Is Your Church Remarkable? And If Not, Why Do You Go?

Is Your Church Remarkable? And If Not, Why Do You Go? May 30, 2022

Remarkable
Ben Mcleod/Unsplash

 

How can we create something remarkable?

According to entrepreneur/freelancer/marketing genius Seth Godin, we create something worth making a remark about. Simple. Not easy, but simple.

In other words, we create something that folks want to share – to talk about. (And hopefully in the positive way.)

 

Experiencing the remarkable

Think about something you’ve described as “remarkable.” Perhaps it was a book, a movie, an amazing song, or an experience. 

For me, it is the remarkable steak served at Asado Cucina Argentina in Tacoma, WA.

What did I do after eating it the first time? I told people about it. Again and again, over and over. And then I went back and had more. Again and again, over and over.

Or think about something you’ve experienced as unremarkable. The indifferent – the boring: the “not worth talking about.” Did you tell people about it? Probably not. It wasn’t worth the time.

 

Are our churches remarkable?

Now think about your experience of church. Has it been remarkable for you? Have you been so excited that you share about it?

And I don’t mean “that one time I made a Facebook post.” I mean in the moments when someone close to you shares their story and asks for support – do you share about how your church has helped you and the qualities of it that might support them?

It sounds scary to do that – especially in progressive circles, we don’t usually share about our church experiences. We don’t want to seem like evangelists or too salesy. Most of us operate largely in the secular world and we fear bringing up the church will conflate us in people’s minds with “the other Christians.”

So…is your church experience remarkable? Is it worth making a remark about – worth being on the hook to share something that works for you that might not for someone else? 

Ultimately, we decide whether a church is remarkable, not the church. If we don’t choose to talk about our experiences there, it means it’s not remarkable! A remarkable church would help to lower the barriers of sharing so that it was worth it for us to spend the social capital of offering our ideas and experience to someone.

 

In my experience…

In my experience, most local progressive churches are not remarkable – this is why so many of them are going out of business. They have good and well-intentioned people in them, but even for the most committed, it is difficult to be so excited that they tell folks about their experience in a way that resonates. Here are a few reasons why I think this is:

  • They just aren’t exciting! This doesn’t mean high-energy; to be exciting is to be something that gets in your bones and moves you. But in many churches, people feel like they’re “going through the motions.” My whole life, I’ve heard folks (many, many folks) openly talk about just waiting to get out on Sunday morning in time to watch the Seahawks play. This means these churches aren’t remarkable: even their “life-long members” are only half-there as they wait for kickoff!
  • They aren’t challenging. The number one thing spirituality/religion has going for it, in my opinion, is that it offers an integrated framework for self-love, self-transformation, community engagement, and justice work. But many church spaces aren’t helping people do the inner work that allows for personal and societal change – it requires more than one hour a week. But without an intentional focus on that and being able to say “this is what we do here,” churches often feel like places of consumption with, for some, a sense of community (I talked about my thoughts on church communities here.
  • They aren’t designed to share. A remarkable product is one that lowers barriers for folks to share about it – it makes it worth the social sacrifice of offering an opinion that might not work for the other person. In the actual product is a built-in, easy-to-share element. But many progressive churches don’t do or have this. Instead, these churches continue to use old bones that don’t connect with their target audience, keeping the barriers high: antiquated and gendered language, dominance-based divine imagery, an inflexibility around how to gather and co-create space. A progressive church designed to be remarkable would be focused on changing this and inviting people into creative acts of change.
  • They cause harm. And then there’s this one – this actually makes churches remarkable! Just not in a good way. I won’t spend a lot of time on this because others have done it plenty, but needless to say, progressive churches cause harm in all sorts of ways. Here are a few I’ve seen consistently:
    • Using images and language for the Divine that perpetuate patriarchy and racism. (Please take down all images of White Jesus…please. And then talk about it as a community – not just from the pulpit, but actually as a community!
    • Saying they’re “welcoming and affirming” but changing nothing about their institutional structures, systems, or culture to make them more welcoming and affirming.
    • Bait and switch: targeting young families for the sake of targeting young families and then coercing them into church spaces not designed for young kids (or parents) and their mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual development.
    • Community members not being taught, trained, challenged, or supported in questioning their own assumptions and language, especially around gender, race, sexual orientation, and abilities.

 

The question to sit with…

If you’re a member of a faith community, is your church remarkable? And if you realize…wow, it’s really not…what are you going to do?

If you’re a pastor or faith leader, is your church remarkable? If not, how can you and others develop something worth talking about? (Even if it means doing this beyond the church that pays you. It’s okay to take the institutional money and plant something new beyond the institution…in fact we need you to do that.)

This isn’t about evangelism. The point isn’t to grow your church.

This is about being part of something that deepens your spirituality, supports you, and is something that you’re proud to be a part of.

About Andrew Lang
Andrew Lang is an educator in Tacoma, Washington, an alumnus of Richard Rohr’s Living School for Action and Contemplation, and author of the forthcoming book, Unmasking the Inner Critic: Lessons for Living an Unconstricted Life. For the past nine years, he has led workshops on contemplative spirituality and community development throughout the Pacific Northwest. You can read more about the author here.

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