A few years ago, in a Los Angeles nightclub, we began a worship celebration designed to reach the west side of our city and the entertainment industry. That ministry grew, incorporating changes along the way to continue reaching new people.
But soon some of the original attenders began to complain that things were getting too "youthy."
"I can't handle it anymore," said one young woman. "All of this new technology is getting in the way of my worship." She was 26.
Someone once asked me, "Why do so many Baby Boomers, who were such advocates of change in the church 20 years ago, resist the changes needed to reach postmoderns?" But as the young lady from the celebration club demonstrated, even postmoderns exhibit resistance to change. Often they'll change the church to fit people "just like me," but no further.
How can we turn a church from being self-absorbed to being relevant to others?
Natives or Conquistadors?
Both modern and postmodern churches are inhabited by "natives." Natives are people comfortable within their own culture. Ministries targeted at their tastes will attract them, and as long as those ministries continue in that culture, they'll stay. The gospel according to a native says, "Welcome into our community. But don't touch the stereo."
Churches also contain "conquistadors," people who have a sense of mission to take the gospel to the world. But they insist on taking their culture with it. The gospel according to a conquistador is, "Repent and remove the jungle gym from your face. Come take a pew. When you look just enough like us, we'll think of you as one of our own."
Six years ago I piloted a celebration not in our usual sanctuary, but in a multi-purpose facility. We mobilized artists and musicians, using visual components to construct a different worship experience targeting urban gypsies.
Afterward one of our resident conquistadors said, "Why do we have to have this kind of ministry here? They should come join us"meaning in the sanctuary, subjugated to the tastes of the conquistadors.
I regularly converse with both conquistadors and natives (at Mosaic, these are mostly young people, postmoderns). They consistently struggle with Mosaic's commitment to keep reaching the next generation. "Can't it ever be about us?" they ask.
Resistance to change isn't a function of age or generation. Every generation has within it both natives and conquistadors, those who place a high value on doing church "the way we like."
But there is a third group of people, often harder to find, that have grasped a greater vision for the church. The are not consumers of church who shop for a place to meet their needs. Rather, they look for a place to serve Christ and reach others. If we can encourage our churches to catch their vision, we can all become missionaries to generation next.
Kevin came to Mosaic as a summer intern. He was assigned to a predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhood. Kevin spoke no Spanish, couldn't dance a salsa rhythm, and was conspicuously white. But Kevin had social intelligence, enthusiasm, love, and perhaps most importantly, the vision of an "immigrant."
The Immigrant Option
Immigrants are characterized by a willingness to make a personal culture shift. While conquistadores and natives know how to do things their way, immigrants adapt to their environment.
Kevin's immigration began as he launched a small group in a local residence by offering English classes. His group grew even though they often didn't understand what he said. In fact, they seemed to show up to help him teach them English. At summer's end his appreciative students threw him a large partyroasted pig and allat which he presented the gospel and witnessed a group conversion.