Main Menu

The church: imitate or innovate?

The church: imitate or innovate?

Several of my college buddies should work for Daniel Tosh. They have the uncanny ability to scour the Internet and find the most obscure and outlandish videos. Recently, one of my buddies posted a video called Bibleman. My eyes and ears could only withstand a few minutes before I determined my soul might wither away. I assume this was just one video in an entire series. Even more disheartening is the fact it was put out by a church.

Here is, yet again, a case where the church, in an attempt to imitate culture falls short. The result is that they wind up excelling in mediocrity. Granted, I'm sure that's not the goal of any church, but sadly mediocrity is what most seem to offer. My hope is that this comes across as an open dialogue in how we can better proclaim the message of Jesus instead of a bitter rant directed toward the church.

We all realize that a copy is never as good as the original. Unfortunately, we have a difficult time grasping this truth in the church. We have ceased innovating and settled for imitating.

We attempt to imitate the church models of those more successful than ours. The books their pastors are writing become best sellers, their videos go viral, and their training seminars are well attended. We do this in hopes that they will offer some formula or three easy steps that will create the same buzz in our church. Herein lies our flawed thinking. To begin with, just because a church can draw a crowd does not mean it should be emulated. Nor is it a guarantee God is at work in that church. I can think of numerous things that will draw a crowd — none of which I want to see in the local church. Secondly, the makeup of every church is different, which makes our "why reinvent the wheel" mentality ridiculous. While we may not need to reinvent it, we should at least learn to adapt it to the culture we find ourselves in. What works in one church will not necessarily work in another. There is no formula!

If it's not another church we imitate, there's the culture whose coattails we so often latch onto. We ask ourselves "What in culture draws a crowd?" Once we reach a consensus on what that is, we attempt to "redeem" it and incorporate it into our ministries. To see this, you need look no further than our marketing, our music, and our message (how about that alliteration — I didn't even do it on purpose). Countless churches employ catchy slogans and sophisticated sales pitches in hopes to draw people in the door. Once they grasp their attention, the people are bombarded with repackaged goods the culture has already offered at a far superior quality. Upon closer inspection the creativity and innovation some of our music offers is lacking. It's the same stuff we hear on the radio with different lyrics — if rock tops the charts, our tendency is to transition our worship in the same direction. And when it comes to our messages, they seem to follow what's popular in Hollywood: The Walking Dead, Desperate Households, Biggest Loser, LOST, and Twilight are not just Hollywood hits; they are sermon series being preached in the local church.

Again, I'm not bashing any of this. There isn't necessarily anything inherently wrong with these things. Truth be told, I have had my part to play in all of this. God knows I haven't done any better in being counter-cultural. But here is the bottom line: following suit with the culture (or another church) doesn't make us excellent. It makes us redundant!

For this reason, I think it's time we free ourselves from the bondage of imitation by pursuing innovation. Don't worry; I'm not suggesting we adjust our doctrine or dogma (I am however, in part, suggesting we adjust our mission from behavior modification to life transformation — which is another discussion entirely). What I am suggesting is that we innovate our current models while incorporating Biblical methods. We need the revolutionary truth we posses to reshape everything we do — from our marketing, our music, our message to our evangelism.

Following Jesus demands that we transcend culture rather than take our cues from it. Imitation runs the risk of elevating tradition and belittles the creativity and passion God placed within each of us. Through innovation, we rise above the prescribed cultural norms and best ignite the change and redemption that will inevitably reshape our world.

Courtesy of Sojouners Magazine The opinions in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the postion or policies of the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church.