Every Christmas Eve, my town hosts a night of carol singing in a church at the center of town. The event takes place in a beautiful 19th century quaint country church. In fact, the building is so quintessentially churchy, it was even featured as a location in the movie “In and Out”. (Don’t feel bad if you didn’t see it. No one did.) I’m a little busy most Christmas Eves, but from what I hear, the event is as beautiful as any Currier and Ives print.
Just one problem. The church hasn’t been a church in several decades. It closed sixty years ago and now is maintained by the town’s historical society. Basically, it’s just a museum now. You can even rent it out for your wedding if your need a quasi-religious backdrop for your nuptials. No congregation has met there since before I was born. No new disciple of Jesus has been formed there, no one sent into the world to alleviate its suffering from there, no one has loved a fellow congregant or held them accountable within its walls, since Truman was President. Yet every December 24th, people in my town forgo attending one of the dozen or so nearby churches, to sing carols in a simulated faith community.
Essentially, it’s EPCOT church. Not a real church but an incredible and superficial recreation. Over the years, I have wondered why anyone would choose this bizarre cross between the Waltons and a William Gibson novel over the real deal. I mean, what kind of tourist rube would rather order pasta in EPCOT’s Italian world over a real Italian restaurant?
Recently, I produced a video at a luxury product manufacturer’s sales meeting. This company invented the world-changing product they sell, yet are languishing in customer satisfaction surveys. Their chief competitors are one company whose name was concocted by a marketing firm, and another who stole their product’s features and slapped them onto their cheap imitation. While this organization is the original, the innovator, the authentic one, the one with the tradition and heritage, the ones with the story, they struggle against and are losing to, a fake.
And so are we.
When it comes to Christmas, the church is the original, the innovator, the authentic one, the one with the tradition and heritage, the ones with the story, and we are losing to EPCOT church.
Many a Christian author has lamented that if our churches do not change, they will become museums. The sad truth is, there are many people outside our churches who would prefer it if we did. It’s not just the stereotypical grey-haired churched lady who wants a Currier and Ives Christmas show. It’s the PBS tote-bag carrying secularist in a “Be the Change You Wish to See” T-shirt, as well.
This Christmas, let’s challenge our churches to be the real deal. Let’s fight the temptation hold a merely beautiful Christmas Eve service, and instead reach out in beautiful service to our communities. Let’s take the focus off of our cute kids parading up for the Christmas sermon, and focus instead on the homeless kid in the manger and his scandalous birth. Let’s stop looking back at nostalgic Americana, and instead look ahead to the continual in-breaking Kingdom of God that came to us in Jesus Christ.
I know many of our churches are doing this already and would love to hear your stories.