A mailer arrived at our house the other day asking this question in so many words: “What if church was fun and relevant?” As I looked more closely at the material and went to the website of this new church, what struck me was the completely different view of the church and its purpose. At the outset let me say that I don’t doubt the sincere desire of the folks behind this effort to reach the lost. Nor do I disagree that for many centuries, the purpose of the church has been misunderstood in different ways. Sacramentalism, which makes a market out of grace, is itself a skewed view of the body of Christ.
The material that arrived also makes the statement that “At X church we believe in having a good time.” The website didn’t elaborate all that much on this. No doctrinal statement, or any explanation of what the leadership believes about Jesus, the Bible, salvation. These are important things, and they are relevant. Indeed, it’s a false conclusion to say that if we aren’t appealing to what unbelievers feel is relevant to them, or what they perceive their needs to be, we aren’t serving them well. Few unbelievers have any sense of what is truly relevant, and this is why they need to be instructed from the Scriptures. What is transitory and belongs to our life on earth is not what is eternally relevant. What is transcendent and belongs to God is.
At this point you may think this is an ecclesiastical “You kids get off my lawn!” screed, but I ask you to think about how the New Testament presents the church and its purposes. Among them are:
- “Declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
- “Attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
- “Grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
These are Christ-centered things, with a two-fold purpose of glorifying him, and edifying us. Fun isn’t high on that list. Now, if we expand that slightly to say that it is enjoyable to gather with other Christians and hear the faithful preaching of God’s word, I agree, this is very enjoyable. But here, too, new believers don’t know this is what they need, they have to be taught it.
Growing in the knowledge of salvation and of the Lord Jesus Christ brings joy and enjoyment. Fun, as most folks describe it, doesn’t rise to this at all. Many, many people have left the Catholic Church and joined evangelical congregations, precisely because they didn’t find the church relevant. But the message most relevant to everyone is the gospel of grace, new life in Christ, and growth into his likeness. My concern is that if evangelicals market our congregations as fun, people can see through this, recognize it as a trivializing of Christianity, and move on. Evangelicalism is facing many challenges at present. Attacks from without are only part of this. Internal, self-imposed injuries are avoidable. Prioritizing fun and relevance, if it comes at the expense of the foundational gospel truths, is a meager substitute for Christian maturity.