Why church is irrelevant, and what to do about it

Yesterday and the day before I attended training by Partners in Depression, a new initiative which is setting up support groups in every state of our country to educate and equip carers of depression sufferers. The course was absolutely tremendous and I’ll tell you more in the days to come.

Today I wanted to tell you that I subscribe to communications guru Tim Schraeder’s updates and I just can’t say it any better!

“I’m sorry to say it so harshly but it’s true… no one cares about your church. Look at recent polls, church attendance, or even watch the news and it’s fairly obvious… people don’t care about the church or what we have to say anymore. Here’s what he had to say recently:

We’ve lost credibility for some legitimate reasons. And don’t chalk me up to being a church basher, I passionately care about the church, I’m just saying what’s true and what some of us might not want to admit.

The Church has moved from the center of our Western culture and while some fight to keep it in the public square others of us are realizing the greatest way we can impact culture is by being on the periphery.

Christianity at its core has always been about counter-cultural, so why in the world do we try to be perceived as being relevant by looking just like the culture around us?

We’ve cheapened the Gospel by trying to be accepted at a great cost. The emerging generation can see right through the charade. We’ve created a machine out of what was always meant to be a movement.

We’ve organized something that was meant to be organic. We’ve franchised something that was meant to be localized. We’ve put CEOs in the seats of what was meant to be a spiritual office and treated salvation like a commodity. We made an idol out of our methods.

And to try and fix everything we’ve thought marketing it to look like a cheap version of everything else in culture was a good idea. Here’s two truths: people don’t like the church and people don’t trust advertising. Why use a mechanism people don’t trust to promote something they don’t care about?

I’m not trying to paint a picture of gloom and doom, I am just saying it how it is. I have great hope for the Church and believe that it does matter and believe the church has a great future ahead of it… we’ve just got to make some adjustments.

I think we have a great new opportunity to reintroduce Jesus, the Gospel and the Church to a world and culture that has been weary of what they’ve seen and heard. The next generation is tired of gimmicks they want something real and authentic. They want to be known. They want community. They want a sense of belonging. They want to be a part of something that is bigger than themselves. They want to be significant.

They want to be a part of the Church they read about in Acts but have only seen poor reflections of in today’s world. More than anything they want to give themselves to cause that is greater than they are.

Why do you think movements like TOMS Shoes, To Write Love on Her Arms, LIVESTRONG, charity: water, the one campaign or any of the big social movements that are out there today exist and have so much popularity? They are all doing great work and doing tremendous good, yes. But they are telling a compelling story. They are giving people the opportunity to make a difference. They give people the chance to do something that matters. They are sadly, doing the work the church has been neglecting.

When you really care about what people care about things happen. When churches rally around the needs of their communities and are actually outward focused, truly living for something outside of themselves, that’s when change happens and that is when the church matters in culture.

To truly care about the things that matter to people is to truly live out the Gospel. God is all about people. And what matters to people matters to God. We’ve been too focused on ourselves, our numbers, our growth, our success, and at the expense of a generation that’s looking for a cause to believe in and give themselves to.

I can’t think of a better cause to give my life to than the cause of the local church and I think while we live in a culture that doesn’t care about church we have an amazing opportunity to redefine what church means and what it means to be a follower of Christ.

When we sing or pray the words break my heart for what breaks Yours, we are really asking God to allow us the opportunity to see the world through His eyes. We’ll never earn the right to be heard in culture by screaming on street corners or by having a slick ad campaign. We earn the right to be heard by caring about the things that people care about and ultimately the things the move the heart of God.

Stop trying to promote and market your church. It hasn’t been working and it won’t. Stop trying to make people care about something they’ve already decided isn’t worth their time or attention. Start listening. Start looking around you. Listen to the cries of people in your community and start responding with the love of Christ. See through His eyes. Earn the right to be heard. Be Jesus hands and feet. Do good. Care about what people care about. Be Jesus and the Church to your community.

The Church isn’t an organization or a building, it’s people. When you truly care about what people care about and prove it, people will care about you and what you have to say.”

Thanks for saying it so well Tim!

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PR and BS

I recently watched a doco about the infamous Monty Python comedy team and they showed a great clip from “The Life of Brian” where Brian is “preaching” (aka begging the crowd to leave him alone) and was telling the people that they were all unique. In unison they all shouted “YES!” except for one old fellow who said “I’m not”. Which I find very funny. Maybe you need to have seen it or appreciate British humor, but there’s such a sweet irony in that little vignette.

It’s amazing how “crowd control” or the use of PR (public relations, aka propaganda) can be used to produce a strong pressure to conform in a church situation. I used to employ it all the time, but I hated it. I did it for the “right” reasons, but in hindsight, the means didn’t justify the ends.

I’ve wanted to write about this, but needed the time to think it through. I saw a status update some time ago on the Facebook wall of a young pastor who was re-posting something that he attributed to a tweet from Brian Houston, pastor of Hillsong Church in Australia. I haven’t checked his source, so it’s just hearsay, but it essentially said this; “Opinions don’t build the house, wisdom builds the house”. Instantly I was piqued at this comment, because I knew where it was coming from but didn’t have the organized ideas to express why I could smell a rat.

But after going to church on Sunday, I’ve organized my thoughts. It’s about producing conformity – we sell it as unity, but it’s no more than a strategy used by pastors for crowd control, and to apply pressure to a group of people to behave and think in certain ways that will ultimately help you achieve your goals. The motives were pure, the method’s weren’t.

You see, the moment you say “opinions don’t build the house, wisdom does”, it enables you to write off anything that is contradictory to your paradigm, philosophy, strategy, vision, values, and culture as an “opinion” and label anything that reinforces your modus operandi as “wisdom”. It’s really clever. You pump this stuff out subversively and within a few minutes you’ll have the majority censoring the minority with “wisdom” versus “opinion” judgments. Non conformists after all and viewed darkly as threats to “unity” without which God will not command the blessing.

The reason I was able to organize my thoughts was because of going to church on Sunday. The senior pastor who replaced me was relating how exciting his week was in the preamble before the giving and mentioned that someone had come up and said they wanted to give a thousand dollars to the church. Another had approached him and asked where they could serve in the church. He attributed these conversations to the work of the Holy Spirit and summarized by saying that if the Holy Spirit is moving in your life, you’ll get involved. I have no problem with this… except that if you look through this prism the other way, you end up with the idea that if you’re not involved, the Holy Spirit is not moving in your life.

I used to drop these kinds of statements in all the time. It was a way of communicating to people very subtly and cleverly a kind of group-think that reinforced certain ideas and behaviors designed to achieve some ulterior purpose.

But if it was for freedom that Christ has set us free, maybe we shouldn’t let ourselves be enslaved by PR, or worse propaganda, or even worse… BS.