The Relevant Church

February 23, 2005 by

The Relevant ChurchThe twentysomethings hipster publisher Relevant brings us The Relevant Church, a look at 15 different churches across the country that are definitely not the parish next door. Written by a leader from each congrgation, these are churches that don’t like to be called churches. They meet in bars and coffee shops and spin records and ride skateboards. They’re interested in being the church, not going to church.

While the book has little to do with marketing, you can get plenty of good ideas about what church could be, as well as a reminder of the importance of authenticity in everything a church does.

Creating a slick product simply doesn’t make an effective church:

My private theory has been that many young people avoid churches these days because they sense a creeping cheesiness in the very way churches try to appeal to them. As twentysomething Sarah Hinkley wrote in First Things magazine, “We know you’ve tried to get us to church. That’s part of the problem. Many of your appeals have been carefully calculated for success, and that turns our collective stomachs.” Since the 1970s, many American pastors began to turn to the experts of the “church-growth movement” who told them the best way to reach people who thought the Church was irrelevant was to appeal to something that is undeniably relevant to the mass culture: being entertained. Sermons got wittier, music lyrics got catchier, and meat-and-potatoes theology took a back seat to just about everything else. … In a way, the church-growth movement worked, because a lot more people started coming on Sunday. But, as its music and preaching became more trivial, many other sensible people stopped taking the Church seriously. Who could blame them? The mode of church life they witnessed, even in cases where the doctrine was solid, was pure mayonnaise. And as the saying goes, no one will take the Church seriously until the Church starts taking itself seriously.

…the Church will be most provocative and alluring when it is being itself, being who God has constituted it to be, that is, being a mini-society that proclaims the Person and work of Christ, and imitates his sacrificial service. The Church will be least relevant when it is caught in the act of reinventing itself to gain more friends. I remember as a teenager that the surest way to get me to avoid a Christian event was to show me a flier promising “cool music and awesome teaching.” That meant that for sure the music wouldn’t be cool, and the speaker would be more aware of himself, or me, than of God. (“The Local Church: Sometimes Annoying, But Never Optional” by Brian Kay, pages 5-6, emphasis mine)

It’s also worth remembering that this church thing is never easy:

“I was twenty-five and certain that my church would be new, different, and essentially cool. I quickly learned that beginning a church was far more difficult than criticizing one.” (“The Last of the Hepcat Churches” by Mark Driscoll, page 25)

And it’s not just a post-modern primer, either. One church even called themselves “po-mo-phobic” (page 90). But across the board these relevant church leaders agreed that they were serving Christ’s “often ugly bride, the Church.” (page 23)

No matter where the Church is going “in the end, the future of the Church is much like the past and present of the Church—messy.” (page 25)

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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4 Responses to “The Relevant Church”

  • Sperte
    February 26, 2005

    Perhaps I’ll give this book a shot. I’ve been turned off by Relevant [Publishing]’s apparent compromise in their views of culture (especially relating to the media). My personal-poke at their magazine’s slogan goes thus: “God. Life. Progressive Compromise.”
    Knowing the book is actually written by church leaders is a huge selling point. I like hearing from those who are “in the field.”

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  • kd
    September 22, 2005

    you know, i appreciated a few chapters out of this book, but overall thought that many of the chapters were simply stating what they do instead of insightful thoughts about why relevancy is important to the Church in general. it is printed in a pretty cool, hip and trendy way, so much so that it would probably never reach the hands of most senior pastors in churches.
    i’m also not saying that every church should be the same way, but if a book like this is intended to help shape what church could/should be (the authentic part) then it’s hitting the young crowds and some youth pastors, perhaps the trickle and influence of books like this will offer some hope for the future. although, if the book is intended for non-churched people to read, i think they did a fine job…it definitely offers some views of church that are outside people’s normal perspectives of church (even if most of them are on the west-coast).
    i do like Relevant publishing, in response to the comment above, i think it’s a hard line to walk between reaching a group of people that church “has lost” or that critique Christianity so much and still delivering the gospel at the same time. i mean, how could you believe in a sports team that has sucked for for so long (if you’re not a Cubs fan)? it’s true though that you wouldn’t want to compromise the gospel for any sake, but making it relevant sometimes means re-evaluating priorities.

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  • thoughts
    December 31, 2005

    2005 Reading List

    This past year has felt even worse for reading than 2004. But I guess it always feels like that. It’s just been bad lately because I’ve felt like I can’t get through a book to save my life. It just…

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  • Steve
    March 5, 2006

    I just linked to this book on a post last night. I was making the case for relevancy in church… although ti always blows me away why we’d need a case for following Christ’s example. Here’s my entry on relevance. I’d be interested in knowing what you thought of it.

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