This post originally published here on June 2, 2014.
When I see followers of Christ disengage from the church, I start to worry. About them, yes, but more about the church. That is especially true when I hear them say they find the church largely irrelevant to what God is doing in their lives and in the world.
Irrelevant. A really, really important word. I have to confess that I have not worked out all it means to be relevant, but I think I know it when I see it. I also know what it is not, and it seems that is where we miss the mark as often as we hit it.
So, to push a previous discussion a bit this week, here are three things I know about churches and relevance:
1. A relevant church does not focus on being culturally “cool”.
This is not a blanket condemnation of contemporary worship. I am in a lot of churches; some months a different church every Sunday. Some of the most powerful, meaningful, worshipful experiences of God I have ever been part of occurred in contemporary worship—times when I could walk out and say, “God was there.” But, but . . . too often contemporary worship is about trying too hard. I have been in that church where the pastor had three Star Wars references in the sermon and the worship team was a group of middle-aged (my age!) parishioners rekindling their high school garage band gig. That is the definition of irrelevance.
2. A relevant church does not build its own kingdom.
Small “k” kingdom here… While we are always to be about Kingdom work, the dominant cultural expression of Christianity is often about building our personal kingdoms of power and influence. This one staggers me: According to the authors of World Christian Trends: AD 30 – AD 2200, the average church now spends $330,000 per conversion. Think about this one; think about it hard. $330,000/conversion! In a world where there are 153,000,000 orphans, where millions of children go to bed hungry every night, where 1,000 children die every hour from hunger-related causes, we spend obscene amounts of money building our programs, our facilities, our staff. Irrelevance.
3. A relevant church does not provide insulation from the world.
I want my church to be a safe place, a place of refuge, a place where I can feel comfortable in my righteousness. Insulated. But that is not very biblical and certainly does not reflect the ministry of Christ. Jesus was constantly engaged – dirty, if you will. He was not isolated from those around him whose lives were not pretty, not clean. And, if we claim to be his followers, we cannot hide behind stained glass and brick veneers.
But maybe, just maybe…
If we can identify the irrelevance, we can turn around – and start walking the path toward relevance.
Will you join me on the journey… pursuing dirty faith? I’d love to know what makes church relevant for you. Leave a comment and continue the conversation.