Friday, June 02, 2006

Epic Churches for Epic Times

E-P-I-C(onnected) -- Part 2

Building Connections Where Few If Any Exist.

PCUSA churches that blaze the trail to this new world will have powerful ministries for years to come. Few will try; even fewer will succeed. I am aware that those are hard words—but they come from the battle-worn trenches of church redevelopment. Our Presbytery’s Redevelopment Committee met with several struggling churches and there was one constant theme—they wanted growth but refused to change what they were doing. If churches that barely have a critical mass of participants refuse to make the necessary changes then what would lead one to believe that other churches would be willing to make the sacrifice of change?

My wife and I just bought a different house that sits on an acre. The area is zoned at four houses per acre. We plan on dividing the property into four separate parcels and eventually building on each of them. The current house (built in the early 1970s) has a septic system and is on a neighborhood/community well. New subdivisions have gone in just across the street. There is now water and sewer within a few feet of the property. The community well cannot have any more houses on the system. The water pressure is less that desirable. We could choose to keep the current house and property the same. Here’s the challenge. We can take the time, effort and $$$ and divide the property as long as we hook into the public utilities (water and sewer). The growth potential in terms of investment has a tremendous upside IF we are will to make those connections.

Here’s my fear for the PCUSA—it will be business as usual! What connections with the “boomers” have been made? When was the last time a Praise and Worship Band/Team led the worship for multiple days at GA, Synod or Presbytery? A neighboring PCUSA church just decided on the new hymnal they were going to buy—it wasn’t the PCUSA hymnal. They went with a non-denominational hymnal so that it would have the best of the older hymns (many of which have been removed for political correctness from our hymnal) and some of the newer praise and worship songs. Notice, that hymnal didn’t come from our denomination. Not every church wants to sing some of those “newer” songs, but many do. They get ZERO help from the PCUSA. Is the PCUSA helping us with web design, blogging, wikis, etc. No way. We can’t even connect with the “boomers!” How can we expect to connect with the postmodern culture?

Before going on, I realize that our churches do have some younger people in them. Most of these students are the children of “churched” parents. These students might even bring a few of their friends to church. However, WE ARE MISSING THE VAST MAJORITY OF THE POSTMODERN GENERATION.

WE NEED TO BEGIN NOW! Even before we have any postmodern participants in our churches. So where do we start? Here are some of my thoughts.

First, pray, pray and then pray some more. If the Holy Spirit isn’t leading it then it is sure to fail.

Second, visit some church web sites that are reaching the postmodern culture. Compare my church’s web site with that of Mars Hill Church. Do you see the difference! Our “contemporary” service needs to have its own web site that looks like it was designed by someone under the age of thirty. Don’t stop at the design of the web sites. Look to see how the churches are connecting with people.

Third, visit some churches that are reaching the postmodern culture. What is the “feel” of the church? How do they look? How does the service flow? What does the pastor look like? Look. Learn. Don’t judge! Don’t condemn!

Fourth, unless you have a death wish, don’t try to convert your Sunday morning service to match what you have seen on your church visits. Honor those who built the church with the sweat and blood. They need to be cultivated, even converted, to see new models of ministry. Then… don’t just think outside the box, BLOW UP THE BOX!

Finally, get moving! You and I may not be the ones to lead these new ministries. We might need to bring in someone to do that. That’s ok. Don’t let your ego get in the way. Speaking of ego, don’t let your liturgical ego get in the way, either!

We already have a generation of kids who are being raised by parents that are unchurched. We cannot wait as another generation is raised apart from Christ.


At 12:42 PM , Blogger Quotidian Grace said...

Great post. I am constantly amazed at how behind the national denomination seems to be.

At 1:25 PM , Blogger niebuhrian said...

I am not sure who you have been reading, but there is no such thing to my knowledge as a "postmodern generation." You may be talking about Gen X or Gen Y (people like myself born between 1961 and 2001), but to call a generation "postmodern" is to abuse and misuse the term. Postmodernity is a philosophy that is used by a number of thinkers, artists, architects, theologians and so forth of a variety of ages. The postmodern age began (generally speaking) in the 1960's in France and is really just now catching on in theological circles. It has a variety of meanings and really cannot be faithfully defined other than by what it is not. Postmoderns are people of all ages who think and experience the world through a particular form of philosophy and theology.

The emergent church is but one off-shoot that attempts to incorporate postmodern thought into a style of worship. Mostly, it is a rejection of the megachurch movement and a search for authentic community by returning to premodern ideas of spirituality and discipleship. They do some wonderful things with worship and the incorporation of aesthetics, I don't believe that everything they do is the panacea for what ails the Presbyterian Church. To suggest otherwise is thoroughly eschew one of the primary tenets of postmodernity, that of contextuality and the valid experience of the individual.

To say that traditional worship is stagnant and that the hymns are merely politically correct leftovers of a bygone era is a naive suggestion at best. The hymnal and its supplement "Sing the Faith" provide excellent contemporary hymns and songs from a variety of cultures. Furthermore, another supplement, provided at a GA a few years back (Lift Up Your Hearts) gives another resource for songs that speak of the global nature of the church (a thoroughly postmodern concept). Certainly there are praise and worship hymns that are not included. Some of them for good reason, such as theology, language, and yes, politics. However, that doesn't mean you can't sing'em if they fit the context of your church.

I attend a church that is liturgically Presbyterian to the core and postmodern in its philosophy and theology. It is an active socially responsible community with a lively music program that sings most of its songs out of the hymnal. Granted it has more resources than the medium and smaller congregations in the PC(USA), but it is attracting many people in their twenties and thirties as it goes about its mission in the world. Sometimes knowing who you are rather than trying to be everything everybody wants you to be is a more authentic way of doing church. The "chicken little, the sky is falling" theology only gets you so far. Something substantive has to back up the programs, or else the experience is meaningless and trivial. Postmodernity is not about popularity, nor is it about casualness, you can go to any local megachurch and find those qualities and these congregations usually operate out of a modern theological mindset.

Furthermore, it is interesting to me that most of your suggestions deal with appearance rather than substance. There is no celebration of what might be "right" with your church, only this incessant need for change. I would challenge you to read more about what postmodernity "is," theologically, liturgically, and philosophically. I know, from reading prior posts, that you are frustrated with the written word and its use in the church. I share some of that frustration; however, I also value the writings and the beauty that is present in those same words.

To end, I want to offer one suggestion. You came to my blog not too long ago and lambasted me for being a theological elitist. You read one post. In my response, I invited you to return and read that post in its entire context as well as others that illuminate my theology and interactions with others. To my knowledge you have not returned nor have you continued to engage in a conversation. Blogs are participatory entities that live and die through "conversations." I appreciate an engagement in a conversation around differences of opinion, rather than a single post that tells me I am wrong and that I need to change or be irrelevant. Conversation, experience, discussion and change are dialogues between the self and another, not diatribes and then absence.

I wish you well in your ministry and am glad that your readings thus far have challenged you to step out of your comfort zone and explore the multiple meanings of liturgy and worship. I wish you the best.

grace and peace

At 7:28 PM , Anonymous tonyc said...

Actually there is a lot of web page assistance, and some of it is quite good. And yes, it is led by people under 30. Recently our Synod sponsored a training session for Olympia, Seattle, and Alaska presbytery communications folks, looking toward a new open source platform for web sites (DotNetNuke). There is also a regional and national denominational group called the Communicators' Network that provides an opportunity to share knowledge on various communications strategies and techniques. All of which is not to say that the denomination can do a whole lot better at providing this information and assisting local churches in using it. But it does mean they haven't missed that boat completely.

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