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Is Your Church Too Cool?

How a pursuit of relevance can undermine authentic community.

People sometimes assume that because I’m a progressive 30-year-old who enjoys Mumford and Sons and has no children, I must want a super-hip church—you know, the kind that’s called “Thrive” or “Be,” and which boasts “an awesome worship experience,” a fair-trade coffee bar, its own iPhone app and a pastor who looks like a Jonas brother.

While none of these features are inherently wrong (and can of course be used by good people to do good things), these days I find myself longing for a church with a cool factor of about 0.

That’s right.

I want a church that includes fussy kids, old liturgy, bad sound, weird congregants  and—brace yourself—painfully amateur “special music” now and then.

Why?

Well, for one thing, when the Gospel story is accompanied by a fog machine and light show, I always get this creeped-out feeling like someone’s trying to sell me something. It’s as though we’re all compensating for the fact that Christianity’s not good enough to stand on its own so we’re adding snacks.

But more importantly, I want to be part of an uncool church because I want to be part of a community that shares the reputation of Jesus. Like it or not, Jesus’ favorite people in the world were not cool. They were mostly sinners, misfits, outcasts, weirdos, poor people, sick people and crazy people.  

Embracing the Distractions 

Cool congregations can get so wrapped up in the “performance” of church that they forget to actually be the Church, a phenomenon painfully illustrated by the story of the child with cerebral palsy who was escorted from an Easter service for being a “distraction.”

Really?

It seems to me this congregation was distracted long before this little boy showed up. In their self-proclaimed quest for “an explosive, phenomenal movement of God—something you have to see to believe,” they missed Jesus when He was right under their nose.

Was the paralytic man lowered from the rooftop in the middle of a sermon a distraction?

Was the Canaanite woman who harassed Jesus and His disciples about healing her daughter a distraction?

Were the blind men from Jericho who annoyed the crowd with their relentless cries a distraction?

Jesus didn’t think so. In fact, He seemed to think they were the point.

Jesus taught us that when we throw a banquet or a party, our invitation list should include “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.” So why do our church marketing teams target the young, the hip, the healthy and the resourced?

We Are All Uncool

In Bossypants, Tina Fey describes working for the YMCA in Chicago soon after graduating from college. This particular YMCA included, “a great mix of high-end yuppie fitness facility, a wonderful community resource for families and an old-school residence for disenfranchised men.” Fey shares a host of funny stories about working the front desk. One such story involves one of the residents forgetting to take his meds, bumping into a young mom on her way to a workout session and saying something wildly inappropriate. Fey writes: “The young mother was beside herself. That’s the kind of trouble you get when diverse groups of people actually cross paths with one another. That’s why many of the worst things in the world happen in and around Starbucks bathrooms.”

Church can be a lot like the YMCA—or a Starbucks bathroom.

We have one place for the uncool people—our ministries—and another place for the cool people—our church services. When we actually bump into one another, things can get “awkward,” so we try to avoid it.  

The truth is we’re all guilty of thinking we’re too cool for the least of these. Our elitism shows up when we forbid others from contributing art and music because we deem it unworthy of glorifying God, or when we scoot our family an extra foot or two down the pew when the guy with Asperger's sits down. Having helped start a church, I remember hoping our hip guests wouldn’t be turned off by our less-than-hip guests. For a second I forgot that in church, of all places, those distinctions should disappear.

Some of us wear our brokenness on the inside, others on the outside.

But we’re all broken.

We’re all uncool.

We’re all in need of a Savior.

So let’s have some distracting church services—the kind where Jesus would fit right in.

Rachel Held Evans is the author of Evolving in Monkey Town: How A Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions (Zondervan, 2010). She blogs at http://rachelheldevans.com

Top Comments

85,229

PastorMark commented…

Rachel...thank you for being a thinking young adult - not swayed by opinions, but willing to look at contemporary church and at the Bible....I'm probably a very uncool pastor who believes people are only transformed by truth & substance - rather than fog & lights.

Justin Heap

1

Justin Heap commented…

I am a huge RHH fan, and believe strongly in her work --She's a powerful voice in and for the Kingdom of God.

However, I can't help but sense the tension. Here we see a well-written, grammatically correct, probably-edited-and-now-published piece of writing against a backdrop of "uncoolness" and "embracing the distractions."

The truth is, Writing is an art just as much as Programming or Music or Video Directing or Dance or Teaching. They are arts that the Church, that is, the people, partake of and give to the community. Therefore, it's a blessing to be excellent. It's a blessing to others when we pray over new, beautiful, redemptive liturgy. It's a blessing when we meet and think of new ways to communicate the story God is writing within our respective communities.

Now, of course, I think identity is the key difference. If we believe ourselves to be exclusive, trendy, and popular --then our aims will reflect that, likewise our ends. But, we can easily embrace the Creative and Excellent God in the midst of creating a Worship Gathering that brightly reflects our poetic stories and artistic desires to see the love of God explored in new ways.

This isn't so much about RHH, but an ever increasing idea that art, and specifically GREAT ART, is devoid of good theology. In fact, I think the best theology and the best questions will drive us into the rich depths of the most excellent and creative elements we have ever experienced: including our Table Fellowship, Gatherings, and Worship Services.

Blessings to all!

247 Comments

85,229

PastorMark commented…

Rachel...thank you for being a thinking young adult - not swayed by opinions, but willing to look at contemporary church and at the Bible....I'm probably a very uncool pastor who believes people are only transformed by truth & substance - rather than fog & lights.

85,229

MichaelFess commented…

I guess the only question I have is would you go to another community group, meeting or public event if everything was poorly done and dodgy?I sincerely doubt it. Where are you going to grab your morning coffee? A whole in the wall? Or the Starbucks that has a bathroom much like our churches, as you so put it.

I agree with the principle of being inclusive to all (sinner, misfit, uncool, broken, etc...) I mean as you put it "we're all broken" and "we're all uncool". However, I find your connection between this principle and production value to be incredibly flawed.

I feel for churches that do such a good job being creative, innovative, current and -yes- well produced, that are looked down upon for being this way!

Such a double standard in the Christian community where we not only expect mediocrity but encourage it because it's more Godly! Really? Have you looked outside and seen the beauty of all his creation? How it all comes together in organized chaos? We serve the most creative and relevant God, interesting how you find it more Christ like to offer him poor music, bad sound and a the same old.

I dont find something well produced to be compensating for Jesus, I think it reflects Jesus.

85,229

Jamie Anderson commented…

GOOD Words Michael! I couldn't agree more.

Wilson Gillespie

1

Wilson Gillespie commented…

Wow. What a GREAT article. Thank you for this.

Justin Heap

1

Justin Heap commented…

I am a huge RHH fan, and believe strongly in her work --She's a powerful voice in and for the Kingdom of God.

However, I can't help but sense the tension. Here we see a well-written, grammatically correct, probably-edited-and-now-published piece of writing against a backdrop of "uncoolness" and "embracing the distractions."

The truth is, Writing is an art just as much as Programming or Music or Video Directing or Dance or Teaching. They are arts that the Church, that is, the people, partake of and give to the community. Therefore, it's a blessing to be excellent. It's a blessing to others when we pray over new, beautiful, redemptive liturgy. It's a blessing when we meet and think of new ways to communicate the story God is writing within our respective communities.

Now, of course, I think identity is the key difference. If we believe ourselves to be exclusive, trendy, and popular --then our aims will reflect that, likewise our ends. But, we can easily embrace the Creative and Excellent God in the midst of creating a Worship Gathering that brightly reflects our poetic stories and artistic desires to see the love of God explored in new ways.

This isn't so much about RHH, but an ever increasing idea that art, and specifically GREAT ART, is devoid of good theology. In fact, I think the best theology and the best questions will drive us into the rich depths of the most excellent and creative elements we have ever experienced: including our Table Fellowship, Gatherings, and Worship Services.

Blessings to all!

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