Thinking Out Loud

September 28, 2012

Giving Your Church What They Prefer Over What They Need

Matt Marino is an Episcopal Priest who spent 17 years with Young Life.  He dares to pose a question that’s being heard more and more recently,

What’s so uncool about cool churches?

[This is a teaser, you are strongly advised to click the link above and read the whole article, which has so far attracted over 100 comments.]

They ask for more and more, and we give it to them. And more and more the power of God is substituted for market-driven experience. In an effort to give people something “attractive” and “relevant” we embraced novel new methods in youth ministry, that 20 years later are having a powerful shaping effect on the entire church. Here are the marks of being market-driven; Which are hallmarks of your ministry?

  1. Segregation. We bought into the idea that youth should be segregated from the family and the rest of the church. It started with youth rooms, and then we moved to “youth services.” We ghettoized our children! (After all, we are cooler than the older people in “big church”. And parents? Who wants their parents in their youth group?)
  2. Big = effective. Big is (by definition) program driven: Less personal, lower commitment; a cultural and social thing as much as a spiritual thing...
  3. More programs attended = stronger disciples. The inventors of this idea, Willow Creek, in suburban Chicago, publicly repudiated this several years ago. They discovered that there was no correlation between the number of meetings attended and people’s spiritual maturity...
  4. Christian replacementism. We developed a Christian version of everything the world offers: Christian bands, novels, schools, soccer leagues, t-shirts. We created the perfect Christian bubble.
  5. Cultural “relevance” over transformation.We imitated our culture’s most successful gathering places in an effort to be “relevant.” Reflect on the Sunday “experience” at most Big-box churches:ure.
    • Concert hall (worship)
    • Comedy club (sermon)
    • Coffee house (foyer)
  6. Professionalization. If we do know an unbeliever, we don’t need to share Christ with them, we have pastors to do that. We invite them to something… to an “inviter” event… we invite them to our “Christian” subcult
  7. “McDonald’s-ization” vs. Contextualization:  It is no longer our own vision and passion. We purchase it as a package from today’s biggest going mega-church. It is almost like a “franchise fee” from Saddleback or The Resurgence.
  8. Attractional over missional. When our greatest value is butts in pews we embrace attractional models. Rather than embrace Paul’s Ephesians 4 model in which ministry gifts are given by God to “equip the saints” we have developed a top-down hierarchy aimed at filling buildings. This leaves us with Sunday “church” an experience for the unchurched, with God-centered worship of the Almighty relegated to the periphery and leading of the body of Christ to greater spiritual power and sanctification to untrained small group leaders.

continue reading the whole article here.

As I prepared this, I thought of point number eight in light of my ‘online’ church home, North Point. There are only two worship songs, and further worship is relegated to Thursday nights every other month. But even those nights simply mirror what happens on Sunday morning, which is itself an extension of the youth ministry model.

Some youth are not happen with the state of the church, and are seeking an entirely different model, as we wrote last week.  Other teens and twenty-somethings are simply leaving, as we noted two weeks ago. So there are issues that need to be addressed as to the sustainability of the present models within student ministry; but also larger implications for an entire assembly or congregation.

Among the comments at Matt’s article:

  • Being hip isn’t the problem you’re addressing, its the lack of content which plagues both cool (too much focus on preference for entertainment) and uncool (to much focus on preference for tradition)
  • What matters isn’t what the preacher wears, whether there is coffee, whether there is a rock band or an orchestra or just a piano, is the FRUIT.
  • “Guitar Praise — Just Like Guitar Hero, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “Praise Ponies — Just Like My Little Pony, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “Testamints — Just like Altoids, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “Christian Chirp — Just like Twitter, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “GodTube — Just like YouTube, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “Seek & Find” — Just like Google Search, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “Johnny Hammer — Just like Justin Beiber, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
  • Your biggest draw, which is providing a loving community where all kids can belong, is completely lost when your church preaches a bigoted message on homosexuality.
  • We assemble to worship, serve, please and praise God. It’s all about HIM! Not us. Smoke machines, guitars, pianos, lasers, and flashing lights? Why? Does this please God? Is it what he’s asked for? Or is it a ploy to bring more bodies in? Hey, I am all for trying to get more souls in the pews, but let’s do it in a way that doesn’t put make-up on God.
  • A good church cannot be determined by its “style” of worship. What is important? Shouldn’t a church be judged by things like its theology, its teaching, its mission, the fellowship and growth of its people, whether people come to God and become closer to God?
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2 Comments »

  1. Hi Paul, Thanks for the nice summary of comments. I actually used North Point’s self-parody on a previous post about “worship wars.” I have family that were part of the founding leadership there. Blessings!

    Comment by mattarino — September 28, 2012 @ 10:19 am

  2. Thanks for sharing this. Just about the entire thing resonated deeply with me, not only from my (wonderful but flashy) youth ministry days in the PAOC, but for right now as I take stock of my current situation. I see a lot of these issues in my own non-denom campus church, and yet it’s hard to put a finger on how things could/should change, exactly, as the focus of the leaders is definitely on Christ and getting people rooted in Him. It’s just so many of our contemporary accoutrements are…I don’t know, just irritating, unnecessary, and not beautiful. I find his comments regarding returning to the early church interesting in that they make reference to elements that Evangelicals typically don’t mention when surveying early Christianity – the sacraments, closed communion, etc. I too have found a deep hunger for sacramental Christianity and while the author doesn’t make it explicitly himself, how he concludes leaves the reader asking “how do we go there?” To which the answer would seem: pack your bags for Rome or Constantinople.

    Comment by N.W. Douglas — September 28, 2012 @ 3:27 pm


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