From advertisements to news to entertainment, Americans are bombarded with information, overwhelmed with options. We have so much vying for our attention that we suffer from "cultural ADD." In spite of these distractions, Luke 14:23 says, "Compel them to come in so that my house may be full." Compel (v): to urge irresistibly; to demand attention. So how does the church fulfill this commission in a white noise world? Simply put: "Buzz."
Buzz isn't a marketing gimmick, a publicity stunt or a photo op. Buzz is an ancient mandate—it's about sharing the love of Christ in practical, creative and authentic ways. And it was utilized by the one who commissioned us to compel. Jesus should have lived and died without making a blip on history's radar, but 2,000 years later, two billion people claim to be Christ followers.
The word "crowd" is repeated 101 times in the Gospels. Jesus drew crowds numbering in the tens of thousands wherever he went. And he did it without public transportation, instant messaging or Evite.com. Entire towns would close up shop and go without food for days on end just to listen to his parables. Tax collectors climbed trees. Prostitutes crashed parties. Wise men followed stars. Even the Pharisees conceded, "The whole world has gone after him" (John 12:19).
No one was better at buzz than Jesus. And he left a trail for us to follow.
Thou shalt hang out at wells. Wells were ancient hangouts (see John 4). They were the B.C. version of coffeehouses, chat rooms and malls. Jesus didn't invite people to the synagogue. He hung out at wells. He went to where the people were.
I went into church planting with the traditional mindset: meet in rented facilities until you can buy or build a church building. But that trend is reversing. In the last few years, a growing number of churches have sold their buildings and moved into rented theaters or schools or clubs. Others have kept their church buildings while launching multi-site locations in marketplace environments. At National Community Church (NCC), we built a first-class, fully-operational coffeehouse on Capitol Hill. It's a place where the church and community can cross paths.
Thou shalt talk about the tower of Siloam. Jesus hit the tough topics head-on in Luke 13:4. He used a tragedy—the collapse of the tower of Siloam—to talk about real-life issues. One reason he referenced that tragedy that took the lives of 18 men was because he knew it was on the frontal lobe of all his listeners. It was front page news. It was the hot topic on all the talk shows.
Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich., launched an event a few years ago called "Doubt Night." Instead of programming a service, the agenda is determined by the questions of attendees. And they aren't church-variety questions! Too many churches are answering questions no one is asking! We're talking about things that people never think about because we often fail to tap into the cultural consciousness. The church is perceived as irrelevant by many unchurched people because it isn't talking about the things they care about, think about, cry about or dream about.
Thou shalt not wash your hands. The Pharisees despised Jesus because He didn't conform to their religious traditions. They got all bent out of shape because his disciples forgot to wash their hands before a meal (see Matt. 15). Get over it. Maybe it's time to break the mold. Maybe it's time to take risks to reach people. Maybe it's time to offend the religious so we can reach the irreligious.
It's so easy to do ministry from memory. We learn how and forget why. We keep on doing what we've always done. And we believe that our tradition, our way of doing church, is somehow superior. It's not.
We need lots of different kinds of churches because there are lots of different kinds of people. This compels us to be orthodox in belief, but not necessarily orthodox in practice. For instance, I grew up in a church tradition in which movie theaters were taboo. The great irony is that I put my faith in Christ after watching a movie—in a church, of course! Now I pastor a church with a vision to meet in movie theaters at metro stops throughout the D.C. area.
Movie theaters make great sanctuaries. You've got comfortable seats, the scent of popcorn and a movie screen that doubles as postmodern stained glass. In order to reach emerging generations we may need to break some age-old traditions and do church differently.
Thou shalt preach from boats. I'm guessing Jesus was the first rabbi to teach while balancing in a boat (see Matt. 13:2). Jewish rabbis dressed a certain way. Jewish rabbis taught a certain way. Then along came the neo-Rabbi, Jesus.
Boat-preaching was unprecedented and unconventional. But what are you going to do when thousands of people show up unexpectedly? Preach. So Jesus used a boat as his pulpit. Who said preachers have to preach from behind a pulpit?
In 1728, John Wesley was ordained into the Anglican priesthood. It was assumed that preaching was to take place behind a pulpit inside the four walls of a church sanctuary. The hierarchy within the Church of England considered preaching outdoors a violation of canon law. John Wesley broke the law and broke the mold.
The neo-church needs to redeem technology and use it to serve God's purposes. That's what LifeChurch.tv is doing with its webcast. That's what Elevation Church (www.elevation.cc) in Utah is doing with its video podcast. Maybe podcasting is digital circuit riding? Maybe short films are postmodern parables?
If we want to reach emerging generations then the church needs to get out from behind the pulpit and experiment with new preaching forms.
Thou shalt offend Pharisees. Here is a lesson I've learned the hard way: as your influence grows larger so does the target on your back. If you dare to be different you'll be criticized. And those criticisms will probably come from the religious establishment that is content with maintaining the status quo.
I've never had any unchurched people complain about the way we do church. Criticisms have come from the religious establishment.
New Spring Church in Anderson, S.C., took some criticism on the chin when it launched a series titled "ihatemymarriage.com." But while they were being criticized, marriages were being healed and people were coming to Christ.
When Jesus was criticized by Pharisees (see Matt. 23:1-36), He didn't get defensive. He didn't apologize for who He was or how He taught. He didn't let their criticisms keep Him from being himself.
Don't let the Pharisees keep you from radically loving prostitutes, healing on the Sabbath or hanging out with tax collectors.
For the record, people tend to criticize when they feel convicted. It is the alternative to change. Nine times out of ten, criticism is a way of justifying our own issues and problems because criticism is a lot easier than change!
Follow in the footsteps of Christ. Dare to be different. Buzz.
Mark Batterson serves as lead pastor of National Community Church (www.theaterchurch.com) in Washington, D.C. NCC recently launched Ebenezer's (www.ebenezerscoffeehouse.com), a buzzworthy hangout for sinners and saints on Capitol Hill.