You stroll into church at 9:45, leaving yourself just enough time to stop by the coffee bar located just inside the front doors.
You grab a white chocolate mocha and a bagel and make your way to your seat. It's not a pew (those things are way too uncomfortable) but an individual seat because, after all, you are an individual.
You make small talk with your friends in the dimly lit auditorium. Too much lighting detracts from the mood.
A group of young people walk onto the stage dressed in tattered jeans, t-shirts and stocking caps (doesn't matter if it's 95 degrees outside). They pick up their instruments and invite everyone to join them in worship, which begins with a 2-minute guitar solo. The rest of the music service is reminiscent of a U2 concert, complete with smoke, lights and a plea to help starving children in Africa.
The music stops and you see another guy walk onto the stage. He has a headset mic on and he's carrying a Bible. He's quite a bit older than the people who were leading the music but he dresses the same way. He spends the next half hour talking about love and acceptance. He makes references to verses found in his Bible but he never opens it. His message makes you feel a little guilty for not being more accepting of people who live differently or have different beliefs than you do.
The speaker finishes his message, the band comes out for a couple of more songs, one slow and emotional and the final one extremely up-tempo.
The service concludes with a video talking about the different "ministries" or "opportunities" the church offers. It's full of attractive people spoofing popular television commercials reminding you that church is all about you. You find it humorous and you laugh about it with your friends as you leave the building.
For many people, this describes the church service they attended last Sunday. This is their idea of worship. This is their belief that this is what a post-modern view of a New Testament church should look like. After all, in order to be relevant in today's world, we have to "speak the language" of the world. Lost people aren't going to want go sit in some stuffy church service, singing old hymns and listening to some guy in a suit talk about how if they don't accept Christ they might go to hell, and isn't the overall purpose of the church to reach the lost?
I'll get to that point later, but first I want to clarify my intentions about this article. I am not saying that the aspects of the aforementioned church service are inherently bad. This is not a slam against churches that are geared to a younger generation or that are more technologically advanced than others.
I enjoy having a cup of coffee while I talk with people as they come into the church building. I like contemporary worship and enjoy hearing musicians use their talents to glorify God. I also enjoy hymns. I probably prefer a "blended" style of worship but that's just my cup of tea (or coffee). I'm not one to say that pastors should have to wear a suit and tie every Sunday, but I do view the role of pastor as a privilege and honor given by Almighty God and it should be treated with respect and reverence. I love using technology to communicate the gospel. I use PowerPoint and video illustrations when appropriate.
That being said, I hope people can see that I'm not totally against new methodology when it comes to how we do church. My issue is when we try to make church more attractive to lost people. We want our churches to be just as inviting as the alternative choices that people have. We want lost people to feel comfortable and at home when they walk in our doors.
There are two problems I see with this kind of thinking:
1. The church's main focus should be on the body of believers, not the lost.
I realize that many people might be taken aback by that statement. Not that people would disagree that the church should minister to its members, but that the lost are not the primary focus of the church. "Isn't one of the church's main responsibilities to evangelize? Isn't that the final instructions Jesus left His disciples? Isn't that what the Great Commission is all about?"
Yes, the church is supposed to take the gospel to the lost. Yes, that is what Jesus instructed the first disciples (and us) to do. Yes, the church should be fulfilling the Great Commission.
So why would it seem that I am downplaying the importance of evangelism in the church? I would respond that I am not downplaying its importance, but I am placing the responsibility of evangelism where it belongs: on the individual members of the church.
This does not mean that I think there is no place for evangelism in the church as a whole. I believe that evangelism programs help the members of a church be better equipped for witnessing opportunities. One of the ministries of the church should be to train and equip believers to share the gospel. If the church is doing that, then the body of that church should be putting it into practice and taking on the responsibility of evangelism.
Jesus' command to the disciples was simply, "Go." That is the command for all believers. It is our responsibility to take the gospel to the lost. This is how evangelism is put into practice by the church; it's members are doing it.
So what should the main focus of the church be? I believe the answer is discipleship. The church's main business should be about the spiritual growth of its members. Pastors, teachers, elders and other leaders in the church should be teaching the word of God to the body of believers so that they might grow in their personal relationships with Jesus Christ.
If the members of the church are being properly disicipled, then evangelism is going to naturally occur as believers learn that is their responsibility to share the gospel.
There will still be some, however, who will want to say, "What's wrong with making our church more inviting? Even if our members are sharing the gospel, why shouldn't we try to make our church more appealing to lost people?" That leads to what I see as the second problem with these types of churches:
2. The things of God are not attractive lost people
When Jesus commissioned His disciples He didn't say, "You guys are going to go into the world and teach others about me, but in order for them to listen, you need to be more appealing. You need to look like them so they will feel more comfortable. You want them to want to come to you first. Make them feel accepted and then maybe they will change."
In fact, what Jesus had been preparing them for was the exact opposite. Jesus had been preparing the disciples for rejection, for hatred. Before His death and resurrection Jesus told the disciples, "because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you" John 15:19.
Because man is born into this world with a sinful heart (Romans 5:12), he is not inclined to God. He doesn't want God, he doesn't need God. He is in darkness (Ephesians 2:1-3). Only by the grace of Jesus can he be pulled out of the darkness and into the light (John 6:44). He has to see his wickedness in the light of Christ's righteousness and repent. Only then will his heart be inclined to the things of God.
Let's look at it another way. The cross is the central message of the Bible. Everything we read in scripture is meant to point us to the cross, it's message and purpose. Therefore, if we are correctly teaching God's word from our pulpits (or music stands or from our headset mics) then our preaching is going to be cross-centered. If our preaching is cross-centered then our church is going to be cross-centered and Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 1:18 that"the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing."
Following that line of logic, lost people find church foolish.
Of course that doesn't mean that lost people never want to go to church. A lost person may go to church because their friends go there or because they were invited by family or they heard there was going to be a potluck dinner afterward. Through that course of action, he/she may hear the gospel and the Lord convicts them and draws them to salvation.
What it does mean is that, by and large, lost people find the idea of church foolish and want nothing to do with it.
This is where proponents of the "cool church" concept will say, "That is why we incorporate these other aspects. To make the idea of church more appealing."
The problem with this is that you are not attracting lost people to the church. You are attracting them to the aspects of the church, the "cool" aspects. They come for the coffee bar, the cool music, the laid-back atmosphere, the funny commercials, or the sermons that never point out the sin in their lives.
This methodology has turned the church into another form of entertainment. As long as the entertainment continues, people will come. When it stops, or they find something else is more entertaining, the people will leave. What draws people to church is what is going to keep them coming to church. For me, I would prefer that it be Jesus and the teaching of the word of God that draws people to church.
The question this often leads to is, "Where do we draw the line?" I don't believe there is a specific "line" that one has to watch out for. I think what churches need to do is analyze their priorities. Is correct teaching of the word of God the highest priority? Is too much emphasis placed on how many people are attending? Does the church minister to the needs of its members or is it more focused on what the world thinks about it?
If the church is discipling its members, growth will occur, both spiritually and numerically. We should strive to make church a place where people encounter the One True and Living God, not a place to get a latte and pick-me-up sermon. We should expect to be hated by the world and stop seeking acceptance from it.
"Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Matthew 5:11-12