Brian and I have been in an email dialog over the past couple of days, and I thought I would put a few thoughts from it here. This particular line of thought is in the middle of a larger discussion about the “trendiness” of churches. More, perhaps, to come.
I think perhaps the most disturbing trend to me in our current church context is our “marketing buy-in”. In many ways, we feel like we need to “market” church. If it’s not “cool” people won’t buy it. In contrast to this, I think there are two ways to sell a product – one is to make it cool, the other is to make it useful. People don’t buy motor-oil because it’s cool. They buy it because it keeps their engine from disintegrating. We’ve somehow developed the idea that people will only buy our message if it’s cool, which sort-of implies that our message isn’t all that useful. I suggest that the opposite is true. I think we need to make our message and church relevant instead of trendy, useful instead of cool. I think ultimately at the core the message of Christ is one that is practical and relevant – it’s just recognizing that instead of promoting a “feel-good” type of Gospel. I think one of the core ideas of the emergent philosophy that brings this home is the idea that the abundant life is about *now* – that Jesus didn’t just die so we could go to heaven, but that so we could have a lasting, significant life here in the present. I think that’s a message that’s resonant with many people, but that we’ve instead tried to promote that religion is “cool’ – I think the unfortunate truth is that all too often it isn’t cool, nor was it ever intended to be. The root of this, perhaps, is the mid-1900’s approach of incorporating (not literally) churches. We had groups of people who looked at church structure and said “we could make this into a corporate model, and it would work really well……..” which it did in some sense, but I think there are a lot of problems with that, not the least of which is that we’ve made our churches think like corporations, where the bottom line is what really matters.