If your church were stripped down to its core, what would be left?
I’m often asked by church leaders, “How far is too far?” From big screens and big hair to modern worship and candlelight services, there are so many ways to do, have and present “church.” From the mini to the mega, from old-fashioned steeples to churches that lease space in nightclubs, the experiences are virtually endless. Seeker-sensitive. Evangelistic. Quiet and sincere. Loud and glorious. You name it and there’s a good chance it’s been tried. Yet the questions remain: How much should I do? What should I avoid? What is cool? What works?
Here’s a simple approach I’ve taken in line with those questions: If the electricity went out, and your walls fell down, and your biggest givers died, what would you have left? Would you have a community of people still seeking after the heart of God? Would you still worship even without a band? Would you still be able to learn about God even though you can’t show a video or a PowerPoint slide? Essentially, what you have when everything else goes away is what your church is really all about.
In his book The Importance of Being Foolish, Brennan Manning says: “Consider how our churches have explored and exploited our need to replace the numbness in our lives with a passion for something, anything. We’ve created worship in which music is meant to stir the emotions but the soul is left unmoved, in which the words spoken are little more than manipulations of the heart. We have created cathartic experiences filled with weeping and dancing in the Spirit that leaves us with the sense that we have touched God but that fail to give us the sense that God has touched us. We run to churches where the message feels good and where we feel energized and uplifted—but never challenged or convicted.”
Manning continues with a quote from Henri Nouwen: “‘It is not surprising that spiritual experiences are mushrooming all over the place and have become highly sought-after commercial items. ... In our desperate need for fulfillment and our restless search for the experience of divine intimacy, we are all too prone to construct our own spiritual events.’”
We can hide behind brands and marketing campaigns. We can plow new grounds in getting the world to take notice of our creativity. We can even make a name for ourselves in our communities. But what remains when the lights are out and the sound is unplugged? When the hurricane wipes it all away? When the earthquake swallows your best intentions?
As a local church community, what we have without power is really the only “power” worth having. Jerry Hendrix, a pastor in Abilene, Texas, tried to hammer home this point recently. In February, Crosspoint Fellowship did away with electricity, except for the children’s class, and saved whatever money would’ve been spent on power for mission work. No heat, no lights, no coffee—just an “unplugged,” stripped-down church.
“The idea was to get across being unplugged from some of the things in our lives,” said Hendrix, who served 22 years as a youth minister. As churchgoers “uncomplicated their lives,” they also were reacquainted with a core principle of living as a believer: sacrificial giving.
I’m always encouraged to see church communities that are concerned more with church taking place rather than church just being a place. When God speaks, I’d rather be in a position to listen than scrambling for the microphone to make sure He’s heard. Instead of getting so jazzed up about showing a Bruce Almighty film clip, I want to make sure I’m seeing God’s real miracles every day.
Brad Abare is director of communications for the Foursquare denomination and president of Personality, a marketing consultancy.