We don’t need more cool churches. Cool music, trendy lighting, and a charismatic preacher is not the silver bullet that will magically rescuing our dying churches. If cool was the problem, things would be looking a lot better for the Church as a whole.
And I love cool churches, but cool doesn’t solve our problems.
The Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote:
"It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion - its message becomes meaningless.” - God in Search of Man
Now I certainly don’t agree entirely with his statement. There is an importance to things like creeds and disciplines. But I think Heschel is on to something… “It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats.”
Or “[religion] became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid.”
And irrelevant here isn’t about the style of church, but about our message not connecting to people’s lives.
One blogger wrote:
Why are so many young people leaving the church? I don’t think it’s all that complicated. God seems irrelevant to them. They see God as existing to meet their needs and make them happy. And sure, God can make them feel good, but so can a lot of other things. Making piles of money feels good. Climbing the corporate ladder feels good. Buying a motorcycle and spending days cruising around the country feels good … if God is simply one option on a buffet, why stick with God? - Stephen Altrogge
If we don’t need more cool churches, what kind of churches do we need?
We need churches that make disciples.
In Matthew 28, we are given the great commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Jesus gives the command that Christians are to be disciple-makers and he even gives instructions in how to do it: baptize and teach. Christians are called to be disciple-makers. Our churches should be making disciples who make disciples who make disciples.
What are we doing to help our people become disciple-makers? How are we helping them become disciples of Jesus? And how are we helping them go into their neighborhoods, homes, communities, and workplaces as disciples who are all about making more disciples?
We need churches that are committed to translation.
In a world where the word “doctrine” is unsexy, we need it now more than ever. But doctrine and theology needs to be disconnected from the stigma that it is for pastors, theologians, and professors. We are all theologians and as churches, we need to be committed to teaching deep, rich theology for our people.
And because “religious literacy” in our world is worse than ever, pastor-theologians have to be more intentional about their role as translators. In many ways, preachers are simply taking what the scriptures have said and what many smart dead guys before them have said and saying it in a new way.
Our churches need to be places that preach the Word of God purely. And also places that remove the Christianese that so often causes the message to get lost in translation.
We need churches that are committed to being a family.
Church is a family. And family is not always cool, they often have weird traditions, and even some people you are a little bit embarrassed to be with in public. But family is still family. Family does life together, they support each other, and they always love each other.
If the church is going to be relevant to those who aren’t in the church, they not only go to church, but they are the church throughout the week in their homes, neighborhoods, and cities. The family of God lives as family and welcomes others into the family.
Our churches don’t need to make sure the family is all cool and trendy; our churches just need to create a place that encourages these relationships. What would the stats about the decline of churches look like if we had more churches that had families of believers where believers had meaningful relationships with other older believers.
There might be no better apologetic for our churches, then the experience of a family of believers adopting someone into their family. The family has been made family by the ancient message. And the family lives out their faith in the world as a community of believers as witnesses to “what [they] have seen and heard.”