Where they overlap: both terms have to do with meeting people where they are, listening before we speak and using different methods for different circumstances.
Where they’re different: I explained many of the differences in my previous article, so I won't go over them in detail here, but cultural relevance tends to be broadly-focused, trend-based and concerned with what’s new. Contextual reality tends to be narrowly-focused, individual-based and concerned with what’s happening here and now, whether it’s new or not.
It’s a Small Church Thing
Here’s the most interesting – and perhaps the most [cough] relevant – part of the feedback I received. Those who loved the idea of being contextually real rather than culturally relevant were the small church pastors I predominantly write for. Those who rejected it, from what I can tell, were not coming come from that viewpoint.
And maybe that's the whole issue. In a small church, the cool aspects of cultural relevance are hard to come by – and often unnecessary. In fact, they can carry more negative baggage than positive. But understanding people's contextual reality, and living with them in it, is essential.
Many small churches will never be seen as culturally relevant because they’re in communities that aren’t considered culturally relevant. Or because they’re being intentionally counter-cultural. (Yes, even methodologically).
They’re not cool. They never will be. They’re not trying to be. But they are real.
For small church pastors like me, contextual reality (or microrelevance) matters. It's less about following cultural trends than it is about spending time with individuals, families and our communities to hear their heartbeat, share their burdens and communicate the gospel within the reality of that context.
That may not look culturally relevant in a lot of places, but it's very real within our context.
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