How 'Church Relevance' Is Boring

by Jim Elliff January 29, 2016

Am I just tired of relevance, or what? I received the umpteenth glossy card in the mail this week from yet another church opening a brand new “state-of-the-art” facility in our city. It claimed the usual: “casual atmosphere, contemporary music, relevant messages and friendly people who genuinely care about each other.”

This shiny oversized card explained the top ten reasons why people don’t go to church. It employed a strategy right out of the church growth handbooks that has become wearying to me. It is Church Growth 101, but such a strategy as never occurred to Paul or the Apostles.

Among the reasons were the following humorous statements:

Can’t find a polyester leisure suit anywhere;
Relate to jazz and rock more than Handel and Bach;
Would rather sleep in own bed than in a pew;
One word: hypocrites!;
Already served time as a child;
I gave at the office;
During organ music, start craving ballpark hot dogs;
Can only remember three commandments;
Feel guilty enough already.

It’s pretty funny actually, but also revealing. Let’s go through the list examining not just what is being said, but what is implied. In the end, this church is excluding people in ways they perhaps don’t realize, which is not an irrelevant issue as far as God is concerned.

1. Can’t find a polyester leisure suit anywhere. Right off this church seems too narrow for me. I prefer a church that tries to make the poor man, the old man who hasn’t bought new clothes in years, and the retro dresser feel more at home—a church more interested in hearts than clothes.

2. Relate to jazz and rock more than Handel and Bach. Again, way too narrow. What about the music lover who has a heart for God whose tastes in music are broad? Seems rather exclusive to make things uninviting for anyone who would love Bach, the greatest believing composer of all time. And, of course they would not want the country music lover or the foreigner who just can’t get into our western rock. Never.

3. Would rather sleep in own bed than in pew. Anything wrong with sleeping in your own bed and staying awake in the pew? I assume they mean that churches a person might choose, even those that include true believers, must be dull in comparison to their church. Now that really helps the advancement of the kingdom of God, doesn’t it?

4. One word: hypocrites! What is this supposed to imply? Is it this church’s way of saying that all other churches but their own are filled with hypocrites? Come on! I thought they welcomed sinners.

5. Already served time as a child. Some of us feel that being in church as a child was a positive thing, shaping our lives, giving us a context for spiritual growth, and preparing us for a Christian future. And should my kids think of church as “doing time?”

6. Already gave at the office. This statement means, of course, that these people aren’t interested in money at all. But I don’t believe it. In other words, for them, money is not necessary to buy the latest media equipment and state-of-the-art buildings they require. Those things just float in from the sky. It also implies that every church but theirs is obsessing about money. It is simply not true.

7. During organ music, start craving ball park hotdogs. So? You should eat before you come.

8. Can only remember three commandments. Now there’s a great qualification for a church member—ignorance. I know that a church meeting can gather people who don’t know anything at all, but this is no virtue. Will they kick them out once they learn something? This is like saying, “No mature Christians wanted.” It’s also screaming this message: “Come here and you won’t learn a thing.”

9. Feel guilty enough already. God uses guilt to show us our need of Christ. Without it, you are left in your self-dependence. A person without Christ should not feel good, but should feel sad about his or her sins. Christians need the same when disobeying God. Shouldn’t a church cooperate with the Spirit whose job it is to bring true conviction of sin? Read 1 Corinthians 14:24-25.

I know what this church is intending to say. But when you add it up, their message does not promote the growth of the kingdom of God as a whole. It demeans even good people and good churches made up of true believers who don’t measure up to their idea of what church life should be. And it designs to create distaste for even true churches if they differ from their style. It is arrogant. It may be about that church’s growth, but it isn’t about kingdom growth. They project an “openness” that is really very narrow; a relevance that is not relevant at all; and a concern that is grossly self-serving.

Put all together, a church that includes people who dress out-of-style because they don’t care about the latest fashions, who may relate to classical music more than rock, are alert during the church meetings, try hard not to be hypocritical, enjoyed going to church as children, are generous and ready to give their money for God’s causes, eat prior to coming to the gathering, know and love God’s commandments, and are convicted by messages that speak to them about their sin is not a church these church growth experts would like to be part of.

Well, to each his own. Our church will take their throw-offs readily, provided they are intent on following Christ.

My message to this relevant church: Grow up and “put on a heart of compassion” (Col. 3:12)

Originally published at CCW Today.

Copyright © Jim Elliff.
Permission granted for reproduction in exact form. All other uses require written permission.
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