I have more than once this week been asked to describe what kind of church, Christ Presbyterian Church is? I always laugh at this because I don’t think the answer I give is what the person asking the question wants. I assume that when someone ask that question they are wanting me to give one of the predetermined labels used by the church to describe the divisions we often like to hold up. You know what I mean. A simple descriptive term that are often used in antithetical ways; liberal/conservative, evangelical/progressive, contemporary/traditional, boomer/Gen Xers/millennials, democrat/republican. The list goes on and on. Also, did you notice how I framed that sentence. Most of these classifications are terms and divisions that the church is invested in and not those who are outside the church.
In a recent, and widely read Washington Post article, “Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool.’” Rachel Held Evans wrote what I would essentially summarize is that you need to focus on being genuine rather than on the styles. This is an over simplification of the article but it is my main takeaway. As part of the National Capital Presbytery‘s Transformation Team I have been part of many conversations with pastor’s and congregations that have focused on the wrong questions. Questions like:
- What do we need to do to attract younger people?
- What if we dump the organ?
- Is our coffee good enough?
One thing that my generation (Gen X) and those that follow have in common is a great B.S. meter. We have marketed to since we were in diapers. McDonald’s created the Happy Meal to attract my generation to their restaurants. Now, years of being marketed to has led us to have an ability to discern the sincerity of a organization. We have all purchased the “Xray Glasses” from the back of a magazine to only be disappointed.
Today, the church has an opportunity to shift from a central focus on style to substance. This isn’t to say that style isn’t important. I am always working to insure that what we do on Sunday Morning is cohesive and purposeful. What this all tells us is that what we need to focus on is community. A worship service that is appealing to a given group is dead if it isn’t being led and participated in by a vital, genuine and loving community. I don’t care how good your choir or band is, if you come across as judgemental or uncaring towards each other it is for not.
This brings me back to the question I often get about the church I serve, Christ Presbyterian. When asked that question I give folks a whole lot more than they bargained for. While the expectation may be for a simple one or two word descriptive cubby hole, I give a much fuller response. I routinely talk about the community we are working to develop. I tell people to the role of prayer as it pertains to caring for each other. I even tell of some of the difficulties we have as a community.
When asked to talk about our congregation I am excited to give people an honest glimpse into who we are. It may help that our congregation is pretty diverse when it comes to the standard categories I mentioned above. Yet, I think it has taken a lot of work and dedication to building positive community to move beyond the barriers the church has established.
I also take great hope in the fact that being relevant in peoples lives isn’t necessarily about format. Each week I preach a sermon in a sanctuary while wearing a collar and robe. Yet the substance of our worship is focused on applying the Gospel to our lives today. To me this is the hallmark of relevance. Don’t get me wrong, I think I would look great in a “soul patch,” ok maybe not. Being genuinely who I am in the pulpit is what matters. At times that means I even leave those of an older generation behind. My hope is that by building a genuine, caring and loving community we will connect the Gospel of Christ to the daily lives of those who are seeking a new way in their lives.