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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Theology of Cool

What is the place of hip/trendy/cool/fresh in the church?
Are these bad things to strive for?
Provided the adjectives apply to Biblical approaches, certainly not.

Is it a God honoring marketing approach?
I don't believe it is.

I was directed to a couple of commercials from a local church today. In each of the commercials, they present themselves as being cool, hip, much more fun than "normal church." I've met the pastor a couple of times, and I dearly love some people that attend the church. I have no doubt their desire is to reach the lost. However, I think they've made a critical error in judgement.

    Striving to be Biblical
I know, it sounds "high and mighty" when you first say this. But think about it. What other choice does the church have? If we strive to be biblical, I have an exterior standard (the Bible). I can assess successes (and failures) according to that standard. It's the same standard for all of us, despite the culture, language or era.

    Striving to be Cool
By nature, this is an interior standard. In one sense, I compare myself to the culture. I look for things I like (and others like) and then seek to emulate them, possibly even looking to improve upon them. I take that which looks attractive and try to adapt it to my setting. But to remain fresh and cool, I can't just "do it," I have to do it better than others. I try to use the most popular cultural devices to reach people with my message, gaining their attention, not by the message, but by my ability to use those devices better than others.

First, the church must compare itself with the culture. How do we compare to the latest music, shows, trends? But the hip/cool/fresh church isn't done here. If that church chooses to use its cultural relevancy as a marketing tool (let's call it what it is), it must then address a second standard. How do we compare to our brothers and sisters? You see, a church that chooses to fly under the banner of cool must do so by establishing other churches as "uncool." There message is rarely, if ever, that church in general is cool. Their message is our church is cool. Superiority is not merely implied by the cool church, it is often declared. Such statements as "better, different, fresh, new, "not like" often pepper their adds. Sentences launch with terms like "Finally," and "At last" to speak of their arrival. One is left to infer, "We should go to their church, it looks better than the other options."

But is this how we are to compete?
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore, I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.--1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.--2 Timothy 2:5
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
If we are to race against one another, I don't want to run. There's no way I'm beating Paul and he says he's running to win. However, I think we have to understand the race analogy.

Sub 5 minute mile club Suppose a group of runners are competing against the 5 minute mile standard. Each runner trains, presses and disciplines himself to reach the mark. He is aware of the rules, not wanting to be disqualified despite his strenuous efforts. Yet, as he trains with others, he may notice a runner struggling. He may make suggestions, offer aid. Even in the race, the runners may encourage, challenge, push and even support each other as they all press for the similar goal. If only one runner in eight can acheive the mark, the reward is not greater for him than if all eight acheive the mark. They press, they work, they strive, they compete. But they can labor together.

The Mile Race However, if the runners are competing against one another, there is no such support. A couple of runners may train together, but for selfish reasons. Even if all eight runners record a sub-5 minute mile, only the very first person is truly the winner. Seven runners may have run a great race, but walk away "losers." In fact, they may all remain out of shape and not train. They all may have my physique. They may walk the race, yet someone will win. The "winner" may not be excellent, he's just not as bad as the others. There is no standard but just beating the other guy.

Paul is running the race. We are running the race. But we're not competing with one another. We're pushing one another, encouraging and exhorting. Our standard isn't the guy beside us (or the church down the street). Our standard is the Word of God. When a church makes obedience to the Word its goal, that church wins and can celebrate every church that does likewise. But when the church makes cool its goal, any other church becomes competition.

They no longer run to win, they run to beat the other guy.


  • At 8:40 AM, Blogger ~d said…

    well said! i've seen one of those commercials and was very turned off by its message. my first thoughts were that such a spiritually immature church would only attract more immature people. and who would lead? where would this person take his congregation? into a pit (Matt. 15:14)?

    my second thought was, shame on you, dee. you are being rather judgemental. yet, based on what i saw in that commercial, there was nothing that looked substantial enough to draw me there.

    i am so pleased that all four of our pastors unashamedly study and preach the Word, holding themselves and all of us to the same standard - the only one that matters - perfection through Christ alone.

  • At 8:47 AM, Blogger Brad said…

    Wow. Excellent observations.

  • At 1:42 PM, Blogger BReformed said…

    Fantastic thoughts. As I read your post, I couldn't help but think that "causing a brother to stumble" carries additional significance when considered with your explanation of running the race.

  • At 10:39 PM, Blogger Looking Upward said…

    My church is not cool.

    Matter of fact, by many earthly standards it is not even in the 'cool' ball park.

    However, it is not 'my church' as in "lookingupward's" church. It is My church as in Jesus's church. Secondly, like you pointed out so well, we are in this race together. We are cheering each other on. Churches don't need ads. Dare I say that churches don't even need to market 'their wares' to others? We share the Good News of Jesus Christ with the unsaved and those of us that are saved (the church) encourage each other to continue sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with the unsaved, who then become the church...

    Church ads/commercials are simply a distraction to keep us from the unsaved.

    Keep preaching truth! Great post!

  • At 1:40 AM, Blogger David said…

    Danny - I definitely agree with your post, but I can also understand why a well meaning church might try to announce its street appeal to the unchurched. The logical implication of such marketing is, as you said, "our church is cool, their's isn't", but I don't think this is the intention (though I have not seen the ads you referred to). It is, like so much of church marketing, just a poorly thought out message. I'm wondering if it's possible in some way (if even desirable) to be culturally appealing to the unchurched without competing with our fellow believers and lowering our Scriptural integrity. Any thoughts?

  • At 9:39 AM, Blogger CornerstonePT said…

    As a pastor of a new church we face challenges in just establishing ourselves in the area. We are a group of 50-60 people who desire to reach our communities with the Gospel.

    Our church is way cool!! Saints who attend are committed to service, to the study of the Word, to the edification of one another, to the priority of sound preaching and teaching, and to building the church through conversion more than transfer.

    We aren't slick and polished, but: If an unbeliever would walk into our church (and they have), he would not be offended by our people - they are genuine and caring. He would not be offended by my attire - even though I wear a suit each week. He would not be offended by our music - even though we don't have a hot worship band that "rocks the house." He might be offended by my preaching though - not because I am uncaring in my presentation, but because the Word is divisive on its own (and possibly because we do not serve Starbucks).

    We aren't cool because of what we do. We are cool because of what we ARE.

    Our church has never been about being attractive to the unchurched. The crowds followed Christ in droves until he opened his mouth, and that sent most of them away. As a church planter, though, I read books on what the unchurhed want. We were even able to get a hold of an expensive survey of our area that told what the unchurched would want in a church. Guess what, the unchurched aren't looking for a cool band and pithy "talks" each week. If they are looking at all (which is doubtful) they are looking for answers. It is the "churched" that is fighting over music and "relevance". The lost man being drawn by the Spirit of God doesn't care about silly things. We teach him that following his conversion.

    Yet with all that said, I struggle with methods. We try and do something corporately every 4-6 weeks in the community to get our name out there. I regularly pray that these "events" do not make us lazy in building personal relationships and evangelizing the lost. And as much as I agree that we are not in competition, I felt let down when I found out that another new church down the street was launching the same day we did and we would probably be "competing" for those newcomers.

    Building a church with a commitment to being real and Biblical may mean slow numeric growth compared to slick marketing and mass appeal. As I look all around me at the overwhelming numbers of those lost and dying, it seems like we are a drop in an ocean of need. Pastors must find a way of being discontented with that reality, while being content with what God does with us as we honor and glorify him by remaining faithful.

  • At 7:09 PM, Blogger ~d said…

    oh, danny - now that i read my words again i'm surprised you didn't delete them. those "first thoughts" should have been kept to myself.

    seriously, you can rebuke me.

  • At 9:41 PM, Blogger danny2 said…


    i agree that the intention is often not to put down another church...but it is the outcome.

    i agree that the message is not well thought out either. imagine the person who lives too far away to attend the "new cool church" as it is advertised. he is left to think, "yeah, i can't go to that church...too far away. too bad, cuz all the churches around me are lame, like those depicted in the add." that's not thinking about growing the kingdom, that's narrowmindedly thinking about growing one church.

    as for culturally appealing...the whole premise of the commercial is built on the assumption that there are non believers sitting at home thinking, "i'd really go to a church and listen carefully to the message of the pastor if only that church did some top 40 songs i enjoy and let me keep wearing shorts." i just don't see it.

    if your church wears shorts, so be it (remember, i've preached in shorts at the park before...so that's not the issue). but i don't think making that a marketing move is effective, and most importantly, i don't think it is at the main point Christ wants His bride to profess.

  • At 9:55 PM, Blogger danny2 said…


    here's why i held off on the rebuke:

    a) consider it my birthday gift to you.
    b) you buttered me up with a compliment at the end
    c) i guess i hadn't read the first paragraph closely enough...wow, you did come out swinging.

    however, if i may...while spiritually immature MAY not be the proper way to define it, i must say i don't think you are too far off on one issue. if you present yourself in a commercial as a church that is fun, lighthearted, and hilarious--how do you preach about hell? how do you preach of God's wrath? how do you preach the cross?

    answer: you do it in a lighthearted, semi-comedic (if not fully comedic) way. and what would we consider of a teenager laughing and giggling at a viewing? we'd call that teenager "immature." i think a church that worriest that you continue to laugh, regardless of topic, will come accross as immature to believers and to the world.

    (of course, your other option is to not preach it at all. this in effect, produces an incomplete theology and ends in incomplete, immature listeners.)

    making an ill-advised commercial does not mean the church or pastor is immature. making a church that makes fun/hip/cool your core values i believe will inevitably lead in that direction.

    that's why you got a pass.

  • At 2:58 PM, Blogger BReformed said…

    My 16 year old think's that Looking Upward's church is cool.

    So there.


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