"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

20 October 2010

Market-Driven Evangelism

My good friend Robert Munday posts on his blog that the liberal attempt at religion
"hasn't worked. The Brave New World doesn't need chaplains. A purely horizontal "gospel" overlaid with a religious veneer just isn't appealing to anyone. If people want to support gay rights and the Millennium Development Goals, all they have to do is vote Democrat, and they can sleep in or take the kids to soccer on Sunday morning. And they can probably feel better after a Yoga session, an hour of transcendental meditation, a walk on the beach, or a work-out at the gym than they will after a service at the typical liberal church."

He's right. It hasn't worked. There's nothing in culture driven Christianity that isn't already in the culture, and people under fifty tend to enjoy sleeping in on Sundays. The liberal church offers nothing to get out of bed for. The harried parents of young children like their sleep. The active nightlifer with no kids needs a Sunday recovery day before returning to the work week. The busy parents of teens run all weekend and sure don't want the school day conflict of dragging their weary kids out of bed to bleed over into their Sunday. And for those who do enjoy the morning there are options, newspapers and coffee, golf, hobbies, outings. There is too much to compete with church for those whose hearts aren't really in it anyway.

But as a church, we've taught the people not to put their heart in it. It's not just a liberal problem. When we tailor worship to the tastes of the people, we subtly tell them, 'its all about you' and 'if you don't like it, we don't expect you to come.' Probably one of the most tiresome remarks I hear in churches is when the older members (there's a profile here, usually women, older but not elderly) begin to say "we need more young people here." That's the first sign of impending doom. Usually they don't really want more conversions, they really do just want more younger people. It's a painfully obvious assessment which more bluntly put means "we're afraid that the church can't stay open long enough to outlive us and give us a nice funeral unless there are more people here who are younger than I am." In some places, the sentiment is almost predatory... and anyone under the age of about forty or fifty will sense the self-serving sentiment. At the same time, many of these people make no effort to bring their own families, their grown children and their grandchildren, to Christ.

The next step in the descent is the idea that we should change worship (usually not "our" worship but to offer a second, contemporary service, at no cost to the old guard, of course... the clergy do all that work) to meet the perceived tastes of the desireable under forty crowd. (The most appalling I ever heard was the suggestion that to attract "young people" our congregation "should have a polka band in here or something." yeah, that's something!) We start to use "their" music, and language and culture, without realizing that they can get those things without the bother of church. At the very worst, and this is where the liberal side becomes obvious in their failure, we begin to use their "gospel." Never realizing that we aren't offering them something they don't already have.

Gen X (GenY, GenZ, and whatever we're calling the gaggle of young-uns running around in our world without Jesus) needs the real Gospel with its sense of counter-culture (to feul in a more holy way our pre-existing sense of rebellion), real community and connectedness, and a sense of transcendence. In a world casting about for answers, we would do well to pay attention to the actual questions instead of repackaging the same old emptiness.

Evangelism is no longer about attracting to your congregation a population that is culturally expected to attend one church or another. Those days are gone, if they ever existed at all. Evangelism must now be about learning what the questions are, digging in, being relational and incarnational, and giving the answers that only the Gospel offers. Some people won't hear it, there are hard words in there. But the ones who are really casting about for the answers are out there. Taking the time to dwell with people, to know and love them, these things will almost always be a blessing to the church, even if they don't result in more people to warm our pews.

1 comment:

  1. A great analysis.

    I like that you said "to meet the perceived tastes of the desireable under forty crowd". Christians never look more foolish than trying to appeal to young people, because they always get it wrong, lagging by several years.

    Or in the case of "polka band", several decades!