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The Church: A Cultural Institution No More

The Church: A Cultural Institution No More

May 23, 2011 by

Once upon a time the church was a requisite member of the town square. Businesses didn’t open until after church was over, clergy were universally respected and Christian values were a given. The church was a cultural institution.

But no more.

Today when Christians claim that we’re a Christian society or turn to the Bible to justify moral beliefs, they forget that time has passed us by. The rest of society chuckles and says, ‘How quaint.’ Not because the Bible can’t be used to justify moral beliefs, but because some Christians think such beliefs are still widespread enough to be assumed. And they’re not.

Some Christians think that Christianity and the church are still a cultural institution. And we’re not. We’ve ceded that position long ago, and with it the stream of cultural Christians who marched through the doors of a church on Sunday morning because it was culturally expected.

Recognizing this shift (which is hardly new), we need to realize two things:

1) Communication becomes essential.
One of the greatest reasons the church needs to learn how to communicate today is because we’re no longer a cultural institution. People will no longer go to church on Sunday because of cultural norms. Our message is no longer general knowledge. Which means churches must communicate in order to reach a disinterested populace.

We can’t wait for people to come, because they won’t. We can’t assume people know the message of the gospel, because they don’t.

2) This is good news.
The church has become lazy. Riding on the waves of cultural Christians, the local church hasn’t been innovative. There’s been no challenge, no threat, no need to get out there and actually do the work of evangelism.

Losing our status as a cultural institution offers the church freedom. We are either free to fail, or free to be creative.

Now What?
This is the challenge churches have struggled with for decades as Sunday morning attendance has dwindled. Some churches came to terms with this long ago and radically revamped their approach. These are the churches that are experimenting and innovating. Some churches recognize this shift but have failed to act.

The question is what are going to do: Cling to our lost status as cultural institution and dream of how it once was? Or sing a new song and reach out to a world in need of salvation?

Photo by gailf548
Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks


When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998 and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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6 Responses to “The Church: A Cultural Institution No More”

  • amy l maris
    May 23, 2011

    I don’t think the early church had the benefit of being a culturally established tradition, so we must be in the optimal place for opportunity, right?
    Great thoughts!


  • Keith
    May 23, 2011

    I had not considered it in these terms but you are quite right that this is an opportunity for the church.

    Being from the American South I see this as especially true. “We can’t wait for people to come, because they won’t. We can’t assume people know the message of the gospel, because they don’t.” Many people know about God but don’t know God.

    More importantly than just being innovative it allows us to once again be counter-cultural.

    Enjoyed the post.


  • Charlotte
    May 24, 2011

    Everyone realizes the problem. But bringing up the problem over and over does not present the solution. What is your solution? What are you doing that is experimenting and innovative – what are your practical suggestions?

    What I’ve noticed is that a lot of churches are so busy trying to “blend in” to “attract” the world, that they’ve become part of the world’s system. They’ve turned every Sunday into a rock concert with lights and media and entertainment, but disciples are not being made. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe (OBEY) all things that I have commanded you…”

    That’s what the church is supposed to be doing. Equipping the saints for the work of the ministry. Sending them out to make disciples, baptizing others, our members teaching others to obey God’s word. Pastors want you to bring a friend to church so he can do all that – and teach them to tithe and give, so he can build a better sound system and lighting display. Says nothing about getting them to join your congregation by flashy marketing campaigns… UNPLUG from the world, PLUG INTO HIS WORD. The answers are there.


  • Jamey Halfast
    May 25, 2011

    @Charlotte – “Pastors want you to bring a friend to church so he can do all that – and teach them to tithe and give, so he can build a better sound system and lighting display.”

    Apparently, you’re not involved in a church that has all the sound and lights, etc. – or have not been involved with any that use that appropriately. That’s sad. This stuff is a bridge to the world: People in today’s society expect all this at a corporate gathering. So the church supplies it – to draw unregenerate people in and make them comfortable enough to listen, since they are in a spiritual environment that is hostile to them. You make it sound as if that’s the focus of the church… it is simply a tool, nothing more. If it is more than that, then the church has the wrong focus.


  • Scott Gamel
    May 28, 2011

    What cracks me up is the sheer ASSUMPTION that if a church that has rockin’ music, some lighting, and an engaging environment it must not be making disciples.

    I grew up in churches with ancient music and tortuously boring worship services that weren’t making disciples either.

    Some it looks like disciple-making is not related to “style”, is it?


  • Phillip
    May 30, 2011

    I agree and disagree with this post. I live in a small Midwestern village. Church attendance is still very much a part of our culture. I would agree that it has lost it ubiquity, but it’s still huge. In a town of 12,000, we have over 30 churches. Several churches in our town work heavily with city hall to serve in several charity and civic functions.

    What I do agree with is the need for the church to better communicate the Gospel, not the cultural mishmash that many mistake for Christianity.

    Personally, I think that losing cultural hegemony might be the best think for the church. It would indeed free us up to really live the Christian life in all its intensity.



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