Culture and Counter-Culture Working Together

Sociological Observations of a Psycho Church Person

I’m sitting at church. It’s break time between worship and teaching. If you are a church-goer, you know the drill.  I’m going to use my church as an example but these issues aren’t unique to us – just the details and specifics are.

At our fellowship, we start with a kid song (which often freaks out visitors), follow it up with some interruptions or moment that feels a little forced during the worship time, and you can’t start communion or teaching without a massive throat clear into the microphone or some form of “I was thinking about…” in the first sentence. The whole experience often lacks polish and aesthetic appeal.

These things drive me nuts. I love the community and the practical aspects of the body of believers we are committed to. Who wouldn’t love a fellowship that meets practical needs and ensures no on there ever has to walk alone?

I love the fidelity to the Scriptures. If my fellowship didn’t exist, where would I go that has the orthodoxy and community we have? Others should have this too…but every healthy fellowship should ask the question: “Why would anyone stick around long enough to learn what it is they are missing and we have?”

Most of what annoys me comes from three sources: younger generations not being empowered to steer change, the counter-cultural genesis of the fellowship (which was/is good!) and its vestiges on current practice, and (if I’m honest) my inability to just accept much of “the way it is” and just “deal with it.”

You can’t force people to change. I can, however, change my attitude even if the issues remain. With the goal of exploring the healthy balance of culture and counter-culture with a healthy attitude and a heart for others, here are my thoughts on the subject:

I’ve blogged many times about being different in how we do church. I’ve commented much on not being focused on church growth for its own sake and being “insiders” in our culture. We need nonconventional churches and outreach/evangelism.

We also need traditional Sunday morning church forms that combine excellence with Biblical community values.

My fellowship does the counter-cultural thing well. We do the community thing as well or better than anywhere else. We do not, however, give people an experience on Sunday mornings that is conducive to them experiencing this long-term or deciding to assimilate.

I’m beginning to feel that having all the right things in place to meet our collective needs and speak Truth as a body isn’t enough if our style and aesthetic does not allow others the chance to trust us. We have lots of visitors. They rarely stay. We have tons of children. They grow up to populate other churches. We are pretty much the same size we were in 1997 despite having the spiritual foundation so many are craving.

A hyper-focused approach toward production and a competitive church model is poison. What is critical is marrying Biblical community with aesthetics that make the visitation and transition to a community of believers as compelling and comfortable as possible. This aesthetic effort is imperative if we believe the lost and hurting deserve Christ-centered community and believe in the concept of meeting people where they are at.

Few fellowships have the balance figured out. Although we need to be comfortable with all forms of worship and outreach and be unconventional in our thinking, those of us who “do church” on Sundays need to work doubly hard to balance being different and giving visitors what they need before they commit. Eliminate hoakiness, distractions, and give visitors an experience that keeps them coming until they experience true community. This takes time. Spend a little time polishing the presentation.

Will this seem superficial and provoke fear of devolution amongst the old guard? Maybe. We lose most potential families when we don’t demonstrate excellence in the things long-time attendees take for granted or don’t care about. If we can’t get music and style right, how can they trust us to have what matters figured out? Give people a sub-par first impression and we should expect little more than a short visit. They deserve better than that.

Counter-Culture Is Good If We Avoid Counter-Culture Pitfalls

Often, when bringing up aesthetic change in how we do church, those who are hesitant to change the status quo will bring up all the people already attending who like the way things are.

Yep.  That’s why they are there.  Self-selected, anecdotal surveying of the comfortable is the worst form of organizational sin.

The correct question is: “What is our target demographic (the lost, young families, disaffected church people looking for actual community, etc) and what do they need to see, hear, and experience to convince themselves that our fellowship deserves a second, third, or fourth look?”

To be “insiders” in our culture requires Sunday morning services that are desirable and spiritually mature. It is a tough calling but easy was never in the job description of faithful living and loving our neighbors. Too many churches have services that demand an explanation and an apologetic shoulder-shrug by members who invite others to church with them. Let’s create church services that community members want desperately to invite their neighbors and friends to so those friends and neighbors can experience the joy of Biblical community that only comes with wanting to come back and invest in the process.

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