Church -- Take It Or Leave It?

In 850 WORDS OF RELEVANT, we asked for your thoughts on modern-day Sunday morning church and its relevance to our generation. We couldn't have anticipated the response we got (can anyone say "hot button"?). We were bombarded with raw, intelligent, passionate, thought-provoking emails discussing the topic from every possible angle.

We decided that rather than trying to piece together an article on the topic and simply take cues or quotes from your replies, it'd be more effective to simply run your replies verbatim. These emails are just too good not to share. There is passion, pain and good ol' constructive criticism. The ideas and opinions vary, but there's a common thread: We are a generation searching for something real, something deep. The revolution starts now.

Jennie Meredith [Colorado]

I'm 25 and have been involved in the church all my life, but something has happened in the last couple of years. I went off to college and was in the college group there. I graduated, came home, and still went to the college group (sad but true). I didn't really want to be there anymore—it just wasn't relevant to my life anymore—but there was nowhere else for me to go. So I went there for a year and a half. Last year, I decided to volunteer in a collegiate ministry for a year and went off to Ohio State. It was an amazing year, working with the students, growing a lot, and just experiencing God in a new way.

The sad thing was, here my team and I were giving our lives away day after day, and we were so hungry for fellowship ourselves. Yet try as we did, we couldn't find a place to meet other people our age. I wanted to get plugged in, but when I went to small groups they were either all married (nothing wrong with that, but it makes a person feel a little alone) or in college. I started to wonder what happened to all my peers. I know they're out there. And I know they're not all married yet. But where are they when it comes to church?

Now I'm working in Colorado and I'm hitting the same thing again. The only twentysomething services I've ever been too are these amazing productions to entertain me and a watered-down message. I want some meat, for goodness sake! And although the sweet band is pretty cool and I love the video presentations, where's the reality? Why are we trying so hard? It kind of makes me sad. And it makes me wonder — am I supposed to just drop out of church until I can join the 'young-marrieds' class?

Vanessa Ray [Abilene, TX] [What can churches do to be more relevant to our generation?]

Once you get past the music, the passion in the preaching, the lights and the touchy-feely aspects of church, there has to be something real. Something to take home with you that goes beyond a church service. At some point talking about making disciples and evangelism is not enough. Until churches begin to do these things so that lives are truly changed, not just having the appearance of change, churches will continue to have little impact on culture. Anyone can get the meeting atmosphere "just right," but to truly change lives to desire to invest in the kingdom takes much more than good music and a smooth service; it takes kingdom values and principles lived out by everyone involved. Principles like discipleship, lordship, kingdom authority and service. When you tell this to your postmodern audience and they love it, that is when you know you are affecting the culture. Only then will you have a relevant church.

[If Christ were on the earth today, what do you think He'd change about modern church?]

I think He would remind us that if we are truly focused on Him, we would be about His father's business. Seeking and saving the lost, going and making disciples, and truly loving each other as He loved the church. The church has for too long tried to please everyone and has watered down the standards for basic Christianity. It now seems that basic Christianity is viewed as extreme for our modern day. If you see Christians making disciples, loving others and sharing the Gospel, they are radical! The truth is that Jesus made His last disciple 2,000 years ago. The work will not be completed until the people of God start taking the Great Commission as their own.

[What are churches doing right?]

It has been said that the Church is the most broken, defeated, impoverished, worn down, beaten organism that never fails. The only reason for this is that the life of a church is based on God and the Holy Spirit. When churches are based on this, regardless of music, preaching styles or various ministry programs, God is in it, so He is committed to seeing it succeed in spite of us. Every church has room for improvement, and every church that has God at the core is doing something right.

Jennifer Howver [Illinois]

[Do you attend church regularly? If no, why not? If yes, how are you involved?]

Lately, no. I happen to go to church from time to time, but when I do, I leave disappointed. I don't get much from the service, and it is too easy to remain anonymous there. No one reaches out.

[If Christ were on the earth today, what do you think He'd change about modern church?]

He wouldn't limit it to Sunday. He wouldn't put people at the center of the attention. There would be various things incorporated that would point to creation-nature, sounds, smells, art, etc. I think He would take the pastor off their pedestal and put them where they belong-among the flock. He would create community like in Acts 2. He would have worship that truly focuses on God and worshipping Him and His glory.

Adrian Schoonmaker [Virginia Beach, VA]

[What can churches do to be more relevant to our generation?]

If you ask me, I am attracted to a church, to a ministry, that has zero bull, zero sugary-sweet Christianity, and confronts the issues of the Gospel head on. One characteristic of such a church would have to be a no-holds-barred approach to embracing the demands and disciplines of Jesus Christ. I'm tired of hearing the bold commands and uncompromising calls of the Messiah swept under the rug with saccharine platitudes, and shrugged off with anything less than a painful crucifixion of my whole being. I want to serve Something with my all. And I will choose either God or the world. Churches are afraid to call a spade a spade. I think my generation is dying to die... to die to Christ.

[What are churches doing right?]

Many churches are moving into new depths of worship. Churches are beginning to open up to new experiences and commitments in fasting and prayer. Many churches are not surrendering to humanistic relativism, but are insisting on waving the banner of absolute Truth. Churches continue to fight the good fight, even when it may feel dead, rather than just ceasing to exist. Many churches are willing to let the Holy Spirit flow and move in what may be new or unfamiliar ways to them. This is good. A lot of churches are allowing young people, who often come without inaccurate preconceptions, to be channels of fresh air and fresh blood, encouraging and stimulating the body.

Geoff Slaven

[Is there a large twentysomething audience in your church? In your opinion, why or why not?]

I would say about 3 percent of our total congregation is twentysomething. I don't really believe it's anyone's fault. I imagine it has to do more with our lives than anything else. We are at a time when faith in job security is next to none, and technology and society are moving at such a high rate of speed we feel we must keep our lives at the same pace or life will pass us by. All in all, we feel we have no time for church.

Jeromy Robbins

[What can churches do to be more relevant to our generation?]

Be freakin' real. Forget about what we are wearing and love us for who we are.

Brendan Wovchko [Nashville, TN]

I am beginning to see that God has created us individually—but by nature, we group together. These social patterns are especially present in the Church. Conservatives group with conservatives and free thinkers with free thinkers. The insecure with the insecure.

To me, Christ is about passion. His nature is about serving with humbleness, reaching out to those who strive for the Truth but have no way to find it, honesty and integrity.

I seek those like me. Those who know where God wants them to go, but places the people around them at a higher priority than the "calling." These people I choose to be a part of my life—they have a more profound influence on me than the church.

I desire a life of success and prosperity—but never at the expense of those all around me who need to know the same freedom that was so gracefully extended to me.

Aren't we all just looking for something real? If I had to describe the Church in its current state, "real" would not be one of the words that I used.

Marc Alvarado [Los Angeles, CA]

I attend a church in Los Angeles called Mosaic. We have services at a high school in a suburb east of Los Angeles and a service in a nightclub that used to be owned by Prince. Monday through Saturday nights the place is filled with partying clubgoers, but on Sunday the place is transformed into a place of worship. It is packed with twentysomethings meeting God in the most unconventional of settings. There is a full bar in the back, a Marlboro billboard to the side, a disco ball above and Pastor Erwin McManus taking us through Scripture. I have been a part of Urban Mosaic now since its inception about three years ago. I have been so blessed to be apart of a community that is uncompromising in its Christian values but is willing enough to meet people where they are and to turn the "church" experience into something that people in our society can relate to and value. One of our church's five core principles is that "Relevance to culture is not an option." Please see the following explanation of this core value from our website:

Relevance to culture is not optional. Paul says in I Corinthians 9:22, "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." Paul was willing to change in any way to reach others for Christ. So who gave the church permission not to change? Relevance to culture is not optional; it's God's calling. When you begin to accept this, you can move from the incremental decisions of change that just keep you alive to a more radical framework that says, "We're not just going to change a little bit so that we don't die as a church. We're going to reinvent ourselves by the Spirit of God so that we can speak in the culture in the most effective way possible."

Probably the dominant emerging dialogue in our society is on cultural diversity. We live in an incredibly pluralistic society, a growing society with incredible ethnic diversity. In this context, why is the Church asking, "What is the least we can do, not to die?" Why aren't we asking, "What's the most we can do to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ in a way that is unavoidable and irresistible?"

Want to be part of the discussion? Post your thoughts at the end of this article or on our message boards. Here are the questions:

1] Do you attend church regularly? If no, why not? If yes, how are you involved?

2] Is there a large twentysomething audience in your church? In your opinion, why or why not?

3] What can churches do to be more relevant to our generation?

4] If Christ were on the earth today, what do you think He'd change about modern church?

5] What are churches doing right?

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