Will People Burn Out on Contemporary Approaches to Church?

Feature Article written by Chris Forbes of http://ministrymarketingcoach.com/

Earl Creps posted recently on a phenomenon he has spotted he calls “missional fatigue” that got me thinking. Dr. Creps says he’s starting to notice people who used to be really active in emerging churches that now have children (or teens) darkening the doors of the traditional church again. Could this be part of a trend? It’s too early to tell and I wouldn’t tell people who do “missional” or emerging church they are doing something bad.

But I do think we need to revisit the idea that ministry (and outreach) relevance is not a matter of style, it is more about really understanding people and meeting them at the point of their needs. Worldview is not a matter of what a person thinks, as much as how one thinks. If we hope to really reach people, we need to understand how they think and build bridges of understanding as we reach out (like missionaries do) to them with the gospel.

I have two thoughts about the so-called contemporary church. First, I never believe the hype that their tactics are making them relevant to people. So many churches that are supposedly innovative and relevant are no more connected to the communities they are supposed to serve than the most inwardly focused (and dying) traditional church. They seem to be growing from the outside because of transfer growth (of younger people) from other churches, but they really lack true contextualization and are not reaching very many people who have not been reached before.

“Contemporary” Doesn’t Reach Everyone

For some, the more “relevant” they try to become, the less relevant they really are, because they are pursuing a hypothetical people group that doesn’t really live in their community or they are going after a segment that is so small, eventually they will reach a saturation point if they don’t change or expand their targets. They are not going after a real target audience.

The problem with a lot of the church outreach I see that is passed off as “relevant” and “innovative” is that it is targeted at the fastest shrinking segments of the population (Namely, Anglo young adult populations. They are not growing!). I know one church that left a multi-cultural neighborhood because they wanted to plant a “relevant multi-racial’ church in the suburbs where a majority of the people are white. What they really wanted was to plant, in my opinion, was a knock-off church modeled after a church on the West coast. They missed the opportunity to really reach an unreached people. Now there is no gospel witness in the community they left and the church property they used to own has been turned into a parking lot for a fried chicken joint.

Secondly, I don’t think the “contemporary” church is doing enough to really reach the world. Please, don’t merely use the marketing research and strategy of Starbucks when planning outreach, they don’t reach everyone. We need missionaries who will go to all kinds of people. Many contemporary churches are going after the younger generations to the point that they have alienated older people and people who are not into the rock-and-roll Christian scene. BTW: if everyone liked the same music, we’d have only one radio station just like the ”relevant emerging” church has one kind of worship “experience”.

There are many groups that are not being reached, merely because ministry leaders are not thinking like missionaries. Instead, pastors and church planters are projecting their preferences in church outreach and end up reaching a segment of bored evangelicals who want their church to have the feel of a concert/coffee shop. They reach bored evangelicals because they are bored evangelicals themselves!

Consider the stats Kent Shaffer talks about on his blog. Ethnic churches have far more potential for growth than Anglo populations. Also, in my own state, the number one least reached segment of the population are the blue collar Baby Boomers, not the young and hip 20-somethings as many assume.

In the Year 2020

I can give you a peek into the future of the church in the traditional Bible-belt—the next 20 years we will see more older white people and less white younger people. The future innovations of youth and young adult ministry will come from the Latino community. And even the largest and most “contemporary” of the evangelical churches we know now, will have to learn to become relevant to older people. And as strange as it may sound, I think “traditional” will be the next big fad in church, wait and see. I am not endorsing traditional, I couldn’t care less. But watch and see.

In the past I wrote about the idea that “emerging” outreach is not the ultimate solution to reaching the unchurched as it seems to be to some.  I still think that what passes as innovation often is really fluff and passing fads. If people get bored with their emerging church and come back to the traditional church, I hope they decide to pitch in and start working on reaching people of all walks and races.

So what does it mean? Certainly, you should reach out to whom you are called to reach. If you are planting a church that is “contemporary” in approach, go for it. But please understand that more ministries need to be done if the entire community is going to be reached. Why can’t an emerging church be a part of planting a traditional church where one is the best outreach option for the people in a community? Now that would be missional!


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