When I was a young Christian in the late 1970s people used to ridicule the church for being old fashioned. “Christians are always 5 years behind the culture,” they would say. “The church is out of date musically and artistically.” “Our church facilities are behind the times.”
Today, a number of cutting-edge churches are leading the culture in terms of technology, artistry and facility design.
And we hate them for it.
Houses of worship are now the largest market for professional auditorium sound/visual equipment and computer-controlled lighting systems. Churches offer state-of-the-art presentation technologies. Large churches employ the best musicians and sound equipment that rivals anything on Broadway.
This makes us angry. “It’s too slick and professional,” we fume. ‘They’ve turned worship into entertainment.”
Churches are leading the way in web design, distance learning, online content and social media presence. Churches are winning awards for their stylish, easy-to-navigate web sites. Web portals make Christian teaching available worldwide, 24/7. To which we respond, “Jesus didn’t need a Web site. Just preach the gospel.”
Growing churches offer welcoming gathering spaces, including gourmet coffee service, on-site bookstores and even full-service dining rooms. And we reply, “They’re turning the house of God into a business.”
And what about the churches that have invested millions to build Disneyland-like children’s areas and state-of-the-art youth facilities with rock climbing walls and video gaming stations. We cry, “Kids don’t need entertainment – they need to know God’s Word!”
All this grousing reminds me of something Jesus said:
To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
‘We played the flute for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge
and you did not mourn.’
Fifty years ago the church lagged behind the culture. Today, a number of innovative churches are leading the culture.
Neither one makes us happy.
So what do we want? Do we honor God when our churches reflect the culture of the 1950s? How about the 1450s? Is stained glass more holy than a PowerPoint slide? Are candles more spiritual than a spotlight?
There’s no such thing as a 100% God-breathed church. Every congregation is partly an expression of the human culture that birthed it. The incarnation reflects this dichotomy: Jesus was fully God and fully man. In the same way, the local church is an amalgam of divine and human effort.
It’s one thing if a church does something sinful. But a lot of the things we like to criticize cutting-edge churches for are not sins – they’re cultural accommodations. We find them distasteful because they don’t feel like they belong in church. It may be a new wineskin – but like the Pharisees, we prefer the old.
God created different kinds of people and he works through all kinds of congregations to reach them. God works through big churches and small churches; modern churches and old-fashioned churches. When you hear of a congregation that’s doing things differently, I challenge you to pray for that church instead of immediately judging it.