So, a friend of mine on Facebook shared a little blog that he wrote titled Hipper Handles for Churches! He also wanted to know what I thought about the trend of churches changing their names . . . and, their practices . . . in order to attract a younger, hipper crowd. To be honest . . . I had to laugh. I had to laugh because he is right . . . the church is getting out of the faith business and getting into the image business . . . Jerusalem is no longer the center of the faith, Wall Street is.
Now, I have been in the ministry for over thirty years . . . thirty-one as an ordained pastor in a denomination that was started here in the United States of America and is still hanging in there, and probably no one even knows their name . . . the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Yeah, we have had a marketing problem for quite a few years . . . the founders couldn’t agree upon a name . . . the “Christians” just wanted Christian Church, but the “Disciples” just wanted Disciples of Christ. Some wise guy decided to avoid arguments they would just call themselves the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Trust me . . . it can get confusing even after nearly 200 years of existence . . . but, we haven’t changed our name to some cooler and more relevant name . . . like .the point. But, we have jumped into the image waters with both feet.
Over thirty years of ministry I have seen a whole lot of things happen in the church in order to draw certain crowds. One of my favorite was to create a coffee bar in the narthex of the church in which people could buy their favorite coffee drinks and go to worship. Of course, the churches that did this suddenly needed to have cup holders installed . . . sort of like at your favorite sports venue. I thought they could do even better . . . rip out the pews and install recliners with cup holders . . . also throw in a remote control for each chair that when they get tired of listening to the preacher they can click away! I know of a lot of churches that have coffee bars and allow people to bring in beverages to the worship service . . . but, the question is whether we go to church for the beverages or the service. I don’t know, since I am the preacher, I don’t get a beverage . . . I have to work. Seems like discrimination to me . . . clergy abuse. If I read my statistics correctly . . . coffee in worship hasn’t increased attendance, nor has it cut down on the amount of snoring the preacher has to preach through.
Like any business, churches get caught up in the latest fads. Contemporary worship . . . electric guitars and drums in worship . . . rock and roll invading the sacred space . . . slide show or PowerPoints . . . glass pulpits . . . more entertainment than worship. Has it increased the number of people filling the pews or recliners? Nope . . . research and statistics show that there are just as many people going out the back door as there are coming in the front door.
Social media? Hmmmm . . . I am guilty of this one . . . or, I could be. Social media . . . Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and many more . . . are called the link to the people . . . millions, if not billions or trillions, are networking through social media. Every church worth its salt is involved in social media. Shoot, even my itty bitty rural congregation in Montana has a Facebook page . . . our weekly newsletter is delivered through email . . . we have embraced social media. And, it has helped us . . . we are more connected to one another; but at the same time, we have not seen an increase in our attendance. And, to be honest with you, I never intended it to be a means of increasing our attendance at church. I wanted it to be a means of connecting with those who are already attending and giving people resources that they could choose to share with others. Our subscription rate for the Facebook page has increased, but our worship attendance has remained the same. Social media is only good if you understand what you are using it for . . . increase worship attendance . . . draw in a younger crowd . . . I doubt it.
There are a lot of other faddish things that the church has jumped into, including changing its name to attract people. It doesn’t work. Changing the name of a rose to dandelion does not change the fact that it is still a rose . . . it just has a different name. Its shape and context and content is still the same. Changing its name does not change who it is . . . only changes who you are calling to the table come supper time. I remember over twenty-some years ago that a lot of the churches in the community where I was serving as a pastor started changing their names to attract a different crowd and to hide the so-called negatives associated with their denominations. The Assembly of God churches were the leaders in this name change movement. One of them changed their name to New Life Church, but they were still an Assembly of God congregation . . . did the same things they always did, but with a new name. A name change by itself does not change the church or what it does or what it represents. To be honest, I think it is lying . . . and, I think lying is one of those things that God told us not to do.
If a church is going to change its name . . . well, go for some gusto . . . show a little bling. One I think that would draw in a few people would be “Sin and Save” . . . at least there is some truth in that advertising. The problem with church advertising is that secular society has already beat them to the best . . . Nike has “just do it”, AT&T has “reach out and touch someone” and Verizon has “can you hear me now?” The congregation that my friend mentioned, .the point, is way out there in la la land. What in the world does that mean? There is not a whole bunch of theological reflection in that name . . . not a whole lot of biblical thought into it . . . did Jesus say something in the New Testament that I missed about putting the “dot” anywhere? What the hell is the “dot”?
I think that the “church” . . . yes, I used quotation marks around the word church to connote that I mean the whole church everywhere . . . is getting caught up in silliness and wasting its time. The “church” needs to get back to what the “church” should be about. “Church” should be about being a safe place where diverse people can gather and feel safe to explore who God created them to be . . . to live out their lives as God would desire them to do . . . and, to encourage everyone to be faithful to who God created them to be despite the fact that God has called everyone differently. I think that the “church” should be a place where people can come to love God and one another despite being created differently. The bottom line . . . the foundation of it all . . . is that people feel safe to be themselves. God loves us for who we are.
God loves us for who we are . . . not whether or not we have a fancy coffee bar in the narthex . . . that we have the hottest rock and roll band leading our worship service . . . that we have the hippest or coolest name in the community . . . or that our recliners are Lazy Boy and have cup holders, we can pay our tithe with a credit card swiper in the foyer, or that our remote controls actually silence the preacher. God loves us for who we are . . . not the name we use to lure others into the sanctuary.
For my friend, that is what I think. Thank you for the inspiration to rant and rave!