A few weeks ago in church, I happened to sit behind a young man in his mid twenties. Several times during the message, he accessed his i-phone, looking up Scripture references and googling related links. As I watched this all play out – an important question came to mind. Who is going to meet him and his generation where they are? Isn’t it time to change our church model?
My context for change is not anchored in the usual way people think about available choices in the faith community. Evangelical, charismatic, liturgical, fundamental, ’seeker sensitive,’ mega churches, all share similarities and significant differences but there is one constant. There will be a message, a topical/expositional monolog 20-30 minutes long usually containing several points, action steps and some kind of personal appeal (altar call).
The root system for this cookie cutter “factory” approach lies in the foundations of the Industrial Revolution of 19th and 20th centuries. Walk through some of the older neighborhoods in this city and you’ll see churches, schools and old factories all clustered together. What Sir Ken Robinson (Schools Kill Creativity) and Seth Godin (Interview) call the factory mindset still dominates the landscape even though the Industrial Age and its manufacturing experience are fading from view.
Our culture has changed. We’re living in a world where conversation through social media and mobile platforms is perpetual but the ‘factory’ church prevails evidenced by this monolog. If we change this element – is there a precedent?
In fact first century message practice included “active participation and interruptions by the audience, prophets and priests speaking extemporaneously – out of a present burden, rather than from a set script.” (”Pagan Christianity” – George Barna/Frank Viola) What happened?
“When the oratorical schools of the Western world laid hold of the Christian message, oratory tended to take the place of conversation,” Warren Oates (Pastor Counseling) said. “The greatness of the orator took the place of the astounding event of Jesus Christ. And the dialogue between speaker and listener faded into a monolog.”
WWJD? What would Jesus do? What DID Jesus do? He told stories, used pictures, asked questions, participated constantly in a circle of conversation completely consistent with 1st century church Rabbinical dynamics. We have an unprecedented opportunity to establish a real Christo-centric model of message presentation in front of a completely engaged congregation. We can do what Jesus did!
The gospel can be facebooked, tweeted, sent through texts, e-mails and presented in apps like YouVersion and Glo. There are an ever growing list of creative resources to facilitate this – we don’t have to do factory church anymore.
Sitting behind my 20 something example – I notice that he’s now completely disengaged. There’s nothing more for him to do – what little interactive moments this message had have long since passed. Jesus would meet this young man right where he is – what needs to happen for us to do the same?