Know what churches need more of? Awesomeness.
All the experts say the church is dying, maybe because churches are just too lame. So congregations everywhere are scrambling around, trying to figure out how they can trick the masses into showing up. Churches try to add new contemporary services, or have big events that aren’t church, but everyone likes them, or just try to do an image makeover to look more relevant. Some attempts are really cool and original. But a lot…well, I’m not sure what we’re doing, but it isn’t expanding God’s kingdom.
Here’s what I mean.
Here’s where a lot of churches start with their attempt to grab new people – hire a totally awesome new person. If churches can just get someone that understands young people, and pop culture, and knows what on earth “Twitter” is, then obviously, we will have done enough, because it’s now that person’s job to reach young people.
I was a youth pastor for three years. I got “hired” (I use the term loosely, because there was no money involved) on the qualification that I was 20 years old, I looked reasonably mature, and my involvement would mean no one else need concern themselves with the youth. My age and awesomeness was supposed to be an asset in bringing in new kids to our youth group, as I was practically still a high schooler.
The problem was I wasn’t hired for my experience. My youth pastor experience was exactly zero. Did I deliver? Yes. I more than quadrupled the size of the youth group. I also found out that adding kids to the youth group doesn’t mean their families will show up to church, or even care about who this joker is who’s watching their kids for two hours. I learned how to be a youth pastor, but not without a lot of hard mistakes.
Teenagers are at a very delicate and critical point in their lives. It’s the time in their lives when they will make decisions that will affect their spiritual life forever. And I was not the most mature or qualified person to be caring for those kids. I was just the closest to them in age. I don’t think I should’ve been the only youth pastor, despite the fact I “succeeded.”
And I see this happen all the time. If it isn’t entrusting teens with the guy who just graduated high school himself, it’s giving a huge job to a guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing, with no support because no one else knows how to do the job either.
Pop culture fail
A church doesn’t always have to have a really cool, underqualified leader to step up their marketing game. One thing I “love” about the church (again, I use the term loosely, as there is no love actually involved in this situation) is its uncanny ability to make a parody of every single piece of pop culture. It’s like Weird Al Yankovic is on staff at a thousand different churches. Everyone still loves Weird Al, right?
Sometimes, the parody turns out brilliantly. When Vintage 21 church can take those old Jesus videos and re-dub them, the result is hilarious. I even thought those “Christian vs. Christ follower” parodies of the Mac commercials were good. But more often than not, it’s just lame. Most pop culture isn’t even worth imitating, because it’s stupid to begin with. Rule of thumb: if this phenomenon is going to look really stupid in five years, don’t imitate it.
Besides that, the phenomenon of imitating pop culture is so widespread, it deserves it’s own parody. Remember that treadmill music video by Ok Go? That was pretty sweet a few years ago. Now you can’t even find it on YouTube. It’s buried under a stack of idiotic parody videos. If you took out all the videos of people imitating someone more awesome then them, YouTube would have approximately five video clips.
Look, we all know most of us are kind of lame. But you know what’s really lame? Pretending to not be lame. When you’re in front of a karaoke machine pretending you can sing, you kind of give yourself a 100% chance of letting everyone know you can’t sing.
And of all the things a church can imitate, this is the worst. Probably the biggest blight on advertising from the last decade is the word “extreme.” A bunch of suit wearing focus groups decided that everything kids buy should be totally awesome and / or radical, and thus dubbed “extreme” (or x-treme to illustrate the fact that their product is so radical, it doesn’t even conform to proper spelling.) Everything from yogurt to music needs to give kids a swift kick in the teeth and make them question if they have the gonads to handle this new product. Kids are into skateboarding and videogames and they don’t have time for some pansy, mom-jeans-wearing yogurt. They need “hardcore” yogurt that rides a skateboard and flips off old ladies.
If that wasn’t bad enough, churches everywhere soaked this ploy up as if it was going out of style like Cosby sweaters (update: it did go out of style.) So suddenly, the plan to capture the imaginations of teens everywhere is to make Jesus “extreme.” (Bonus points since “X” is now a cool symbol for Jesus.) He’s no longer a meek and mild Savior who loves children and cuddly baby sheep. He’s a cowboy samaurai robot ninja who has an anime cartoon that will give you epilepsy, and if you don’t like it, you can go to hell.
The x-treme problem with this is first of all it’s a huge disappointment. Just like when you had your first x-treme granola bar you realized it was just a regular granola bar in jazzed up wrapping. The people who go to x-treme lengths to package Jesus hardly ever live up to their image. Probably the most x-treme things about most of these button down Christians are their potluck casseroles.
And if a church is actually good at being x-treme and they have laser lights and arcades, teenagers still have to deal with the disappointment of graduating high school, and going to “adult” church where they worship lame Jesus, who is definately not x-treme.
If you thought X-treme Jesus would be gone by now, think again. If there’s one thing the church is good at, it’s being behind the times. And while music and granola bars can stop being x-treme whenever they want, once you name a church or ministry “x-treme” you’re kind of stuck with it.
Those are just three ways I see short-sightedness in the church. Has your church done any of these? What else do churches do to look wild and crazy awesome?