Thinking Out Loud

April 16, 2013

Why That “Different Kind of Church” Looks Like All The Rest

Filed under: Church, technology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:55 am

Church Stage Design Ideas dot com

David Murrow has been blogging up a storm lately. We just used one of his pieces here last week, and I can’t reblog everything he writes; but on the other hand, I cant ignore his more recent post, Why I Am Not Too Excited About Church Planting.  His basic thesis:

Everyone’s planting the same church. I’ve visited half a dozen young church plants over the past two years. And they are virtually indistinguishable from one another. See if this lineup sounds familiar:

  • Approximately 15 minutes of praise music, played by a rock band.
  • A projector, sound system and stage lighting
  • A separate nursery and children’s program concurrent with “big church”
  • A 25 to 40 minute sermon delivered by a young, informally dressed man
  • An offering, plus maybe a sacrament (communion, etc.)
  • A closing song or two, also led by the rock band.
  • Service length: between 70 and 90 minutes.

Well, he’s got that right. And don’t forget the 60-second video ‘title package’ which precedes the sermon…

So annually we have thousands of churches re-inventing the wheel. But years ago, the phrase “a different kind of church” was all the rage. How did all these different churches end up so much the same? 

He concludes this section by noting, “We haven’t had this much conformity in worship since the days of medieval Catholicism.”

It’s the new, high-tech liturgy. But all that tech for both the primary service and the alternative service for children involves gear and set-up. It is both capital intensive and labor intensive.  And it rises or falls on the ability of the pastor to resonate with everybody.  No pressure.  Murrow concludes:

If we’re planting 4,000 churches a year at $125,000 per congregation, that’s half a billion dollars per year going into church planting in America alone. Seventy percent of that money is going into churches that won’t exist in 24 months. Church plants will consume 40 million volunteer hours this year. Couldn’t these vast resources be more profitably employed for the Kingdom?

Yes, David, they could, and they should.

One thing that he notes here that I feel very strongly about is the existence of mortgage free church buildings that are hosting dwindling congregations. Michael Frost has been instrumental in spreading awareness of this situation, and his own church in Manly, Australia — a congregation known as Small Boat Big Sea — successfully integrated into a building that was underutilized.   Murrow writes:

Most church buildings are owned debt-free. Many of these churches sit empty 160 hours a week. And they’re half-empty on Sunday. Why don’t existing congregations allow new churches to meet in their paid-off buildings at alternate times? (We’re already seeing this as ethnic congregations are using existing churches for Sunday afternoon services.)

I encourage you to (a) take 3-4 minutes to re-read all this at David’s blog; (b) share this article with senior leadership at your church who don’t object to doing some critical thinking.  Here’s the link.

Image: Church Stage Design Ideas



  1. Reblogged this on My Name is Marcy and commented:
    The more I think about it, the more I think Catholicism right. For instance, I did not convert for any liturgical reasons: though I found the liturgy generally enjoyable. But since then I have found that the liturgy is just simply right. It is reverent and holy, beautiful and simple, and even though it is the same in any given rite, it never quite feels the same.

    At any rate, this author ponders what church would look like if we started with the Bible and a blank sheet of paper. It really sounds like the author is bored, and just is having a knee jerk reaction for something “new” (at least to the extent that the author is looking for something different rather than just arguing for cooperation). But he does not seem to consider that some 1700 years ago the Catholic Church did just that. And protestant services are just a riff off of the Catholic liturgy. The author does not seem to consider that services are all essentially the same, because we already have got the basics right. There is no reason for newness for newness sake. And it is the peculiar feature of that pursuit that you always end up with sameness for no ones sake. We ought not to be looking for some novel way of conducting church services. We ought to look for the correct way.

    Again, I think that way has already been largely found: including in protestant churches. Don’t pursue liturgical newness: it will only lead to liturgical wrongness. There are a vast number of things that new protestant plants could and should be doing-some of which coincidentally I think the Catholic church has found a sensible answer too. But American evangelicalism is-entirely apart from its spiritual merits which are many-a fundamentally individual and capitalistic endeavor. Some ruthless competition between competitors with little difference is really inevitable.

    Comment by marcy — April 16, 2013 @ 9:02 am

  2. “We ought not to be looking for some novel way of conducting church services. We ought to look for the correct way.”

    Great quote! The ‘Didache’ document seems to be a good indicator of how the local/home churches were run. There is a definite blessing Catholics experience in liturgy in combination with great faith – praise God. We love many of the prayers that have come out of the church.

    Act of Contrition (modern)

    “My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.
    In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good,
    I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things.
    I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more,
    and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.
    Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us.
    In His name, my God, have mercy.

    God bless you in your journey in the Catholic church. Via you life and words, lead others to Jesus, to the cross/resurrection and to His grace. Amen.
    Flagrant Regard

    Comment by Flagrant Regard — April 16, 2013 @ 1:21 pm

  3. The problem with the “mortgage-free church buildings hosting dwindling congregations” is the fact that most of these churches are dull and boring :) The congregations have gotten into the mindset of “we’ve always done it this way” and aren’t willing to “modernize” the presentation of the message (the message shouldn’t necessarily change, but the way it’s presented certainly should). On top of that, a lot of these mortgage-free-buildings aren’t able to accommodate the new presentation. Video screens, projectors, areas for dramas, modern music formats. Heck, we recently left a building that was only 25 years old, and while it was gorgeous, there were a lot of features that I would have avoided if I was doing it all over again.

    There is certainly a place for “old-style worship” (and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way!). Not everyone likes the modern “church plants”. I like it. My one son doesn’t (yes, that seems a little backwards, doesn’t it). Some like organs and liturgy. Others like drums and guitars. Some are drawn to the majesty of the pipe organ. Some like pews. Others like chairs. Others like to sit on the floor. Some like loud preachers. Some like quiet, meditative services.

    I really think arguing or debating the FORM of our worship is very counter-productive. Just like it’s not very productive for us to debate Baptist vs. Pentecostal vs. Catholic, we should focus on the object or our worship and what it means to be a follower of Christ rather than where and how we spend our Sunday mornings (or Saturday nights).

    As I say to my kids… I don’t care WHERE you go to church, I just hope that you WILL go somewhere :)

    Comment by Murray Lahn — April 16, 2013 @ 8:47 pm

  4. I feel that we basically also have to do with a theological problem in sermons. I’ll try to explain in short.

    Do you know that it is unacceptable in theology to say that we possess Jesus’ very words? It are all lookalikes, written down decades after the events, as theology says!!!! It is generally accepted – in Evangelical as well as in Roman Catholic theology – that Jesus’ words are results of an oral tradition and translated in a very early stage from Aramaic into Greek, so we don’t have his words anymore. And it is so easy to contradict this on biblical grounds. It is generally accepted that stenography didn’t exist at that time, but this is blissful ignorance. This and many other things in theology have resulted, as I feel, in a deep Christian Identity Crisis.

    We act in our Churches as we are expected to do, without much self-esteem and real conviction. Pastors preach as they are supposed to preach, members listen as they re supposed to listen. And is it satisfying? We are all supposed to say: Yes! But is it? I believe that the day we get back the insight that we indeed possess the original words of Jesus Christ, written down by his personal writers !!!!, we will stop approving “Love your neighbor” and begin to feel the authority of that word with the conviction to simply live it and also “Love God” in the same way. In short: the restoration of our Christian Identity, not depending on church planting but depending on the Great Church Planter (listening to his words is listening to Him). More grace, instead of nervous activities.

    (This is how I feel, I didn’t want to blame anybody for their many good works and I hope I didn’t hurt anyone with my words.)

    Comment by B.J.E. Van Noort — April 18, 2013 @ 6:34 am

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