The event-based approach to evangelism is constantly trying to create experiences that match those found in the world. We want our music, our oratory, and our style to be such that people attend our meetings.
But it is a mistake to pursue relevance as an end in itself or to emphasis how we are like the world around us. Our “product” will always be inferior to that offered by Hollywood, Facebook, and Nintendo. Brits spend 20 hours a week watching television, Americans 28 hours. We are entertained by multimillion-dollar movies. We undertake sophisticated role-play and action computer games. We cannot compete on entertainment.
At best this distracts us from the need to create distinctive communities that communicate a distinctive gospel, a gospel that more often than not grates with the wider culture. At worst the medium becomes the message, and the challenge of the gospel is lost among the entertainment or watered down to make it palatable to the audience. In a post-Christian context we cannot rely on church events however cool, because the majority of people will not attend church. Now we see another reason not to focus on “relevant” events. Our missional cutting edge is not events that are like the culture but a life and message that are unlike the culture.
Trying to match the world begs the question, If the church is like the world then why bother with the church? The more we become like the world, the less we have to offer. Certainly we want to avoid unnecessary offense and an off-putting experience, but what will draw people to church is always going to be what is different about us.
Difference is what we need to pursue. It is not our similarity to the world that has missionary power, but our difference. This does not mean being gratuitously different. We can certainly put people off by being culturally weird, dated, or obscure. Nevertheless, we will only attract people through gospel distinctiveness. We become relevant to our world only by being gospel centered.
We become relevant to our world only by being gospel centered.
Even if we could produce cool church events, we would create a generation of Christian consumers who look to the church to entertain them. It would only create a consumer mentality among churchgoers. Some churches would attract those who want an intellectual experience through good teaching; others would attract Christians who want an emotional experience through good corporate worship. But there would be little sense in local churches that “each member belongs to all the others” (Rom. 12:5).
People often ask us what our meetings are like in The Crowded House. We have taken to refusing to answer if we can get away with it. It misses the point of what we are trying to do. We do not propose a formula for better meetings. In fact, our meetings are very ordinary. If you visited, you would probably be disappointed.
Ordinary, Everyday Life
At the heart of our vision is not a new way of doing events but the creation of word-centered gospel communities in which people are sharing life with one another and with unbelievers, seeking to bless their neighborhoods, “gospeling” one another and sharing the good news with unbelievers. The context for this gospel-centered community and mission is not events but ordinary, everyday life.
Programs are what we create when Christians are not doing what they are supposed to do in everyday life. Because we are not pastoring one another in everyday life, we create accountability groups. Because we are not sharing the gospel in everyday life, we create guest services. Because we are not joining social groups to witness to Jesus, we create our own church social groups. Please do not misunderstand. We are not against meetings or events or programs. The regular meeting of the church around God’s Word is vital for the health of everything else. This is where God’s people are prepared for works of service. But the works of service take place in the context of everyday life.
This article was adapted from Everyday Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis.