We hear all the time about churches being keen to ‘move with the times’ and keep up with how people are living in the 21st century. Quite often, this is followed by some criticism of these churches for forgetting to keep Christ at the centre of their mission, for sacrificing spiritual integrity on the altar of popularity.
I’ll admit, I can see why some churches want to do this; if people are alienated by the way we do things in our services, they’re not exactly likely to show more interest. Hence why this kind of thing is so likely to draw crowds:
Obviously, we’ve got to make sure that our fancy light shows don’t become more vital to the service than the true Light; that our preaching could hold water and make disciples even if there weren’t any bright synth pads playing in the background. But for me, this opens up a wider debate.
In my view, ‘21st century living’ extends far beyond smartphones, Starbucks and skinny jeans. It represents a state of mind that governs how the rest of life is lived out.
As we know, today’s society has far more of an individualistic focus than it did before the Industrial Revolution, when two or three generations would live and work in the same place. Nowadays, it’s not such a big deal if Johnny Q. Firstborn leaves home to find work halfway across the country and never lives with his parents again – in fact, it’s the expectation.
So when someone tells me they’re interested in ‘modernising’ to meet people’s needs (read: desires), the thought occurs that less focus is going to be placed on personal relationships.
I worry that this is already happening to the Church today. First-person worship lyrics notwithstanding, we’re seeing megachurches taking the lead in terms of popularity. The little old Anglican building down the road is lucky to get 40 congregants on a good day, while the hip new church in the converted inner-city warehouse is always surrounded by a throng of teens and tweens eager to see what God will do tonight.
The downside to this is that church is turned from a deep-rooted spiritual companionship group, to a place where worshippers show up, take what they need from the preaching and music, and then leave without even meeting the pastor. Thus, it’s harder to form meaningful relationships with others in the church, knowing that half of them might not be there next Sunday.
If there’s one thing that living in a community has taught me, it’s that the Christian faith is best lived out when surrounded by a group of like-minded others who will support and guide you through. In the words of High School Musical (which I never once thought I’d be quoting on this blog), we’re all in this together. Trying to go it alone might seem to work at first, but before long you’ll hit a wall. Could it be that in our current individualistic society, we’re a little bit afraid of the risks of living in communion with others? I know I am…
I guess that in all things, we have to be careful not to give people what they want instead of what they need. If what they want happens also to be what they need, then fantastic. But I wonder if we’re going to need to take people by surprise with our church proceedings; to challenge their expectations a little bit. Church isn’t about what we can receive; if anything, it’s about what we can give. The OG church in Acts went right against the grain of society in this sense, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t do the same 2000 years on.