Recently I heard about a new church someone is starting on a university campus. It is St. John Cantius Community Church. (John Cantius is the patron saint of scholars.) The services will be held in the library. The minister must have a Ph.D. and tenure. Scripture readings will be from the original languages and Latin. All music will be classical or from the finest contemporary hymn writers (e.g., Brian Wren). Worship will be on Sunday mornings and last exactly 80 minutes (the usual time length for most university classes). Various creeds will be recited followed by critical responses by religious scholars. The sermons will be written presentations with two critical responses followed by a panel discussion. All worship leaders will be required to wear academic regalia. The church will be governed by a board of regents (elders) all of whom must have tenure. Once monthly a benevolence offering will be taken and the money donated to the American Association of University Professors to defend academic freedom. Ads for this new church declare “ALL WELCOME!”
Some have raised questions about the legitimacy of such a church. But the founders argue that the scholarly academy is a true culture and that academics often do not feel comfortable in other churches. Their hope is that this new church will draw into it people who probably would not go to any other church. They point to the plethora of special interest, “niche” churches and argue that theirs is nothing new except they have identified a new niche. If there can be churches especially for men, women, young people, old people, cowboys, punkers, postmoderns, college students, homeless people, rich people, truckers, motorcycle enthusiasts, etc., why can’t there be a church especially for academics?
One critic has argued that churches should be as inclusive of the community as possible and that the unity of the church should be the Holy Spirit and the gospel and not some special human interest. This critic argued that such niche churches (exploding in numbers all across the country) are really “ministries” more than true churches if the early Christian church is to be the norm.
One commentator stated that such reactionary theological criticism is both outdated and too late. The church growth movement proved that identifying a “target audience” and building a church on it works. And we now know the importance of culturally contextualizing the gospel.
Since hearing about St. John Cantius Community Church I saw a billboard in a large metropolitan area advertising a church for people 50 and over. An ad for it declared that all music will be hymns and gospel songs. (No “praise and worship choruses.”) Again, the billboard announced “ALL WELCOME!”