BY: BRANDON VERDERBER
Let’s face it; someone trying to be cool can be awkward. Whether it’s a jr. high kid who has never stepped foot on a basketball court wearing head to toe Nike basketball gear (me) or a college freshman suddenly taking in an interest in hipster acoustic folk music when they still have an iPod full of early 2000s pop-punk (also me), or a retirement age man wearing skinny jeans, thick glasses, and graphic splattered flannel as an attempt to stay hip with the youths (hopefully never me), someone attempting to look cool is so much less cool than someone who is comfortable with who they really are. Sadly I think the church as a whole has become a victim of faking the cool factor.
The Church as a whole has found itself in a constant battle to be cooler than other churches and ultimately, as cool as culture. This isn’t a new thing. I can remember growing up listening to music by artists who were often characterized as the “Christian” insert popular secular band name here, or better yet, I can remember listening to my favorite secular songs with new squeaky-clean Christian lyrics. Some examples include, “Story of a Squirrel” and “Smells Like Thirty-Something Spirit.” Please don’t confuse these examples with me considering these songs to have a cool factor. The point is that the Church often confuses “cultural relevance” with “mediocre coolness”.
The ancient church didn’t have to TRY to be cool. The ancient church WAS cool. I doubt they would have used those words, but go with me here. The early church created culture. Classical music, art, and architecture are full of Christian influences, but now Christianity is given its own genre in almost every medium. There is often a huge difference between simply a good film and a good Christian film. The standards are different. This attitude is everywhere in church. Church leaders often put way more effort into making sure their presentation of the gospel trendy than they do into making it truthful.
The church is losing a whole generation, not because the church isn’t cool enough, but because it isn’t real enough. Studies are showing that the stage lights (which I love), the rock concert worship sets (which I also love), and the bland inspirational “talks” in place of sermons (don’t love those so much) are losing their impact on drawing young people to church. I remember when my youth group built our first youth building. In those days putting LIVE BAND on a flyer was enough to get attendance. These days, millennials can find a rock concert and multimedia overloaded experience anywhere they want. They don’t need the church as an entertainment venue. They need it to be a church.
This is not an argument against relevance. I would hope that readers of this article desire to reach the people in their community. If your target audience wants stage lights, turn on stage lights, if your audience wants to paint while they worship then use canvas instead of carpet, if your audience wants an organ and hymns then rock a Hammond like nobody’s business, but you don’t have to compromise the gospel to be connected to your community. Millennials would rather be in a “boring” church that is authentic about its beliefs than be in a church that is good at "cool".
For me, this all comes down to one question: What do they need?
The people you serve all need something. For our church, many of the people need quality relationships, they need to learn how to live Godly lives in the midst of tough environments, and they need hope. This is why you’ll find us heavily pushing connect groups, teaching on very practical topics, and yes… playing rock concert style worship sets because that is what our congregation is refreshed by and engages God with.
The key for you will be to focus on the needs in your congregation. They don’t need you to try to be cool. They need you to care for them. My prayer for you is that you would be less focused on COOL and more focused on CARE. Less focused on TRENDS and more focused on TRUTH. Love people. Serve God well. And be yourself. The real you is a leader worth following!
Brandon Verderber is the Young Adult Pastor at Woodlake Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His mission is to help 20-somethings become part of a church family and to help them deal with the difficult transitions that happen during their college years. To learn more about Woodlake Young Adults visit woodlakeag.org/youngadults.