Had the opportunity to preach at the weekly chapel service at the alma mater, Kentucky Christian University. It was good to be there. Interesting how different things seem having been gone from there as a student since May of 1989. Frankly, the hairstyles & clothing felt a little like the 70's (not to mention the carpeting in the chapel building that was probably put down in 1972...). It was a treat to be there, and I hope I had something to share that was worthwhile for the students that were there.
I did have one moment of attempting to be funny, and it killed. But I think it killed for a reason. I was speaking on the importance of getting Christianity "out there," instead of keeping it holed up into our little subculture. As a former student at a Christian college, its pretty easy to completely miss the reality that you're being absorbed by a subculture, and you can totally ignore the bigger culture that's happening (and changing) all around you.
Here's a piece from my message...the first a quote from George Barna, followed by a paragraph aimed at the city where I live:
"This is our reality, despite 320,000 churches, 800,000 ordained ministers, several networks devoted to religious broadcasting, evangelistic ministries that spend $200 million on television time and $100 million on radio broadcasts each year, 5,000 evangelistic para-church organizations, and a Christian book and music industry that boasts $1 billion in annual revenues." By all accounts, we should be ‘out there’, shouldn’t we?
Where I live, with a population of some 65,000, and around 144,000 in our county, we have well over 150 churches, 3 Christian bookstores, a denomination headquarters for the Church of God Anderson IN, a Christian college with 3,000+ students, a seminary with 150 or so students, 6 Christian schools and counting, more church preschools than we could count, Bill Gaither and Sandi Patti, a handful of mission organization headquarters, and new churches starting all the time because apparently there aren’t enough of those "come as you are - we’ve got an Espresso bar" kind of churches. And yet our crime rate doesn’t change. Divorce & teen pregnancy are still toward the top of state levels. Homeless ministries that continue to grow out of necessity. And thousands that are still lost and uninterested in what they see as the hollow promises of organized religion.
OK, so the Sandi Patti/Bill Gaither thing got a laugh. But I was totally unprepared for the response to the "come as you are - we've got an Espresso bar" kind of church phrase. I thought I would come across as a cynical, fuddy-duddy, out-of-touch-with-church-growth kind of guy. But what I sensed through the laughter was a little bit of agreement with the overall point I was making.
So, what's the point I was making? That none of the above "stuff" is getting it done - not even the whole "wear whatever you want, sip a cup of Joe, and sing a Tomlin song" thing. Sure, there may be a few folks who have been reached, and a handful of de-churched, turned off folks who are re-engaged with this new flavor of church that seems to be "brewing" all over America. But is that it? Is that the best we can do to make Jesus real to people?
Please understand, I'm all about finding whatever works and finding better ways to bring people to Jesus. Those guys in Mark chapter 2, who busted out a roof to lower their friend in because they thought Jesus had the answers for their friend? Those guys are my heros! I'm all for innovation & progress that brings Jesus to those who don't know Him.
However, and maybe this is just cynical ol' me, but I'm seeing two things happen. First, it just seems like a lot of shuffling the deck. The cool "church of what's happening now" just attracts Chrisitians from other churches. Sure, this is nothing new. In our particular spot on the map, they all seem to be fighting over college kids. Most of whom are Christians already, looking for the cool place to be. I know I'm generalizing here...there are a ton of reasons these kids flock to the aforementioned Tomlin-singing, coffee sippin' places. I'm sure some are legit, and most use the right terminology (they speak my language there, I can find true community, etc.) So sue me...but that's what I see.
The other thing that I see happening is really a two-fold result. Brain drain & dropout. We've all heard the brain drain explanation as our best & brightest from our states or counties or cities move on to other places where the grass is presumably greener. I see it happening in the church to some degree. Lots of established churches that really do want to reach the lost and really do have a desire to create a culture that is accommodating and speaks truth (is that possible?), and yet a whole bunch of our future influencers & decision makers are stepping out & congregating elsewhere. (NOTE: I'm not blaming them! I'm not blaming them! So before you respond & rip me...read on!)
The other result that I've personally seen happen is when young Sally goes to college, finds the hip college/coffee/Tomlin-singing service (sorry to bash Tomlin...I'm really a big fan...but you know what I mean...), and then Sally moves away and winds up somewhere like Toledo or Omaha or London, KY, and she can't find "the church of what's happening now." If, and its a big IF, if Sally's faith is tied up in her experience at the hip college deal, what happens when the best option is...you guessed it...some sort of organized, evangelical congregation down the street? If your faith is tied up in experience only, and that experience comes to an end, what happens to your faith? Take a look at the giant sucking sound of kids who leave church youth groups and go to college and walk away from their faith! Isn't that telling us something? Maybe we're pretty good at converting kids to love their youth groups or whatever and all of the warm fuzzy feelings that go with it, but maybe we're not pointing them to Jesus?
Yes, I'm part of the problem. All of us in church leadership are part of it. The cultures we've created don't address the heart of the reason(s) that those who flock to the coffee bars & such do so in droves. Sure, we spend a lot of time keeping the machine going, and putting bandaids on the concerns of the already convinced.
Is this really the best we can do to engage our culture? Candles & powerpoint & coffee? I wonder if those we're "reaching" with this model are starting to see through it a little. Yes, its cool & all, but its no substitute for genuine authentic faith in a God who couldn't care less about my coolness or hip factor and in most cases wants to strip me of that because that makes it all about me, not him.
Genuine, authentic faith is attractive. Regardless of music style, facility, dress code, generational differences, or political affiliation. The Church has to continue to disciple people toward being real, authentic, and dwellers in the Kingdom.
Let the ripping begin....