The twentysomethings hipster publisher Relevant brings us The Relevant Church, a look at 15 different churches across the country that are definitely not the parish next door. Written by a leader from each congrgation, these are churches that don’t like to be called churches. They meet in bars and coffee shops and spin records and ride skateboards. They’re interested in being the church, not going to church.
While the book has little to do with marketing, you can get plenty of good ideas about what church could be, as well as a reminder of the importance of authenticity in everything a church does.
Creating a slick product simply doesn’t make an effective church:
My private theory has been that many young people avoid churches these days because they sense a creeping cheesiness in the very way churches try to appeal to them. As twentysomething Sarah Hinkley wrote in First Things magazine, “We know you’ve tried to get us to church. That’s part of the problem. Many of your appeals have been carefully calculated for success, and that turns our collective stomachs.” Since the 1970s, many American pastors began to turn to the experts of the “church-growth movement” who told them the best way to reach people who thought the Church was irrelevant was to appeal to something that is undeniably relevant to the mass culture: being entertained. Sermons got wittier, music lyrics got catchier, and meat-and-potatoes theology took a back seat to just about everything else. … In a way, the church-growth movement worked, because a lot more people started coming on Sunday. But, as its music and preaching became more trivial, many other sensible people stopped taking the Church seriously. Who could blame them? The mode of church life they witnessed, even in cases where the doctrine was solid, was pure mayonnaise. And as the saying goes, no one will take the Church seriously until the Church starts taking itself seriously.
…the Church will be most provocative and alluring when it is being itself, being who God has constituted it to be, that is, being a mini-society that proclaims the Person and work of Christ, and imitates his sacrificial service. The Church will be least relevant when it is caught in the act of reinventing itself to gain more friends. I remember as a teenager that the surest way to get me to avoid a Christian event was to show me a flier promising “cool music and awesome teaching.” That meant that for sure the music wouldn’t be cool, and the speaker would be more aware of himself, or me, than of God. (“The Local Church: Sometimes Annoying, But Never Optional” by Brian Kay, pages 5-6, emphasis mine)
It’s also worth remembering that this church thing is never easy:
“I was twenty-five and certain that my church would be new, different, and essentially cool. I quickly learned that beginning a church was far more difficult than criticizing one.” (“The Last of the Hepcat Churches” by Mark Driscoll, page 25)
And it’s not just a post-modern primer, either. One church even called themselves “po-mo-phobic” (page 90). But across the board these relevant church leaders agreed that they were serving Christ’s “often ugly bride, the Church.” (page 23)
No matter where the Church is going “in the end, the future of the Church is much like the past and present of the Church—messy.” (page 25)