Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Meet the New Seeker Church; Same as the Old Seeker Church (Kinda)

Last week a colleague and I were at a local university representing Element for a college ministry fair. We got to talk to quite a few students; most were really looking for a church home, and most had already been visiting churches and college services close to the school. A couple of girls had visited a fairly well known local congregation that has fashioned itself somewhat as an emerging church. I know one isn't supposed to paint all of emerging with the same brush, that there's no one emerging church, that that's kind of the point and all that, but what these girls said about their experience sort of confirmed my own suspicions that many of these churches are just doing the seeker-driven worship thing for a new generation. The music is just more contemporary than yesterday's contemporary. But style/ambiance is the substance of the service. The medium is the message.

And then I talked to one guy who clearly looked the em-church demographic. Shaggy hair, distressed denim, country and western belt buckle worn ironically, etc. He has done some volunteering at our church before. Now he plays in the band of another local church, a Presbyterian church that is quite traditional in its worship. He said, "Yeah, man, they do that call and response thing. I actually like that kind of stuff."
By appearances, this guy belonged in the previously mentioned em-church.

What in the world are we doing?

I won't say music style doesn't matter. I think it does. I'm not a big fan of traditional worship myself (I like traditional substance with a modern style). But I don't think music is preeminent, and it certainly doesn't seem to factor in to the research on why young people are dropping out of churches like crazy.

Trevin Wax has a great post this week on the myth of "contemporary" style as twentysomething magnet. It's so good, I'm going to excerpt most of it:
I talked to a handful of 20somethings who dropped out of church for a few years and are now back and engaged. When I asked them about the worship style of our church (we’re a mix between blended and traditional), the answers were all different. Most of them indicated that they would rather we sing less and get to the preaching quicker. “That’s what we’re there for,” said one. Others mentioned how much they loved the organ. A couple mentioned that the “hymns” could be hard sometimes, but that they wanted to learn them anyway, as they felt they were important.

My generation is musically fragmented. Some of my classmembers like Country music. Others like P.O.D. and Disciple. Some are into soft rock. One loves anything Classical. The majority like folksy rock, but there’s no consensus. The Iraq war veteran in our class (tattooed and tough) has a soft spot for the Carpenters, Celtic chants, and the crooners of the 40’s and 50’s. iTunes and iPods. We are a generation of many styles.

The idea that a “contemporary” music service is going to reach my generation just makes me laugh. No one in my class is there for the music. They are all there for the relationships and the Bible teaching. Not that the music is unimportant… it’s just not central.

Even funnier is the mindset among the Boomer generation that if we were to start using the organ and singing hymns again that all the young people would leave. The Boomer generation is making the same mistake that their parents did, thinking that what attracted them to church is what will attract their kids. Sorry. It isn’t happening. Furthermore, musical style isn’t much of a factor anyway.

For some reason, I have a feeling that most churches don’t really want to invest in the 20something crowd. It’s almost become an expectation that people will drop out of church between 18 and 30 and then return when they have kids and are ready to start “real life.” Meanwhile, the 20somethings are drinking their lives away, buying into the American dream of materialism, and starting off marriages on shaky foundations.

It’s easy to update musical style and think that this is the “sacrifice” it takes to reach the younger crowd. It’s much harder to actually invest in the relationships and serious Bible teaching that are actually more effective in reaching the 20somethings.

Let’s keep hoping in the 20somethings and stop cursing them with low expectations or old-fashioned ideas. ”Contemporary” worship is so old anyway. Let’s bring this generation back to the church with what they might have missed during their childhood and youth group experience: the gospel!

Yes, please!

Go read the whole thing.


DLE said...


While it's good that these folks have seen past the gauze that is the modern worship movement, it may be just as big an error to overcompensate and run too far in the opposite direction.

Time will tell.

Jared said...

Yeah, I don't think they're doing that. The Passion movement (etc) demonstrates to me that music is still important.

But the content and the philosophy of the modern, younger worship movement makes me very optimistic. I think in general the movement itself understands its place.