TWO WAYS I'M MOVING BEYOND COOL
Fifteen years ago I would have told you I want to lead the most relevant, cool space for people to come into. I believed “relevant” and “cool” were both necessary qualities for any church that wanted to attract people to the gospel.
But I’m not saying that any more. I’m done trying to be the cool church, for at least two reasons:
1. There’s cool all around us these days.
If you want a Sunday-morning worship service with a slick production, I can send you to multiple others slicker than ours all over our city and country.
2. The sustainability isn’t there.
If people are coming only because of the cool factor, they’ll want a bigger wow next month than you offered them this week. It’s still true that “what you win them with is what you keep them with.” If you win those seeking with a show, you need to keep creating a better show. Sooner or later, we’ll run out of resources to continue that.
But those reasons only touch the surface of what I’ve come to see is most crucial. I’ve decided I’ll hang my hat on two pegs I believe are vital for the health of our church:
1. Preaching the Word of God.
2. Developing and Displaying Authenticity.
People are hungry for what’s real, and nothing’s more real than Scripture. As I say often, Bible stories are nothing like today’s Facebook posts or Instagram feeds, all full of people’s highlight reels. Name a Bible character, and I’ll find you the passage that shows his or her blatant shortcomings.
But God persisted in using those imperfect people to accomplish his perfect will. He was bigger than their sin, and he loved them in spite of it. When we preach that he loves us that way too, relying simply on the testimony of Scripture, we’ll tell people something they haven’t heard from our culture.
They likely believe church is only for those who have their act together. They congregate in bars and support groups with others who are as broken as they are. But apart from Jesus, they find only a place to commiserate, not the hope of a better tomorrow.
The Bible offers that hope. It’s a message that must be central to our strategy for a healthy church.
The apostle Paul readily confessed that he was among the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). When we, like him, admit our own frailty and faults, we create the atmosphere for healthy growth.
In my sermon a few weeks ago, I was particularly transparent. I said there were a couple of years early in my ministry here when I was ready to quit. My confession brought a torrent of response.
“There are days I want to quit, too,” people said to me after the sermon. “Sometimes I wonder, too, if it’s worth it to keep being a Christ follower.”
I learned something valuable…my honesty had freed them to be real about the fact that they don’t always have it all together. When the whole church embraces the reality that we can’t flourish by ourselves, the church will become the place to find the greatest empathy and support.
There’s nothing wrong, of course, with excellence. As Carey Nieuwhof wrote this week, “The answer to the challenge of keeping up with relevance is not to return to irrelevance. . . . To agree to be irrelevant, ineffective and bad at what you do is a terrible option.”
But high-quality production values can’t be our strategy for penetrating culture with the truth of the gospel. We’re not going to reach more people simply because we have better lights and sound.
I think we’ll reach them with the unvarnished, life-giving truth of God’s unbound grace, shared without pretense among people who testify Jesus is their only hope. It’s OK if we present that hope in a way that’s cool. But that hope is what matters most, nothing we can create or construct or buy.
How much do you and your leaders work to be “cool,” “relevant,” or trendy? How is the cool factor helping or hindering your outreach?