In our age of marketing, faith seems to act as a commodity like any other product sold. If evangelizing at a large event, good looking athletes and talented performers share the stage with gifted communicators. The lighting is decent. In fact, the production value at a lot of houses of worship of even modest size rivals those of the average club or music venue.
Are we just putting on a venue to market and display Christianity or are we creating a community of faith and simply expressing it? In order to market, our church may have to say basically what they are not and why they are better. This may not be overt in the copy on our website, but of course messages are sent by what we do as well as what we say. In a church leadership vibe today that tries to be too cool, we might be defining ourselves more by what we are not rather than who we are.
A lot of the seeker sensitive church plants of the 80s and 90s were an open protest to not be what everything else was at the time. Now, this was not nor is not an entirely bad thing given how many churches failed to reach their communities. However, that very attitude while spawning some very effective ministries may have also presented a culture we will have a hard time shedding.
It is more than wearing thick dark-rimmed glasses and designer-cut jeans as you deliver a sermon. But, that could be part of it. The classic youth group culture where everything is better for the kids because it is not like what their parents experience is now the norm for everyone in the church. In the youth group, an arguably dying ministry trend, a group is celebrated because they are allowed to be different. They use a fun translation of the Bible. They have their own music. And, if a church can afford the program, they have their own room, building and house band. Sounds like big church today, does it not?
With more than one generation grown up in a youth group, we now have services designed by the level of volume, how many hymns are sung and what kind of coffee will be served. You can get video piped in to a closer location to where you live. I have launched these types of venues, and think there surely is value to them. But, should the goal be to make church so tailored to me that I feel comfortable? After all, Sunday morning is the most racially segregated hour of the week. Why make that issue worse?
In our endeavor to be cool and relevant and hit people with that marketing sweet spot, we need to put marketing in its proper place. It is a tool, not a function of ministry. This is true of our buildings and organizational structures as well. When we let our tools determine our function rather than support who we are we lose church being church to some degree.
Some questions to ponder:
- If your church were to be hit with a huge natural disaster, what would still survive as far as programming and why? (For instance, would small groups, youth, etc. still exist?)
- There is a tension between creating a venue for a targeted audience to connect with and calling people to be fully committed disciples of Jesus. How should this tension be managed?
- It is possible for our tools to overshadow our function to make disciples. How do we keep our passion for the tools from being greater than our passion to be the church?
- What is better? To pragmatically deal with how people are different in age, race and culture or to try to create a church environment where the tensions of these and other things can exist under one roof? How does one decide which value is best?
- What do you think about the term “relevant” as is used today in church leadership circles? What ministry value are we proclaiming when we choose to use it or not to use it? (No offense to a magazine with that title, by the way.)