I know it seems cool and hip. Heck, why not eat some popcorn while grooving to the worship band? But what message does this really send to those investigating Christianity? That faith is another commodity, wrapped in glitzy marketing and Web 2.0 goodness? That experience is at a premium and they'll deliver it in truckloads? That Jesus Christ is a really cool dude who gets annoyed by "holy" sounding words but digs a worship team that sounds like Nickleback?
Welcome to yet another non-denominational church that is gearing up to be "relevant" to our culture.
The young and earnest pastor shares on his blog that he "moved here to take over this city with the gospel." He and several other young couples made the major transition of leaving jobs and homes to move to my town to plant a church. I realize they're excited and full of great, creative faith -- but I have to wonder: how much research did they do of my fair city?
I can name four churches off the top of my head that are doing exactly what they want to do. Super cool website complete with super cool YouTube videos? Check. "Relevant" teaching that uses pop-cultural references and the latest trendy books? Check. Rock-it-out worship complete with the alternative look and sound? Check. Zany-crazy fun for kids during the worship service? Well, okay - I have to admit that most churches don't have a bubble machine and a giant bounce house for the kids. (Almost makes me want to go.)
My point is that I live in a fairly large city and there are plenty of churches already doing what they're doing. Plus, I'm beginning to feel that this is the millennial version of those wacky 60's and 70's experiments in churches. I can almost see them a few decades in the future, going through a scrapbook: "Hey, remember when we thought we were so cool using hair gel to make our hair stick up and wore jeans that almost fell down around our ankles? Remember that music, the kind where we kept repeating the same phrase over and over and danced for like, thirty minutes until we spun around into our own self-induced trance and then we fell down in laughter?"
I know these young people mean well. I know they want to do a good thing by honoring God and drawing people to their service. However, I've seen the same thing now for so long that I'm not sure it makes as much as a difference to our culture as they may think. (Or hope. Or believe.)
People who don't go to church, don't decide to attend a church because it feels like going to a rock concert. People who don't go to church, don't usually decide to do so because the church's website is so stinkin' cool that they can't resist. Oh, sure. A few may wander in because it's new and they're bored. But will they stay? Typically, they don't. They just wander from church to church to continue to get that shiny, new church feeling. Those who truly desire a relationship with Jesus Christ will attend a church because they know they need something different than the world -- not a Christianized version of whatever is cool and hip in today's culture.
Over the past two decades, I have been part of a church plant with similar aspirations, and observed the spiritual development of several large congregations. I have been involved with more Bible studies than I can count, even leading a few myself. And I can say unequivocally that true spiritual growth came when a person left the world and embraced Christ with all their heart. It wasn't a question of trying to be a cool Christian. It was a question of being a Christian, dying to self, and discovering how to give to others.
To be honest, if people really knew what was in store for them when they commit their lives to Christ, I'm not sure anyone would make the decision. When I decided to get serious about God at age 20, I remember re-committing myself three months later because I realized my first declaration had been based on emotions. Faith does not ride on emotions. Faith needs a stronger vehicle and that is trust. Trust in God does not happen overnight but in time, as we release our hold on our life and trust God. Faith happens when we understand that God is in control and nothing will happen to us that will somehow not serve His purpose.
Going back to this theatre idea...
I am ultra-sensitive to environment. What we surround ourselves with will have an affect on us -- whether it's surrounding ourselves with positive friends or negative ones, noble reading material or trash. When a church meets in a movie theatre, I'm disturbed. Perhaps I'm too much of a purist, but I can't possibly conceive of meditating upon God's glory and holiness when I remember that I was in that same auditorium for "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen." (And isn't that an interesting title?)
So, the non-denominational church marches on, hoping to hype yet another "church launch" that has mirrored hundreds of others over the past twenty years. Meanwhile, there is this Church that has remained pretty popular, in spite of attempts to make it cool. There aren't any bounce-houses but I know the confessional is a pretty awesome place.