I’ve had these thoughts for a while now, but it was a local church’s marquee signboard that really pushed me over the edge and fueled this rant post (something I rarely write). There is a church around here with a handmade signboard they change every few months to advertise their church. I’ve never seen them have a slogan that wasn’t cheesy, but last couple have been downright tacky. A few months ago the sign used graffiti-type painting to tell us all about SWAG: Saved with Awesome Grace. Really? I mean, I hate the term “swag” anyway because it just seems like a slap in the face to the English language, but really, church, the best advert you can come up with for the Gospel message is a SWAG acronym?
But the new one they put up a week ago is far worse. It’s a word cloud of Christian-ese words and phrases with the headline: “That’s what HE said.” I kid you not. It is literally an attempt to make the Bible cool by ripping off a sexually-charged joke made popular by The Office. Leaving aside the utter tastelessness (which is difficult), the bigger problem is the idea that churches need to resort to this kind of pandering to pop culture in order to be “relevant” and “seeker-friendly.”
When did churches decide that the Gospel itself wasn’t enough to draw people to Christ? When did it become necessary to do a sermon series entitled “Extreme Makeover: Heart Edition” because it wasn’t “relate-able” to preach that “He who is in Christ is a new creation.” How did we go from “they will know you are Christians by your love” to “they’ll know you are Christians by the cheesy Christian T-shirts you wear.” When did we abandon the poetry and solemnity of “Tune my heart to sing Thy Grace” for “Yes, Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes, Lord”? Have we really become a generation of believers who feel that the best way to honor the Almighty God is wearing a Budweiser T-shirt with the slogan changed to King of Kings?
And don’t even get me started on the church “claiming” a celebrity every time one says something remotely Christian. It’s like the Christian press waits around for a famous person to say anything not derogatory about God and as soon as it happens it’s major news in every part of the American Evangelical subculture (the hoopla about Christ Pratt is an recent example of this). There are posts praising the person’s faith and warning that they will soon be “persecuted” for the “strong stance” they took on the Bible. Really, it’s all just a bunch of hype trying yet again to make the church and Christianity seem cool. It’s like Christians pat themselves on the back for having a celebrity “on our side” and think this is the ticket to making Christianity popular. As if Jesus needs a fan club of famous people to make Him important.
This push to market Christian churches with pun-filled advertising that panders to current cultural fads needs to change. It’s insulting to God and His word, it’s insulting to believers, and it’s insulting to anyone who is curious about Jesus. Do we really want to tell the world that being a follower of Christ is about “Christianizing” pop culture? Do we really feel like the eternal Word of God needs flashy packaging to do the work God intended?
Most of the people I hear defending this kind of approach blame it on the young people. Those late Gen-Xers/Millennials; they just screw everything up, don’t they? It’s proclaimed over and over that Millennials need church to be “relate-able” and “fresh.” They need to be “engaged” by sermons about current events and “energized” by popular music. You know what? That’s not what Millennials, or anyone else, needs. And while I can’t speak for everyone in my age group I do know that for a lot of us, that’s not what we want from church either. We don’t want to go to church on Sunday and get a religious version of reality TV. We don’t want church to be a place where we get trendy financial tips underlined with an out of context verse about God wanting to prosper His people. We don’t want to set aside time in our weekend to go and hear the G-rated, spiritualized version of every worldly thing we’ve been hearing about all week. And we really don’t want the pulpit to be used for political organizing and decrying the “decline of morality” in American culture.
Church is supposed to be about obeying the Biblical command to not give up meeting with other believers. It’s about making time to quiet ourselves, refocus our priorities, and participate in the seriousness and sacredness of The Lord’s Supper. It’s about being involved in a community that takes seriously the command to bear one another’s burdens, which means actively dedicating time/money/resources to help each other, not just responding to a hardship with “I’ll pray for you.” It means organizing the church body to actually go out and be the hands and feet of Jesus in our community, serving others, loving them, and helping them as Jesus did.
Please stop trying to make church a cool place for Christians to hang out once a week. Stop treating the church building like an exclusive club for like-minded people to enjoy. Stop spending church funds on tasteless marquee boards and fancy decorations. Stop treating youth group like it’s sole purpose is to entertain and overstimulate 12-year-old extroverts. And please, please, stop insisting that an important part of being a Christian is buying as much Christian merchandise as possible.
The church was never meant to be hip and cool. The narrow way is never going to be popular and the Gospel will always look like foolishness to those who choose not to believe. So let’s just stop trying to make the church something it’s not. Let’s replace the sermons full of churchy catch phrases with in-depth study of the Bible. Let’s replace feel-good, Jesus-is-my-boyfriend worship songs with anthems proclaiming God’s immeasureable love, power, and grace. Let’s stop trying so hard to make Christianity look fashionable and worldly. Let’s stop treating church like a nice, G-rated version of society focused on our own enjoyment. Instead of working so hard to Christianize pop culture, let’s spend our time and money and energy doing what Jesus commanded: loving others, serving those in our community, speaking the truth in love.