The Failed Promise of Relevance.

Another article floating around the internet, being shared ad-nausea by everyone tired for old ways of “doing” church.

Change your music!

Target young people!

Be more relevant!

Shorten your services!

Out with the old, in with the new!

Be more relevant!

And “If you don’t like it, serve in the nursery!” You had your time, its our time, time to reach the lost that you didn’t reach with your boring old way of doing church. or so the articles still imply.

The thing is, this is circa 1999. New waves of “worship” are drawing thousands of young people in the fold of passionate discipleship. Passion. Delirious. Classics now.

Here’s the problem. It didn’t work. Relevance didn’t work.

In the time it took this missionary to go to Africa, learn a language, and come home, Sunday nights were gone. Adult Wednesday nights were no longer a priority. Services were 55 minutes. Pentecostal manifestations were relegated to small groups and largely disappeared. All this in an effort to keep up with the times.

Baggy cargo pants replaced suits and ties.

And it didn’t work.

Acoustic guitars replaced the electric pianos, which had supplanted the traditional organs.

And it didn’t work.

Video venues exploded. Mega-churches grew, then imploded.

And it didn’t work.

The promise of RELEVANCE proved to be hollow indeed.

The numbers, from any group you choose –Barna, Gallup, whomever, show the increasing secularization of the West. All the while, the gurus continue to tell us that relevance is the answer.

Today, I get to work with amazing young people who are the church of today. As never before in history, young men and women are having a voice in shaping the future of Christendom. BUT they don’t realize they are stuck in an old refrain.

To a truly un-churched person, there is no “old fashioned” Christianity. There is no “better way to do church.” Because simply put, they have no point of reference for church.

Is there value in targeting certain groups? Certainly. The danger comes in copying, rather than adapting models, or creating your own. Copies are always downgrades from the originals. Copies of Willow Creek are good. But they don’t capture the heart of Bill Hybels and his team. Not exactly.

Relevance is the promise that if we meet people at their point of need, they will be more attracted to the gospel message. Here’s the problem. It doesn’t work.

Back in my bible school days, we were given this little booklet. The packaging is so 70ies. The marketing is non-exitant. The source for the research is 1000 churches OUTSIDE the US. The ABCs of Natural Development. In growing churches worldwide, here’s what’s DOES work.

I recently attended a Lutheran church, not in any way part of my faith tradition. The service was full of light. The sanctuary has no black wall, no lights, no fog.  The liturgy was structured, the Hymns mostly unknown to me. But the life in the room was real. The sermon was apropos. And the building was packed. Nothing about that morning was RELEVANT. But it was real, and authentic.

Have lights. I like lights. Have smoke machines. They are fun. Modern music, lets have it. I love to preach out of movies, a fad which came and went. Give away cars on Sunday morning. But lets not kid ourselves. NONE of this is really what leads a person to relationship with Christ.

My children love grandma’s house. Not because its relevant to their world, but because of the relationship and love they receive from women who often wouldn’t know an Angry Bird if they met one on the street.

Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Relevance is over rated. Authenticity, now there’s a different story.




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