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