“Relevant.” Recently in church history this word has become a buzzword—mainly because the American church has lost much of its relevance in our culture. Church leaders suddenly realized what had happened and began evaluating, strategizing, and orchestrating changes in their churches. Just think back to what church was like just 10-15 years ago. A completely different experience. Whether or not every church leader agreed about how to become more relevant, there isn’t a church leader in America who hasn’t wondered how his or her church can become more “relevant.”
What does it mean to be relevant anyway? The dictionary says it means, “having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand.” Pertinent. Applicable. Germane. Material. So, does the Church have a significant bearing on social and cultural issues today? Does it have a voice or is it being ignored? Do people look to the Church as having pertinent and applicable answers to life’s questions? For a post-Christian society, the answer is more and more often “no.”
So, church leaders began seeking relevance. And they did so in different ways.
To note one example, with the emergent church movement (some call it a conversation), many churches changed the appearance and experience of a typical Sunday morning. Candles were on the stage. The lights were dimmed. The preacher wore cool glasses, jeans, and a hip, and often too tight, graphic tee. Sermons became more conversational, and the music changed.
The Church decided it needed relevancy. I would suggest church leaders believed the message (the Gospel) was still relevant, but the mode of communicating it no longer sufficed. Singing hymns, dressing up, and monological speeches seemed out of place in our society. But our first instinct was to think of surface level things: appearance, style, fashion, and entertainment even.
Many of these changes are positive. People cannot hear a message if it is not communicated in their language. So we must understand the language and culture of the audience with who we are attempting to communicate. It’s a simple idea, but it’s behind the superficial changes we have come to accept as normal.
I would argue that all these change we have just addressed have been a major factor in the reasons why we, as church-goers, have come to believe we need to find and attend a relevant church. We crave relevant churches. Or at least we have been taught that we should. Relevant churches are the hope of the world.
I completely agree. But I disagree as to what defines a relevant church.
What makes a church relevant is not candles, crazy light shows, fog machines, dialogical sermons, hipster pastors, or even great communicators. What makes a church relevant is people who are relevant.
Instead of looking for a relevant church, which sometimes just means one where we are super comfortable, we should be focusing on being people who bring heaven to earth. People who are salt and light in the world, as Jesus said. People who carry the message of the Gospel with their lives.
People who are relevant are those who care about their friends, make a difference in their community, remain committed to their local church even when the music style or communicator changes, and choose to view their workplace as an opportunity to share the love of God.
I hope and pray church leaders continue to discover the best way to communicate the Gospel, and I hope and pray that you and I will take the focus off the kind of church we want and onto becoming the kind of person who makes that church relevant.