There is a quote often attributed to Albert Einstein that defines insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
If one is familiar with the Church in America, one might assume that Christian leaders have rejected this definition of insanity.
For far too long, Christian leaders and churches have been committed to “doing the same thing over and over” while “expecting different results.” Let’s be honest, some of the rejection of the observation attributed to Einstein would be his position as a theoretical physicist (the rejection of science and common sense is an unfortunate source of pride for many within the Church).
For years, pastors, church staff and volunteers have attended conferences and listened to podcasts that encourage finding new methods to communicate the message. I would argue that our methods really haven’t changed. We continue to do the same things, but dress them up in different clothes. Our gatherings still have music, sermons, Scripture readings, offerings, etc.
So, I wonder, do we need to stop trying to do things differently and just focus on doing different things?
The Church has been so focused on doing things differently that we really haven’t attempted to do different things. And, if we’re being honest, so much of what we refer to as “new” or “different” has already been done.
Or maybe it isn’t that we need to do different things, but we’ve had the wrong idea of what it means to do things differently?
Too often, our ideas of “doing things differently” are narrowly defined as adding a contemporary service, wearing blue jeans, calling our Bible studies by different names (“Life Group” seems to be popular), or embracing whatever the latest fade or gimmick that is being pushed by the so-called experts. Maybe those things work, but are we reaching “new” people or are we just stealing sheep? For some congregations, these minor changes to the methodology of ministry have been seen as major (even causing some churches to split).
Church experts continue to point out the rise of those who claim no religious affiliation while those claiming to be Christian declines. What that reveals to us is that all the things we’ve believed would be the answer were not the answer. While we’re dressing the message up in different clothes, we’re still losing ground.
I doubt those who are currently not interested in our churches will be drawn to our church because we have cool lights, a fog machine, beautiful stained glass, a worship leader with skinny jeans, a pastor with a robe, leaders with lots of product in their hair or our own app.
- Maybe doing things differently means narrowing down what we do in order to do it better.
- Maybe instead of trying to “be all things to all people” we could clearly define our ethos and let that guide us.
- Maybe we should spend less time focusing on Sunday morning and more time focusing on how we live out our beliefs throughout the week.
- Maybe instead of focusing on Sunday morning gatherings we should be focusing on how we are serving our community in practical and tangible ways.
- Maybe if those outside the church could actually see the church being the hands and feet of Jesus they would be drawn in…maybe not into the church, but to serve alongside us?
- Maybe people would be drawn to a church where the pastors are “real” and “authentic” rather than those who appear “polished” and present an image that they don’t really live up to.
- Maybe they are looking for fellow church goers who are willing to admit that they don’t have it all figured out, that they have doubts, that they fall short, that they yell “damn it” when they hit their thumb with a hammer or “shit” when they fall while shoveling the driveway.
- Maybe they’ve grown tired of the Christian religious show, but would be open to exploring Christianity with people who are willing to let their guard down.
- Maybe instead of investing in our buildings we should be investing in our community.
- Maybe we should focus on what really matters, especially to those we desire to reach.
Too often, what we think matters doesn’t really matter to those we desire to reach. I’ve recently been reminded that some of the issues we get so worked up about inside the walls of the Church are the source of our irrelevance to emerging generations.
In my own denomination, we have been having a conversation (which is really just a polite way of saying “argument”) for decades regarding issues of human sexuality. My own children have asked why that’s even an issue. My youngest recently said, “I don’t know why you all talk about that. Shouldn’t everyone be accepted at church?”
Every single time Franklin Graham has made a comment in the last year, I’ve found myself wanting to post something along the lines of, “Franklin Graham does not speak or me” or “Not all Christians are like Franklin Graham.” Then, I remember that most of my non-Christian friends (the ones I’m most worried will associate me with the likes of Franklin Graham or John Piper or Pat Robertson or Jim Bakker) don’t actually know or care to know who Franklin Graham is.
Now, in totally honest and open transparencey, the majority of my ideas of “doing different things” really just fall into the category of “doing things differently”. I’m so entrenched in the church world that it’s hard to separate myself from “the way we’ve always done it.”
With that, if we really want to reach those we aren’t currently reaching, we need to be having conversations with them. We don’t need to have a room full of the already saved, lifetime members deciding what we need to do to reach those beyond our walls. We need to have a room full of the “I don’t care about the Church” types informing us about what matters to them, what kind of activities they would join, where they are already serving in the community and then show up where God already is at work.
We Christians have a hard time showing up where God is already at work. Too often, we see awesome things happening in our community – but if they aren’t Christian or affiliated with our particular denomination (or our non-denominational theological perspective), we decide that we have to create our own Christianized version.
And, let’s be honest, the Christianized version is usually a cheap knock-off. Just listen to the Christian radio station or look at some Christian art websites and you’ll know what I mean. Could it be that, rather than Christian music, we need Christians in music? Could it be that rather than Christian art, we need Christian artists?
If there is a community group doing great work for justice in the community, we don’t have to start our own Christian version – we could just bring Christians to join the work being done. If there is an awesome urban farm feeding the hungry, we don’t have to start our own Christian version – we could just bring Christians to pull weeds, plant seeds, harvest and distribute the crops. If there is a great trivia night in the community, we don’t have to start our own Christian version – we could just form some Christian teams to join the fun.
So, maybe it’s difficult to determine whether or not we are “doing things differently” or “doing different things.” The bottomline is this, if we truly desire to reach those beyond our walls, we need to start thinking like those we desire to reach.