Modern. Progressive. Evangelical. Balanced: Part 2

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

In last week’s post I introduced four words that describe the identity of the church I’d like to see thrive in the 21st century: Modern. Progressive. Evangelical. Balanced. And I promised that for the next four weeks I’d unpack the ideas behind those words. So today I want to explore what it means to be “modern” in our church’s context.

When some people hear "modern" and "church" in  the same sentence, they think of worship with rock music and loud sound systems and flashing lights and smoke machines, and there are modern churches doing great work that feature all of those things. So when most people hear "modern," they hear, “not traditional,” but modern is not the enemy of tradition.

The more modern we are, the more traditional we can be. Our “modernness” allows us to maintain traditions important to us while still connecting with contemporary culture. Modern isn’t about the content of our worship or the content of our faith. It’s about removing cultural obstacles that keep people from hearing the message of Christ; it’s about removing barriers so that unchurched people can experience God in familiar cultural contexts.

Modern then isn’t about theological content or particular church practice; it’s about creating culture and atmosphere and energy that are familiar to people who are unfamiliar with Christ. I’m already familiar with church culture, but my unchurched or de-churched friends—and yours—are not. So if we want to bring Christ to them—and I hope we do—we’ll need to meet them where they are.

Here are three suggestions I think can help us get there.

A modern church “looks” up to date. It doesn’t have to be futuristic. It can even have traditional church architecture, but it does need to look familiar and comfortable to people who are immersed in present-day culture. We associate particular looks with particular eras, and despite what we might hope, when young adults say, “This reminds me of the church I used to go to with my grandmother,” it’s not a compliment.

Julie and I recently bought our first home. It was important to us that our home feel current. As we were looking at houses, we discovered that you can tell whether a home feels fresh and modern within a few seconds of walking through the door. The same is true for churches. And the people we’re trying to reach—regardless of age—want their churches to feel current and up to date just like Julie and I wanted our home to feel that way.

In short, our churches should look like they are active participants in 2015.

A modern church is less formal. It is less formal in its settings, less formal in its language, and less formal in its worship. WHY? Because the modern world is less formal.

There was a time when ladies wore dresses and men wore suits to baseball games. Today adults wear pajamas to the grocery store. But many churches continue to operate as if the world still requires jackets to be seated at dinner.

All of us have had at least one experience at a fancy restaurant or an upscale department store when we felt uncomfortable and out of place. We never want people to feel that way in our churches.

So if we want to reach the unchurched people in our neighborhoods we should make a conscious effort to be less formal in our décor, less formal in the language we use and even less formal in how our worship is structured.

In a more casual world, our formality can be an unnecessary barrier to an authentic experience of Christ.

A modern church makes technology a priority. I’ve had the same four dollars in my wallet for over a month now. I NEVER use cash. The only checks I ever write are to the church each week. Churches are the last places in America that are routinely unable to process payments and offerings electronically.

A certain level of technological sophistication is expected by those we’re trying to reach. That means our online presence should be regularly updated and consistently maintained, and it means that we should be both versatile and knowledgeable in our use of technology--for communications, for day-to-day operations, and in worship.

As quality video production tools become more widely accessible and live production standards continue to rise, churches will either make an effort to keep up or find themselves increasingly irrelevant to emerging generations.

Many of our churches have missed two whole generations of cultural evolution.

Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, is fond of saying, “If the 1950’s ever come back most of our churches will be ready.”And he's right.

Modern, of course, is not just—or even primarily—about looks. And it’s about more than technology. Modern is about attitude and interaction and connection and expectation. It’s about conveying that we’re more concerned about the next thirty years than the last thirty years. It’s about being forward thinking in how we interact with members and in what we expect from them. It’s about how we communicate messages and information knowing that every Sunday attendance is no longer the norm.

It’s about believing that God has put our churches in particular places at particular times for a particular purpose—namely to reach our neighborhoods for Jesus Christ. And it’s about doing everything in our power to do just that.  

Churches that seek to be modern will always be works in progress, constantly tweaking and changing and growing to more effectively represent the love of Christ to a world that needs it.

See you Sunday.