that in my cynical moments. Mostly I just wanted to soften it a little because I figured there would be people who are offended by it. I might lose friendships if I expressed that sentiment around certain people.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Second, if all the stats of conversion rates and baptism given by such churches to bolster their justification were truly honest and accurate, the entire world would have been saved 10 times over by now.

          Just like body counts from Vietnam, huh?

  22. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    “Every generation wants their own thing. Kids in their late 20s to midteens now, they really crave intimacy and authenticity. They want high-quality experiences, but don’t necessarily want them in huge voluminous buildings.”

    BUZZWORD BINGO!

  23. Broad pushback: these are easy targets to pick on. But as others have said, please don’t let those who have corrupted terms like “relevant” and “contextual” and merely substituted the megachurch entertainment model for the cool-kids-talking-spirituality-in-the-bar model dissuade you from the fact that new models and new ways of connecting ARE desperately needed in many areas. I live in one of the “spiritual but not religious” hubs of the northeast. Folks in my community are NOT coming to church for any reason but a wedding or funeral. So bars and coffeeshops and libraries and bookstores and yoga studios are where conversations about truth and identity and meaning really, truly, actually do take place — among people of *all* ages.

    And yes, I am currently serving in a church that for the most part doesn’t get it. They don’t know how to connect to their local community. They want to draw people into church, but don’t understand that a loving relationship has to come first…..way, way first. So, to continue the cliche, I am currently the seminary student beating my head against the wall, trying to change the mindset of the church about basic things like how to relate and love on and advocate for those who want nothing to do with traditional church.

    Oh, and that’s even before taking the huge GLTBQ presence into account.

    So yeah….sometimes people need to die to themselves and cross boundaries in order to engage in these supposedly “cool” ways of ministry. Where I am, to cling to the familiar is to die a slow and selfish death.

    • Though it is interesting that when people do eventually go to a church for a wedding or funeral, they are expecting a traditional liturgical experience. Even those who say they hate liturgy and find it inauthentic will crave it for their own weddings: white dresses, marching down the aisle, giving away the bride, unity candles, ropes, sand, rings, vows, etc. Somehow that liturgy provides the continuity and expression to one of the most meaningful days in their life.

      • Steve, I don’t understand your point. I’m not critiquing liturgy whatsoever. I wish our church was more liturgical, it would actually appeal to many in our community who equate form and meaning. But as it stands, they see the church as wholly irrelevant to their lives, so they wouldn’t darken the doors but for an obligation like a wedding or funeral. Folks would rather go to a drum circle, a yogi, or a rabbi. Christianity in general is not meaningful to them, and we are encouraging their mindset by staying within our traditional boundaries, and not going to where the people are.

      • Even those who say they hate liturgy and find it inauthentic will crave it for their own weddings: white dresses, marching down the aisle, giving away the bride, unity candles, ropes, sand, rings, vows, etc.

        Not really true in my experience. Most of the weddings I’ve been to in the last ten years or so have been kind of the opposite. People want to be unique and they want their wedding to reflect their tastes. Yes, there still is a lot of religious imagery and symbolism in them, but they aren’t really liturgical. My roommate in college actually had praise and worship as part of his wedding ceremony, which I have to admit was just weird.

      • cermak_rd says:

        Actually, it’s interesting. I’ve been to 4 weddings in the past 2 years. 2 were led by JPs, one in a city park, one in a state park. The other two were led by members of the family (ordained for this purpose) in the reception hall. Some parts from a trad wedding were kept, 2 white dresses out of the 4, giving away in 3 cases, etc. But each was also quite a bit different, and no a one of them was overtly religious. Now, this probably has something to do with the type of people I hang with and have in my family, but the weddings of my youth were all in churches and conducted by clergy. (heck my own was in a church by clergy)

    • Oh, and that’s even before taking the huge GLTBQ presence into account.

      Sean: With that situation, have you read TORN by Justin Lee and THE CROSS IN THE CLOSET by Timothy Kurek?

  24. David Cornwell says:

    “new models and new ways of connecting ARE desperately needed in many areas. ”

    Absolutely correct, and somehow a creative tension needs to exist between the old and the needed new. It’s difficult to do with congregations that are older, settled, and not doing much of anything. How does one break through this inertia that will tax, strain, and wear the patience of a creative pastor? It will take all of one’s gifts, prayers, and often tears.

    Sometimes a group of like minded pastors can sit withe each other for prayer, support, and discussion. And humor.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Sean, this was meant as a reply to your post.

    • Sometimes a group of like minded pastors can sit withe each other for prayer, support, and discussion. And humor.

      This is a line-drive home run shot , IMO. At my Anglican parish, great efforts are made to reach out and include ALL age groups, while traditions are both kept and challenged (the creative tension you mentioned). Faithfulness to the Word, the sacraments, and our current understaning of Christ’s leading are all essential, but the humility expressed among the leaders seems to be vital. No one trying to be “dynamic”, but no one protecting their favorite sacred cow either. Tough balance, I think.

  25. MelissatheRagamuffin says:

    I’m sorry, but I’m wondering what people “who wouldn’t normally set foot in a church” these churches are supposedly trying to reach?

    When I worked for the Salvation Army, I worked the Sunday 4-12 shift. A lot of the people from the church would come over and have dinner us in the shelter. They’d tell me all about when THEY lived in the shelter, how the Salvation Army helped them, etc. So, one day I asked my boss if anyone kept statistics on people who were helped by the Salvation Army who later joined. He looked at me like I was an idiot and said, “Where do you think we get our membership?”

    But, I guess there’s no glamor and almost no money in reaching out to the homeless and drug addicts.

    • cermak_rd says:

      There’s also the matter of LGBTQ for the younger set which affects the Salvation Army and similar churches.

      • MelissatheRagamuffin says:

        I don’t think the church should start calling wrong right in order to stay “relevant.”

    • That is AWESOME that you reach out to homeless and drug addicts in Jesus name. That’s EXACTLY what Jesus wants us to do!

      I would say that these new “cool” churches are trying to reach teens/20 year olds….kids that whose parents never took them to church or told them about God’s Love for them. I think of it like as being “missionaries” to a “culture” that has never heard how the Good News of Jesus applies to them. Just like missionaries that learn a language and a culture before they travel to a given country, these new churches are learning the “language” and “culture” of a generation that needs to know the Love of God for them in Christ… all WITHOUT compromising a single Word or Truth in God’s Word.

  26. Randy Thompson says:

    You want authenticity? Come to our church. I’m the pastor, and 62 years old. In our tiny New Hampshire church, with maybe 25 people present on a good Sunday, I’m the youth group. Three of our members are (well) over 90, and the rest are closer to 90 than 70. No one in our congregation would recognize something hip if it had the word “Hip” written on its forehead. And yet, there is no pretension, no sense that we’re supposed to be the church everyone else should imitate, no neurotic obsession over “doing” the right music to reach the young people, or, for that matter, no coherent outreach strategy (mainly because everybody is so old and tired they don’t have the energy). And yet, these folks can put up with a lot, including one of our regular visitors showing up drunk at our Christmas Eve service. There’s a great deal of patience, a desire to help those who need help, and a willingness to welcome strangers, including occasional and schizophrenic homeless people. Will you hear a semi-professional choir? No, but you’ll hear a few people who like to sing. Will you see great videos? (Huh?) Will you hear sermons that will be a book a year later? (Get a grip.) What you will experience, though, and you really will, is a group of people who care about Christ, who want to know him better, and who want to serve him as best they can.

    By all accounts, we’re an aging church stuck in the past with little hope of connecting with spiritual hipsters.

    So what?

    I’d rather be where I am than any other place on earth, church-wise. The people are great, I enjoy them enormously, and I love them to pieces.

    Take your hipness and shove it.

    • lol That’s GREAT!! If I lived in your town I think I’d go to your church :)

      The hipsters in my church annoy me too. But I love them because I know God loves them. God has shown me He uses many different types of people to reach His creation.

      God is using you to reach people only you could. Praise Jesus for you.

    • So what happened to the second and third generation?

      • They’re down the street at the nearest Contemporvant Growtivation center learning how to honor their father and mother and cherish and respect their elders in the faith.

        • My question was a serious one. If you say “My church has lost its 2nd and 3rd generations”, then my question is why? What has happened? Where have they gone? How can we learn from this?

          • There is a value to self examination, reflection on our past, and seeing how we can do better. But more often than not I would really hesitate to cast the blame at the foot of the forsaken elderly. More often than not I’ve seen the kids run off seeking after cool. If grandpa’s not more important than cool, then what kind of church is that? A beauty pageant.

    • Question: How did the hipster burn the roof of his mouth?
      Answer: He ate Pizza, before it was cool. :P

  27. I went to the Relevant Church in Tampa a few times a couple of years ago, with a girl I was dating who was a nice Methodist and was trying to find some way to get me off the fence of my then “I hate my evangelical upbringing but am still vaguely interested in Jesus” phase. (I’m off the fence now–I’m an atheist, though I still pay attention, for sentimental reasons, to discussions like this. I’m a Southern Baptist atheist damn it!)

    It wasn’t different at all from the normal college and young professional groups at the local megachurches. Not different at all. Same music, same stupid acts (though different from the stupid acts in big church where the pastor brought in bagpipers or rode a Harley through the aisles during the service) same people. The main difference was the Relevant Church people were actually sincere–they really believed all that Jesus stuff, in a vaguely hipster sort of way. I wouldnt say that about the lets lead a great middle-class suburban professional life people at Idlewild or Bell Shoals or the other megas around here. I was almost impressed. (Of course I’ve met plently of sincere Muslims and Hindus, so sincerity doesn’t cut much ice with me. But megachurchs aren’t sincere at all.)

    • Maybe more people would have trusted in Jesus if the pastor would’ve had the bagpipers ride the Harley while playing their pipes. ;)

    • I’m a Southern Baptist atheist damn it!

      Funniest thing I read all day. Thank you for your honesty.

  28. Evangelical churches are like toothbrushes. There’s always a new one promising better results.

  29. Just like I’ve learned not to trust news articles about politics or world events – because of the times I’ve read an article on something about which I’m knowledgeable and can see how incorrect or misleading the article is – I’d be slow to judge or criticize or comment on these churches or pastors based on how some news article describes their ministries or methods. Reporters and news editors are masters at selectively presenting what they want you to read and therefore think about what they present as “news” or “facts” or “interviews,” and may even do their skewing subconsciously from habit or personal thinking patterns or beliefs.

  30. Recent conversation with a friend:

    “So tell me about this new church you’re going to.”
    “Well, it’s cool. ”
    “Cool?”
    “Yeah. The pastor’s pretty cool, the music’s cool.”
    “That’s it?”
    “What do you mean? What else is there?”

  31. It is exactly the language of personal preference that makes me suspect the way CCM is used in worship. Christian worship and liturgy should embrace far more than the provincial preferences of a generation; it should reflect the worship and liturgy of the universal church throughout history. That’s partly what the communion of saints entails. But the problem is that the issue of asserting personal preference is a longstanding one in American society. In the current internecine church music/worship wars, it’s not unusual to hear those who want to keep more traditional forms of music and worship use the same language of personal preference as those who want to change to more popular forms. Holding on to older forms just because we want to hear the same 50 hymns over and over again, so that we can feel comfortable participating in worship (didn’t Jesus consistently afflict the comfortable even as he comforted the afflicted?), is a very narrow and self-serving agenda. If that’s the main reason for those who want to hold to older forms (which seems to be the case among most of those who do), then there’s no wonder it’s not given much respect by the innovators, who seem to be the overall majority. It’s a sad situation involving the lack of real, deep theological formation among Christians in this country (and elsewhere?).

  32. I think what’s interesting in this thread is the mentioning of the sheer number of people who are leaving existing churches to join the “cool” church.
    Transitional growth. not exactly a shining example the great commission.
    That being said, if people are leaving our churches we should feel compelled to ask why, and address the ways we are serving our communities. Are we reaching young people? Are we serving the poor? are we loving our neighbors? If the answer is no to some of these questions, probably we need to stop attacking the new “cool” church and begin to humbly address ourselves.
    I believe in the local Church. I serve faithfully as youth pastor in my church. But I have also recently started a discussion based service in a bar and it’s been amazing. Funnily enough it’s not attracting christians from existing churches, but people who are on the outside. The burnt, the broken, the marginalized. And it hasn’t been in an attempt to be “cool”, but rather an attempt to connect with those who feel that normal church wouldn’t – or couldn’t – accept them.
    And for me, that feels like where I need to be. Call my clothing messy and my hair unkempt. Call me uneducated or “too young”. Try and call me “cool”. I actually don’t care – as long as I feel like I’m serving Jesus and serving these people surely I must be doing something right.
    God bless :)

    • I don’t necessarily have any problem with what you are doing, Calvin. I would ask to whom you are accountable and who guides you to make sure the gospel you are sharing is the true Gospel, and that its intention is to lead people to the fullness of the faith in community with the one true holy and apostolic church.

      • Thanks so much Mike, I think that’s great wisdom, and I am fortunate to have some wonderful people and pastors overseeing the work I’m doing and keeping me in line. I assure you that the kind of community you describe is the desire of my heart. Thank you so much for the wonderful work you put on this site, it has blessed me many times.

  33. I thought you might like this Tshirt:

    http://pinterest.com/pin/190980840420058805/

  34. Hey Chaplain Mike, after a few days of thinking about this I get it now. I see where you and Miguel and others are coming from. Its all about maintaining the Sacred Traditions of the church in Christ. His Teachings and Commandments. I get it and completely agree. Thanks for your patience and correspondence. You too Miguel and Robert F.