Demographics, Church, and Relevance?
Over the last fifteen years or so there has been a new movement within the Church. The church has tried to become more relevant to society. We even have a magazine based on the subject. First, let me make it clear I’m not attacking that movement, obviously the gospel should be revealed to people in the context of their culture, environment and lifestyle. There is no question Jesus approached people where they were at. He didn’t try to “churchify” people and make them presentable for the congregation or Temple in his case before he reached out to them. But there are a few questions and troubling things I see in the “lets make Church relevant” movement.
One, it seems to me that much of this movement springs up is in churches that are in upper middle class, sometimes wealthy communities. It’s a lot easier to have an impressive multi media service with your churches own iPhone app if the tithe is bringing in hundreds of thousands not hundreds. And while I’ve argued for excellence what does it say about our “target” congregation if they have to be entertained with expensive high tech multi-media in order to reached and have their lives changed? And what does it say to the members of your community who are struggling and pull up in with a 15 year old car in a parking lot full of Lexus’s and Range Rovers?
Two, Are we in danger of Idolizing youth and good looks the same way the World does? If you look at celebrity culture one thing becomes blatantly obvious, many of our celebs never grow up. Wether married or single their lives seem to consist of partying or shopping. And their status is determined by the amount of bling they have and either where or who they show up with. Oh, as they get older they may show up at parties for causes, and their taste may change from beer to champaign but the truth is they never grow up.
In some ways I see the same in many churches, with the target audience for Music, and the Arts and even the message apparently between 25-35. Wether it’s the video displaying some young couple that looks like they just got back from and Abacrombie and Fitch modeling shoot to the music that sounds like a bad Coldplay-U2 tribute band. There are two issues with this.
First, when are we going to grow up? Wether it be simple messages that don’t require any consideration because we volunteer for the right causes or music that lacks even a shred of creativity or originality. And Second what about those who show up who 45 or 50 is in the rear view mirror? Didn’t Jesus die for them too? What if their divorced? If they aren’t able to physically participate in a marathon for food in the Sahara? Do they still have something to contribute? I’m not sure being relevant means targeting the same audience as Forever 21.
Three, How does targeting demographics effect the Gospels call to reach the whole world, Samaritans included? I use the word Samaritan included because Christ reaching out to the Samaritans is a vastly different meme from the “targeting” that many churches promote today to grow their ministries. I know I referred to age, but this transcends age to culture itself. How is it that a Evangelical Church in Birmingham MI can be 90% white while a church less than a mile and a half away in Southfield,MI with almost identical doctrinal beliefs can be 90% African American? It is said that the most segregated hour in the USA is between Eleven AM and Twelve PM on Sunday mourning.
Why are so few troubled by that and what chance does our society have for racial reconciliation when we can’t even do Church together? I realize that many white churches care about blacks and participate in all kinds of ministries towards the inner city. But we go home to our lily-white burbs and rarely do we Worship together. Now I get it that the culture is different from preaching style to music what is relevant to most African Americans isn’t relevant to most white suburbanites. But doesn’t that just mean we have to try harder?
In this one way I suspect we are less relevant than we think in a world of Prada where hip-hop owns the pop charts while we’re hipsters and One Republic fans. But perhaps that’s the biggest pitfall of all in trying to target specific demographics and being “relevant”? To quote Tower of Power, “What’s hip today may become passé”