church growth

What’s ‘best for my kids’ is ‘what’s best for the kingdom’

If we had a family with kids join us for every time a family with kids said “we’re looking for the best church for our kids,” we’d have a really vibrant community of kids (and adults) in our church. If families with kids had stayed with us every time they said “we’re looking for a church that’ll cater for our teens,” we’d have a really vibrant youth group.

And yet, while we have some faithful and committed families who are part of our church, we’re stuck in a position that so many churches of our size find themselves in — a bit like the small town where people finish school and leave for university — we don’t attract families because we don’t already have lots of families. Families create an attractional pull for other families. And we do often hear those two lines when people are investigating our church, or, when people are leaving. Which, as a parent of three primary school aged kids, can be discouraging.

I’m also sure we’re not alone in this as a church — there are lots of small to medium suburban or inner urban churches out there who feel like they have to compete with megachurch kids programs in order to attract kids and families (or, at least, make a consumer driven case that plugging your kids into a small church won’t leave them worse off).

While I do feel a certain sort of professional and emotional weight around this, and it’s true that I’d love some of those families who say they’re ‘doing what’s best for the kids’ to ‘do what’s best for the kingdom’ because modelling that sort of decision making is actually what’s best for their kids — I also think there’s a short sightedness and a consumerism underpinning some of this approach to church community that is ultimately not what is best for the kingdom of God, and thus, not what is best for our kids. And I think what is best for the kingdom of God is what is best for our kids. This is why we, as a family, are slugging it out in a church where some other families don’t join, or go elsewhere. It’s not because I have to, it’s because I genuinely think this is best (and, we love and want to keep connected to those in our community who are similarly committed).

This isn’t to say that joining our church is the best thing for the kingdom of God, all things considered it probably won’t be… unless you’re a very specific sort of person (like, you live in Brisbane, you don’t already go to a church where you’re embedded relationally, where the Gospel is taught faithfully, and you could put up with me preaching a fair whack of the time), but it is to say that people joining churches that don’t have a whizz-bang already established kids program is good for the kingdom, and joining those churches might be neutral (or worse — and, it might also be great, these churches, at least in our theological niche, often grow because they do things well). If you are looking for the church that is ‘best for your kids’ — then go with ‘what’s best for the kingdom,’ and this might (probably) also mean staying where you are, if where you are is, in your best estimation, a faithful community committed to Jesus as Lord, and to being part of God’s church.

Also, parenting is hard. All of it. Christian parenting adds a degree of difficulty. And, ultimately, I’m hoping this encourages you — parent — to make decisions under less pressure not more pressure. And I’m not about using guilt as a motivator (even if you feel guilty) — I’m suggesting, actually, that re-ordering our decision making towards the character of God’s kingdom, and limiting our choices (and the pressure that comes with them) and trusting God to work through his designs and systems is liberating, and good, and it takes the pressure off for us to ‘get things right’ and appropriately places the responsibility for the life of our children in God’s hands as we show them what it looks like to live for his kingdom, where he rules, not our own kingdom where we rule through choice.

So here’s three reasons to think differently about choosing a church family to join as a family, and three things to consider as ‘criteria’ for doing ‘what’s best for the kingdom.’

Three reasons to think differently about ‘what’s best for my kids’

We live in a world that idolises children, and champions ‘right consumer choices’ as the way to sacrifice to that idol — participating in this world, ultimately, sacrifices your kids

We’re used to making consumer decisions about our kids when it comes to things like schooling. Parents instinctively want what’s best for their kids — and no parent wants their kid to be ‘worse off’ than they were — so our instincts lead us, often, to sacrificing our own flourishing in order to elevate theirs. That feels noble, but, I suspect, for a bunch of reasons it’s misguided (so, for example, the best thing you can give your kids is your presence as a healthy and flourishing person who isn’t absent because you’re working to pay for their education).

One of the features of modern western life is that we’ve lost a sense of ‘meaning making’ coming from something supernatural and beyond us, so we assess the parenting challenge in physical ‘here and now’ terms. We’re also not, culturally, great at long term thinking or delayed gratification. And we’re obsessed with technique and technology. Because part of the ‘meaning making’ enterprise is about figuring out what is ultimate, our culture has replaced God (or supernatural things) with natural things that we think are really valuable. Often this means we’ve turned very good things like marriage and family, and specifically our kids, into the ultimate source of meaning and significance in our lives. This is a form of idolatry. We Christians are often ‘syncretists’ — we try to have our supernatural God, but also have little altars to a variety of other gods from our culture (money, sex, marriage, children), we also often bring in the liturgies, or religious practices, of our neighbours with those altars — so Christianity has become just another ‘consumer option’ for us where we can express our authentic individuality and identity by making personal choices (including the choice about what church to belong to — this really is a very new thing in the history of the church, that is both a product of various schisms in church life, mostly after the Reformation (creating lots of choices), and the invention of the car (and later, the internet), so that we don’t have to ‘stay local’ but can find a community that best reflects ‘me’ and ‘what I think already’ and can give me ‘what I want in a church.’

To participate in idolatry — rather than the kingdom — requires sacrifice (the sort you make to deliver your kids ‘their best life,’ whether educationally or in terms of what church you choose. But making church another consumer choice in the quest to give your kids their best life, if it’s part of an idolatry you’ve caught from the world, will ultimately sacrifice your kids as you teach them that the good life is found in consumer choice, and in sacrificing for your kids — rather than in serving in God’s cross-shaped kingdom.

The choice about what church to attend that is ‘best for my kids’ is an expression of lots of what is wrong with the modern world, one way to do what’s best for your kids is not to choose a church based on ‘what’s best for you’ but a church where you can best serve and contribute to the life of the kingdom of God as a family, as you become part of a community. It’s to minimise choice, or taking, and maximise service or giving. In that decision (which is also a choice, though a choice to limit your unfettered individual freedom) you are also modelling something to your kids.

The program driven ‘attractional’ kids ministry feeds that idol, and forms consumers

In the mid 20th century a bloke, Donald McGavran, returned from the mission field in India to his home country, America. He realised the America he left was no more, and that America was now a mission field to be reached by missionaries. Nothing wrong with that. McGavran’s solution was to look to the surrounding culture for tools and techniques that could be used to reach people effectively. He’s the father of the ‘church growth movement’ and the adaptation of corporate practices (and metrics) like marketing and creating programs that ‘attract’ different demographics. The catch with this model is that the forms we use actually form us; the medium is the message. So when we make kids church, or Sunday School, programs that either imitate the school classroom or The Wiggles, or some form of kids entertainment product in order to attract kids (and families) we actually produce a certain type of thinking and action, and thus form our kids into certain types of people. There are as many problems with embracing the form (and pedagogy) of the modern school room as there are with embracing the form of an entertainment program. But if you’re choosing a church because of the program it offers your kids, rather than because of the community you and your children are joining, then I think you’re not actually doing what is best for your kids, or the kingdom, but you are perpetuating a broken system that breaks people.

This isn’t to say churches shouldn’t have kids programs, or be trying to teach content to children — of course they should — but we should be careful in our choices about those programs not to be investing in unhealthy models of church. The catch for many churches is that there’s a ‘keeping up with St. Joneses’ effect that happens here, where, in order to survive (and to be seen as thriving) a church feels like it needs to invest heavily (in energy, time, and money) to build a program people will come to; and they do — because we do.

A ‘big program’ with lots of peers isn’t what produces ‘resilient disciples’

The other trap we fall into is thinking that ‘what’s best for my kids’ is having lots of peers around them (and I’m including me in this, I often despair that there aren’t more kids the age of my kids in our church family). I value my Christian peers in childhood. Having kids my age who were my friends, who I loved, was a big part of the ‘plausibility structure’ for the Gospel for me, at least inasmuch as I can accurately describe my thinking. But having parents who taught and modelled the Gospel was even more important (thanks mum and dad). And, the research suggests (and this research exists, and I’ve written about how our church is grappling with it here) that peers aren’t the best predictor for kids who become ‘resilient disciples’ as adults — and neither are programs — the best predictor is actually relationships and a commitment to formative Spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible reading, serving, and participating in church community. The best thing you can do for your kids is actually connect them to a genuine community of Christians where they are included, where they ‘walk the walk, and talk the talk’ beside others — not just other kids — but adults who are actively involved in their wider (church) family life.

Three things to look for in a church

Adults/mentors who aren’t you (parent) who will invest in and model the Gospel and wisdom to your kids for the long term

We live in a world of instant gratification, where people cut and run from things that are hard, or to choose things that look shinier. We live in a constant state of ‘present shock‘ — that’s the title of a book that describes our present moment as one where “rather than focusing on building a better future, society is primarily concerned with building a worthwhile present.” This thinking — rather than long term thinking — is part of the hunt for silver bullets around church; both for pastors and leaders, and for attendees. It’s a toxic and vicious cycle; and, in the face of this vice, we should rediscover virtue, and the long, hard, slog of character building being what’s at the centre of discipleship. The great commission to ‘make disciples’ is not a command to fire silver bullets to facilitate the instant of conversion — it’s a call to a long hard slog of life in Christian community where we teach one another the truths of the faith, and call one another to follow the example of Jesus. And this is also true for parenting, and discipling children.

Aristotle, one of the founding fathers of ‘virtue ethics’ said things (in his Nicomachean Ethics) like “I say that habit’s but a long practice, friend, And this becomes men’s nature in the end,” or Virtue, then, being of two kinds, intellectual and moral, intellectual virtue in the main owes both its birth and its growth to teaching (for which reason it requires experience and time), while moral virtue comes about as a result of habit, whence also its name (ethics) is one that is formed by a slight variation from the word ethos (habit),” and It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference.” He also said we need a community of neighbours whose virtuous actions we can observe and contemplate, and a community who will prompt us towards continuous action shaped by a commitment to the good and virtuous, or that “A certain training in virtue arises also from the company of the good.” There’s something Proverbial about all this — it sounds a lot like ‘train a child in the way they should go, and when they are older they will not depart.’ Character is destiny (as a different Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said).

Aristotle was big on formation of virtue in community — but so is the New Testament. And the best people to train our kids in Christian virtues aren’t peers; and it might not just be parents (though that’s part of parenting), it’s people who are more mature modelling the maturity caught up in the example or way of life of Jesus. The best thing you can give your kids is not a church with a good set of programs, and peers — it’s your example of deep, long term, commitment to Jesus and to his bride, the church. The next best thing is a church community you’re connected to where that example is lived out not in abstraction, but in a way that is connected with your kids and their lives, and that is presented as a good, wise, and compelling.

The book Faith For Exiles, that I dig into in the link where I outline how we’re tackling kids ministry, suggests it’s actually these relationships, in a Gospel soaked community, that produces resilient disciples; and it’s the production of resilient disciples that is what is best for the kingdom (and your kids).

Teaching and communal life shaped by the Gospel that is compelling and engaged in calling out, and deconstructing, alternative stories about ‘the good life’ and counterfeit gods

That series of Aristotle quotes had a point and a payoff beyond that last one — Aristotle made a useful distinction between ‘intellectual’ and ‘moral’ virtue — think ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’ — or ‘right information’ and ‘right action’ — and both are important, and they integrate. For Christians this looks like ‘doctrine’ and ‘life’ being aligned — which is what Paul tells Timothy maturity in the church looks like, and how he’s to be an exemplary leader in the church.

The best thing you can do for your kids is plug them in to a church community that teaches the truths of the Gospel (doctrine) in compelling ways (including ways that connect with how we work as people who process information best as stories, not just factoids, and who have bodies, and emotions, who learn from experience, in relationships, and environments shaped to reinforce beliefs and actions), and a community where this doctrine is put into practice in a compelling and inviting way that (y)our kids want to imitate. If a church isn’t teaching your kids the Gospel, but is just giving moral lessons based on characters in the Old Testament, then it is not best for them, no matter how flash the program is, or how many peers are helping them with that morality (or wisdom). Kids need to be formed by the story of Jesus, not by the law presented by a faux-Blue Wiggle, or a talking carrot. But they also need to be hearing why other religious stories — including morality tales, but also including the ‘counterfeit gospels’ they’re hearing about individual choice and freedom in the schoolyard, or on YouTube — are not good news.

Part of this is a thing Faith For Exiles suggested was important — helping kids develop their cultural engagement muscle in the face of false narratives about life, and false gods. It’s tricky to do that if, in our choices about church community, we’re buying into the kinds of idolatry outlined above. Our forms, or medium, end up undermining our message. The best medium is lives — a community of lives — plausibly living out a better story.

A community that sees kids as part of God’s family and encourages them to actively participate (and serve) as disciples of Jesus

This one is a challenge for our church as much as for any. Kids aren’t just an afterthought. Sunday School (or whatever you call it) isn’t just child minding. Kids are part of the family of God — Paul writes to them in the New Testament with the expectation that the Gospel is shaping their lives (and probably that they’re hearing all the stuff he’s had to say in his letters, not just the bits where he speaks directly to them). When he does, it’s with an expectation that they will act in accordance with the truths of the Gospel (specifically, in Ephesians, for example, it’s an instruction to obey their parents, who, presumably are teaching them the Gospel in word and deed as they ‘submit to one another’).

When Paul says this: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship,” there’s no reason to think he’s excluding kids from this formative practice — this picture of worship that is then connected to what he says in the next sentence: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1-2).

The best way to stop our kids becoming consumers — beyond not being consumers when it comes to the church we choose ‘for their sake’ is to connect to a church that will encourage them in the habit of serving Jesus as part of the body of Christ. Offering themselves as part of the body of Christ, in view of God’s mercy to us, as our ‘spiritual act of worship’. The best thing you can do for your kids is not find a church where they can be catered to with a good product, but lead them in worshipping the king who sacrificed everything for their sake and calls us to take up our cross daily and follow him.

Helping our kids do that is what’s best for them — if the Gospel is true — and what’s best for the kingdom.

20% time and “working on your church, not in it”

If you hang around in the business world for long enough – especially with small business owners who are working really hard at growing, you’ll hear the phrase “I’m wanting to work on my business, not just in it”… this realisation that growth comes through changing and improving, rather than maintaining the status quo (generally), is what drives big companies to spend big bucks on research and development.

This was the sort of mentality that drove some friends I used to do PR for in my old role to do all sorts of cool things – two guys in particular were champions on this front – my friend Allan, who ran a cafe, decided to set up quad bike tours, a gift shop, a function centre, walking tracks, a bus tour, a furniture shop, and to start selling Kopi Luwak – cat poo coffee – a decision that netted him millions of dollars worth of media coverage. He was a big fan of this maxim. The other, my friend Ross, spent time looking into grants for solar power, and found a heap of other ways to not just cut costs at home, but become greener in a way that opened up new markets for his cabins. Working with these guys was pretty exciting – because they were always coming up with new ideas. Both businesses started off as family projects. Both Allan and Ross lived on site at their businesses and could easily have been caught up in the day to day operations, the mundane stuff – and the important. But they found time to develop and change through a bit of creativity. They kind of inspire me – I learned heaps from them, lessons that I’d love to apply to ministry. I’ve spent a long time trying to figure out how I’d do that. I don’t know for sure – but I reckon there was a reason they were heaps less jaded and likely to burn out than other people I worked with.

Big technology companies have worked pretty hard to foster this sort of culture and harness the creativity of all their staff by giving workers a certain portion of their week to work on their own projects – usually with certain parameters about being related to the core business of the company. Google has 20 percent time – one day a week – and about 50% of their current range of products have been developed in that time, Apple has just introduced Blue Sky Time – encouraging certain staff to think creatively, and perhaps most famously 3M, the company behind such ubiquitous stationery as the post-it note, has been driving innovation by freeing up their staff to develop ideas since 1949.

20 percent time

But what would this look like in the church context – to “work on your church, not for it”? I’ve got no idea – for full time church workers, or for the members of the body of Christ. I think this is a “priesthood of all believers” thing – the companies that do this best let everybody in on the action, 3M has patents produced as the result of ideas from administration staff… But I reckon it’d be pretty cool to figure out.

I’ve been a student minister in a couple of different shaped churches in Brisbane, a member of a few different churches in different places, and the son of a minister of churches that grew from small to big… but I still have no idea what the average week of full time ministry should look like. I’ve only experienced four years of reality outside of a life framed by full-time ministry – my family’s, and now my own, and all I know is that full time ministry is time consuming.

I’ve got no idea what a ministry week looks like other than that it’s busy. Very busy.

It seems to be a mix of the routine, and the reactive.

If you’re the sole minister at a church, regional or otherwise, you seem to routinely prepare a talk, write a Bible study, go to a meeting, teach RE, and you reactively pastorally care for people, take funerals, and deal with whatever else pops up. That all seems to take up a fair bit of time. All your time. It’s pretty much the same in a team context – it’s impossible not to be busy in ministry. Because all of life is ministry – in one form or another.

If the principles from the business world translate, then this seems like a recipe for staying the same. We’ve been thinking about this a bit at Creek Road – a couple of us were struck by a similar thought within a day or two of each other as we read and watched some stuff about Google. We’re trying to figure out what 20 percent time might look like in our team ministry, but the principles seem applicable to any ministry – by analogy – just as they are for small one man tourism operations, and multibillion dollar technology companies.

What I’m really keen to explore is how this sort of paradigm shift in thinking about ministry and how we use our already busy schedules when we’re talking about life as a church community. How we could start a culture of 20% time, or research and development time… how we could free people up to think about, and work towards, growth.

I’m a bit blown away by how well Luther got his base of supporters involved with promoting the Reformation – just by empowering people to produce their own material and modelling how to distribute new ideas in a really fast and effective way. How do we free the human resources at our disposal up to get people coming up with new ideas and opportunities to share the gospel – rather than just doing the same old stuff, and how do we control what ideas get legs and which ones are thrown back into the pool of ideas for refining… so that we’re not doing a million things badly.

Here’s a paper I wrote for our staff retreat that is trying to figure out what time like that would look like in our context – it’ll look different based on the shape of a church, or the people involved (both in your mission field, and in your team)… but for a creative person like me, this sort of freedom to think, explore, and fail – without it interrupting the flow of a normal week, is something I find really exciting.

“20 percent time” at church: building “blue sky thinking” into the work week

Big tech companies who value, and rely, on innovation to keep growing and developing new products, and who also value, and rely on attracting staff who are passionate about the vision of their company, have adopted an interesting policy – let staff work less on their “job,” and spend a portion of their time creating something new.

The idea is typically traced back to post-it note company 3M. The stationery company came up with an idea, back in 1948, to give staff a portion of time (15% of the work week), to dream big, and use the company platform to come up with new ideas that would help grow the company’s range, and bottom line.

The company is still, years later, a stationery powerhouse – with more than 22,000 patents. They’ve got a culture of creativity – and the Post-It Note itself, which you’ll find in offices, homes, schools, and just about anywhere that pen and ink exist, was a product of the 15% time of its inventor, Art Fry. Cool name.

Other companies have taken the idea to the virtual world – where it’s cheaper to develop new products, and even to the hardware world – Hewlett-Packard, Google, and Apple all have variations of the theme. They all want staff to feel like part of the company’s vision, and have the opportunity to pursue their passions and their own personal, but work related, projects.

Google call this 20% time. They give staff one day a week to work on new tech developments. Figures get bandied around a bit about how effective this has been for the company – but the conservative estimate is that 50% of their innovation has been the result of this time. Products that heaps of us use, like gmail.

Here’s something a google staffer says about the value of the program:

“We try to encourage this type of blue-sky thinking through ‘20 per cent time’ – a full day a week during which engineers can work on whatever they want. Looking back at our launch calendar over a recent six-month period, we found that many products started life in employees’ 20 per cent time.”

Blue-sky thinking is thinking free of the restrictions of your day-to-day job and routine. It’s the kind of thinking that’s needed for change and innovation to happen – but it’s only really valuable if you’ve also got time, and resources, to try to implement the changes – without it hurting your ability to get your job done.

Apple now has a “blue sky program” where certain employees can work on a “passion project” – something they’re keen to see get off the ground, they’re giving staff a block of time, rather than a regular window, but they too are keen to give their staff some room to experiment and try new things.

Blue-sky thinking in our context

We have a growing team with a huge range of gifts at our disposal, and all sorts of people who are passionate about different things. Hopefully all these passions are related to the gospel – our “core business” or “product.”  We passionately want to reach people with the good news about Jesus. Hopefully we’re all also on board with our philosophy of ministry – which wants to see people end up as mature Christians, with servant hearts, via our two pathways.

We’ve all got particular jobs to do, we’re all busy – and while we’re certainly passionate about the work we’re doing every week – it’s possible that there are huge untapped ideas and new ways of doing things, that we’d discover if we had the freedom to dream, to experiment, to get a bit creative, and to produce new things in a bit of time each week.

Blue sky thinking is something we can do alone – given the right environment – and having the freedom and time to put some new ideas, outside your core “job description” into practice might be a great way to connect, grow, or serve – or to reach people in our city, and around the world. Having the time to do some of this is just the first step.

But what if, like Captain Planet, we combined some of our powers. Some of our Blue Sky time. And came up with new things together.

It’s also possible that we’re greater than the sum of our parts – that mixing and matching some of our gifts and resources might produce new and exciting things that help us reach more people with the Gospel.

What if the kids team spoke to the media team about a video series to post on YouTube, that didn’t really tie in to the teaching program, but was something people might share that taught kids about Jesus in a clear and fun way.

What if some of the coffee snobs on staff came up with a way to connect the coffee snobs of Brisbane with some Christians, and the gospel, in a clever way.

What if the music team sat around with the youth ministry team and came up with a dub-step, spoken-word, fusion piece that would take the Internet by storm…

What if we all tackled some projects together – coming up with a stream of content for the website in a brainstorming session, or if we all jumped into the kitchen to make a batch of freezer meals for people in our neighbourhood, or in our church community. A one hour meeting with 30 staff could become 30 man hours spent on a project that makes a real difference.

One of the Google staffers realised the potential power of harnessing the “20 percent time” of some of his colleagues – he’s got an army of Googlers – 200 of the staff in his 1,000 person office – working on his “YouTube for Good” which provides technology solutions for the fight against AIDS, for clean water in various countries, and the United Nations World Food Program.

What next?

What would our week work with if we spent a day working on projects that help our core business – reaching Brisbane, and our world, with the gospel, in line with our philosophy of ministry – helping kids, youth, and young adults to reach maturity, and moving people towards Christian maturity.

What if we spend a few hours a week “promoting” things that we’re already doing – finding new channels to get information about Jesus, and our church, out to new people? What if we spent a few hours encouraging some people by giving up some of our time to catch up to read a helpful book together? What if we put some time into developing a clever and engaging video on the modern fight against slavery that we could share around the web? What if we created some pictures or social media campaigns using different hash tags that would get some of our big ideas from the term shared by people from our church on their social networks?

That’s just scraping the top of the barrel – the great thing about Blue Sky Thinking is that we’re only limited by imagination and time.

So how might we make this time a part of the work week at church – and what would it look like?

There’s a danger in just implementing this policy, that it’ll end up in wasted time, especially if the ideas are never put in to practice or development. Here’s what an author who studied the approach said:

“Many companies have tried to emulate the 20 percent time idea but failed because they remained conservative about supporting the new ideas.”

How do we use this time to create new resources, gospel opportunities, and growth?

More reading:

Is it time to do away with “church”?

I was sitting in church this morning wondering why there wasn’t anybody new there. Wondering why it is so hard to get people who aren’t just transfers from another church out the door on a Sunday morning and into the Christian community that goes on in often uncomfortable buildings with a bunch of weird counter-cultural trappings.

I’m wondering if we need a rethink. Not so much in the mechanics of what goes on around the globe on a Sunday morning – I think there’s a pretty Biblical picture of what Christians should do when they gather that most churches are trying to emulate. I’m thinking we need to rethinking our branding.

In the broader non visual identity context, your branding can be defined as “the reaction people have in their head when they think about your product” – it’s like a word association game. And I reckon say the word “church” to most Aussies and you’ll get something like “child abuse cover up”, “money hungry”, or in more positive cases “boring” or “conservative”… I’m guessing an invite to “church” on the weekend is likely to result in a negative response from most people’s friends. And lets face it, nobody wants to invite friends to church these days anyway. Any evangelism I do is more likely to take the form of apologetics with friends who are hostile to Jesus already, or conversations when people find out I’m studying at Bible College. This might be my failing, but I’m pretty sure most people aren’t inviting their friends to church every week. And because I think like a marketer one of my first responses is to question our branding strategy. If people are thinking bad things about church, but still, according to the Gruen Transfer, thinking good things about Jesus, then perhaps we need a change in terminology. It seems like a bandaid solution – but at some point a word just becomes too tainted by negative associations to reclaim.

The whole “marketing Jesus because people still love the idea of him” idea has it problems though. See what happens when people try to make Christianity cool in this article from the Weekend Australian.

“Jesus comes with a large production crew these days. If you doubt it, simply Google churches like Planetshakers, in Melbourne, or Paradise Community Church (Adelaide), or the grand-daddy of them all, Hillsong, which now boasts a global reach to cities like London, New York and Cape Town from its base in Sydney’s Hills district. (And if you don’t know what Google is, good luck understanding this phenomenon; like most of their peers, hip young Christians frame much of their day and establish much of their identity via the internet). Lined up beside each other, it is hard to ignore the similarities between the churches’ websites. From their home pages, each promotes a funky, urban feel with sophisticated graphics, high-quality video clips, stadium-style rock and pop music, and an emphasis on connection not just through Sunday services but an array of smaller social groups and through blogs, Facebook and Twitter.

Harder still is any attempt to locate the churches’ denomination on the traditional spectrum, such as that used by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. As it turns out, all of the churches named above belong to the Assemblies of God tradition, a Pentecostal group which renamed themselves the Australian Christian Churches in 2007. But if their websites are any indication, affiliation with an overarching denomination is far less important these days than cultivating your individual church identity – or brand.”

Now, unlike the Australian I don’t think Megachurches with ridiculously good looking pastor couples, are the answer (but if you want to plant one here’s my guide).

“Another striking finding was that a majority of all denominations agreed it was “OK to pick and choose your religious beliefs”. Among those Gen Yers who do identify as Christians, this openness about specific beliefs – what some critics would call moral relativism – might go some way to explaining the new fluidity around church attendance and the related reluctance to affiliate strictly with any particular church.

In the US, this trend has been tagged the “Love Jesus, Hate Church” syndrome; a disenchantment with old-style churches that lock followers into “us-versus-them” mentalities, both internally, in the form of ancient hierarchies dividing the clergy and laity, and externally, in sometimes bloody rifts with other Christian denominations. In Australia, it manifests among Christian Gen Y-ers as an overwhelming focus on one’s personal connection with Jesus Christ, with attendance at a bricks-and-mortar church seen as only one of many means of honouring that connection. Actual denominations are seen increasingly as irrelevant – if they are recognised at all.”

There’s some truth in this last paragraph, and we’d do well to rethink how we do church in the more conservative and reformed circles I move in. But the start of that quote is problematic. What we can’t do is sell out the truth, and our exclusive claims to truth, in order to be more palatable to the masses. I’ve written previously about a problem I have with only focusing on God’s love in our marketing (the John 3:16 as theme verse thing). That was one of the problems I had with the Jesus All About Life campaign, and it’s a possible problem with any “rebrand” of the Christian message – see the recent hoo-ha about Rob Bell’s decision to sell out hell in the name of a palatable gospel (though read Arthur’s post about how it may not be a good idea to jump in and judge this before Bell’s book actually comes out)

So I reckon the language of church needs to change (and the way we do church, but that’s something I need to think about more, the Total Church model is one idea, this Messy Church concept is something I heard about during the week that also piqued my curiosity). Both of these models clearly have problems. Baby and bathwater problems. But there are some core concepts to them that are good. Ultimately we want people to meet Jesus and have their lives radically transformed. It seems to me that calling what we do “church” may increasingly become a barrier to that. So I vote we change it.

But what to call it? At QTC we’re big on the notion of “family of God” as the basis for our ecclesiology. But that sounds a little bit like a cult. I like the word “community” – but that’s because I’m currently thinking that one connecting point between the church and our culture is creating (or recreating) community for people living in an increasingly individualised society. What do you reckon? Am I barking up the wrong tree? What’s the point of staying attached to a word that etymologically comes from the Greek “House of the Lord” anyway? Gathering, or community, is more biblical.

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