The church is meant to be an icon–a picture of what divine love looks like that sparks a vision beyond itself. The opposite of an icon is an idol. An idol takes an experience of divine love and tries to codify it, make it concrete and turn it into solid, trustworthy, but lifeless, stone.
There’s a lot of talk in Christian circles about the decline of church in America. The number of people in the pews are declining and the outlook for many denominations is not good. In response many ask, how do we make church more relevant? We think that by updating the language of our prayer books, adding in contemporary music, or adding in familiar communication forms like video we will somehow change the course of our decline. We think that we need more programs and events to draw people in. But all too often these efforts at relevance simply result in more fashionable idols rather than creating icons of the Word Made Flesh.
We should not seek to be relevant, we should seek only to be better icons. Sometimes that may mean adopting new conventions and aesthetics, new ways to move people to look toward God. But relevance should never be the goal–relevance is simply a byproduct of showing what God’s love looks like here and now.
Don’t worry about being relevant; focus on being an image of God in the world. That image is relevant, from the beginning to the end.