Making Church “Cool” Has Failed. Stop It. Please.
If you want a picture of what a few progressive Christians want in a church, look no further than the writing of Rachel Held Evans. The picture presented by Evans is a combination of hipster religion and liberal social policy, aimed, it seems, at attracting young people that are otherwise more interested in social media and selfies.
I get it. The effort to create a brand of church that is marketable to the young has become popular; not with everyone, but popular nonetheless. So we have coffee shops, light shows, a ministry tailored for every member of the church, and an entire brand designed to set us apart from every other church in town.
Maybe I’m getting old, but those things are far less appealing to me today than they were 10 years ago. And, it seems, Rachel Held Evans is not really impressed with it either. She wrote an article that appeared in the Washing Post expressing her displeasure with modern attempts to make church “cool.” We would most likely find a great deal of agreement in our rejection of what many church-trend-followers claim is a cool church.
I can stand in solid agreement with the idea that less is more, smaller is better, simpler is more effective, and deeper is needed. The last thing we need in our churches is louder music, more lights, branding, and old people trying to wear skinny jeans. We could use a little more reverence, in-depth study, confessing sins, and the kind of fellowship that leaves you longing for more.
So Evans and I can find mutual agreement in our rejection of “cool” church. Where we tend to disagree is what that looks like and means practically. For Evans, it seems to be a sort of utopia that I’m not sure can exist in a sin-filled world. In her article, Evans shares several ideas that she believes is needed in the church today. They are:
We want an end to the culture wars.
We want a truce between science and faith.
We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.
We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.
We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.
We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.
We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.
While this list looks and sounds good, it makes assumptions about current churches (and Christians) that are unfair. For example, an end to the culture wars would be nice, but the “wars” we are fighting are not cultural, they are spiritual, biblical. The war to defend unborn human life is not cultural, it is rooted in the image of God placed in every human that makes each of us worthy of respect – starting with life. The “war” to defend traditional marriage is also a biblical, moral issue. The “war” to be allowed to pray in public, share our faith, and read a Bible in school are all – at their heart – rooted in biblical principles.
Evans isn’t the only one that’s tried of the culture “wars.” Pastor Andy Stanley has said he would like to see Christians take a one-year break from the culture wars. But if we don’t defend the unborn, who will? Are we really going to ignore Christians being persecuted and killed for their faith across the world?
I didn’t know science and faith were at war. When did that happen? As a person of faith I love science. As I study I understand the vastness of this universe and come to see that only a loving and superior Creator could have done all this. This doesn’t cause any wars between my faith and my logic, but instead brings peace in what I do know, and what I don’t know.
In stating what we are for, we inherently communicate what we are against. If I say I believe every unborn child has the right to live and should be protected from inception through birth I have not said anything of what I am against. But I have also communicated that I am against abortion. Is it bad to be against something? Do I have to be for everything?
Because the Bible is God’s Word, many questions already have predetermined answers. For example, how do I get to heaven? The Bible answers this question by quoting Jesus: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father but through me.” No matter how you try to readjust the question, or how much you disagree and don’t like the answer, both remain the same. Because this is a transcendent truth there is little any person can do to change the answer, it is predetermined.
So Evans’ list of ways to get younger generations back in church seems to be lacking. Not only is it lacking in substance, but it seems to be lacking support for statistics. David French, writing at the National Review, reminds us that theological liberalization has been shown to kill churches, not grown them:
“Last summer, the Federalist’s Andrew Griswold noted that liberalization – especially on matters of sexual morality – was the single-best way to shrink your church. The numbers he conveys are startling. Few churches have been more aggressively “inclusive” than the Episcopal Church, yet between 2002 and 2012 it lost 18.4 percent of its members, and its church attendance declined 24.4 percent.”
So why push for things that have shown to shrink and kill churches?
I don’t know the answer to that question, I’ve not talked with Evans and don’t want to assume her motives. But, what I do know is that efforts to liberalize church doctrine has never ended well. We can’t point people to Jesus without some questions and their predetermined answers. We can’t stand for truth and the Gospel without people knowing what things we are against.
But, by all means please stop trying to make church cool. It’s not working.