There's a disease infecting many of our churches. I call it Cool Church Cancer.
It's a progressive disease that happens in three steps:
Step 1: A cool, new church comes to town. Or a cool, new pastor.
Step 2: Some people leave our church for the cool church.
Step 3: We respond with anger, jealousy or both.
(Note: sometimes steps two and three happen in reverse order.)
I know about this first-hand, because there are a lot of cool, new churches where I live, in Orange County, California. Cool big churches. Cool huge churches. Cool super-duper-mega-churches.
My church isn’t one of them.
Instead, every Sunday morning, thousands of church-goers drive past our front door on their way to dozens of cool churches.
That used to bother me. A lot.
As I outline in the second chapter of The Grasshopper Myth, “How Trying to Build a Big Church Nearly Killed Me – and My Church”, I tried to copy the cool churches. Then I got jealous of them. Then I got mad. Then I burned out.
Finally, I grew tired of feeling jealous, got help, started redefining success and changed my attitudes and actions.
Today, I’m a Cool Church Cancer survivor.
The first step in my cure? Recognizing that the cool church wasn't the cancer. My anger and jealousy of them were the cancer. And it was killing me and my church, not them.
Here are seven lessons I learned the hard way. I hope they can help you so you don't make the same mistakes I made.
1. Don’t Get Mad, Get Healthy
It’s so easy to get mad when people leave our church for the cool, new church.
- We get mad at the cool church. “They’re just about entertaining people, not deep teaching.”
- We get mad at the people who left our church. “They’re so shallow to chase fads and cool programs for their kids.”
- We get mad at the people in our church. “What’s wrong with them? If they'd step up, we’d be a cool church, too!”
- We get mad at ourselves. “What am I doing wrong?”
- We get mad at God. “I’m being so faithful. Why aren’t you honoring that, Lord?”
Jealousy and anger are like weeds in the garden. We need to root them out. Then we need to replace them with healthy plants. There's no bigger enemy to nasty weeds than a healthy garden.
2. Stop Viewing Other Churches as Competition
As bad as it is to see people leave our church for another church, it’s far worse to see them leaving the church entirely.
Yet, watching people leave the faith seems to bother some of us less than when they leave for the cool church. Could it be that one of the reasons they're leaving is because they're sensing those wrong priorities in us?
3. Don’t Try to Out-Cool Them
There are fewer things more pitiful than someone trying to be cool when they’re not. Or a church doing the same thing.
We had to stop trying to out-cool the cool churches to become the church Jesus wants us to be.
Some of our churches need to embrace our inner nerd.
4. Be Yourself – Only Better
One of the truly great wonders of heaven and earth is a church that knows who they are, and is doing what God has called them to do.
We don't get there by being something we're not supposed to be. Or settling for what we used to be.
So shake off those old cobwebs. Rediscover your vision and passion. And find out what that vision and passion should look like today.
Here's a hint: it won't look like it used to. Not because we're chasing the cool church. Or even trying to keep up with a changing culture. But because the God who never changes is always changing us.
5. Don’t Chase Church-Hoppers
No great church was ever built by appealing to church-hoppers. Yes, some big churches have been built that way. And some small churches have been kept small that way, too.
But great churches do something else. They find new blood.
6. Build Your Own Farm Team
Wherever you live, there are more than enough people to fill every church many times over. Even in the Bible Belt, there are always more people at home on Sunday morning than in all the churches combined.
We need to stop coveting other churches' members – even if they're our former members – and get to work on the kingdom business of recruiting and building our own farm team.
You may know it as ministry and evangelism.
7. Put Your Passion Where It Belongs
There’s nothing wrong with being a cool church. As long as it’s a natural byproduct of magnifying Jesus, not the intentional selling point.
Are there some churches that emphasize cool at the cost of depth? Of course.
There are some near me, too.
But I have no idea who they are. We're too busy being what Jesus called us to be. I can't spare any precious time or energy worrying about what the cool church is doing.
Let's get passionate about being the church. When we do that, we'll leave Cool Church Cancer out in the cold.
Copyright © 2015 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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