The Church’s Back Door

As a pastor, I sometimes have trouble in “the ministry” because I don’t look like a pastor. There’s something in my demeanour that doesn’t scream “pastoral”. Despite being 32, people often place me at 24 and treat me younger. I blame my complete inability to grow decent facial hair. Also, my hair is kind of green right now, but that doesn’t count because it was dyed for a youth retreat last weekend. I lack a certain gravitas and probably always will. Such is my lot in life. I get some cred as a youth pastor though, and have been told that I’d fit in well leading one of those young churches… maybe a university church. I might be able to play it off in a specialized role at a mega-church. Young people would like me.

As a youth pastor, I’ve been concerned with young people. I work with them, I love them, and to some extent, I love their culture. I spend time focusing on how to relate to them, how to relate God to them, and how to get them to relate to God. As someone who’s still pretty young myself, I also have my own young person preferences and desires for worship. Sometimes that means I look at the way things are being done on Sunday morning and say “that’s not cool,” with the assumption that we need to make things cool, so that young people will come. Maybe that’s the music. Maybe it’s the volume. Maybe it’s the appearance of the stage (sorry, “platform,” I was recently crapped on by a church member for calling it a “stage.” [Also, I just said “crapped on,” which isn’t very pastoral]). Maybe it’s how the message is communicated. It’s been drilled into me, and into most of the evangelical church world, that “young people are the future of the church,” and if we don’t get them, the church is going to die. So now, many churches are doing their best to make our sanctuaries look like this:

I like that. It’s cool. It inspires me. I want to be on that stage. I want to be in that crowd. I can also pretty much guarantee that there is more green hair in that crowd than grey. This is what church looks like to this generation, and you’d better get on board, because this generation has to be reached for the Lord. We look at most of the “big” churches that show up in church media circles, and we see this as a functional model, because they’re growing. Younger people are flooding through the front doors and experiencing God in new and fresh ways.

Unfortunately, it seems that older people are quietly finding the back door.

There are times when I love watching YouTube videos of Hillsong live recordings, or Elevation Worship, or a giant event that Chris Tomlin is leading. But once I get past how awesome it looks to have so many hands raised to the sky, and so many people moved to tears by God’s grace and glory, it starts to bother me that the camera tends to linger on the same few middle aged people. Maybe it keeps returning to the one grandparent in the crowd. It pans over a thousand 20-somethings and rests on the exception to give the impression that this is for everyone – or at least everyone who can “get with what God is doing now.”

I’ve heard people (to be honest, I’ve been people) who have almost rejoiced at older people leaving the church, because it gave more freedom to do something new. We’ve embraced the immortal words of Barney Stinson: “New is ALWAYS better.” We feel the need to leave behind the old so that we can reach out to the new. It’s more important for us to reach the new than minister to the old because… because. Because new is always better. Maybe because the old are “already saved” and getting people “saved” is the end all and be all of our purpose, so once they’re “saved” we can forget about them and go save someone else. Why aren’t we worried about “saving” anyone over 50? And is anyone other than me concerned that in 20 years, we’ll be the ones shown the back door?

Yeah, I’m a young looking 32, but I’m ageing. The things that I like and the things that I liked when growing up aren’t the things that capture the imagination of the newest breed. My pop-culture references are taking work to stay relevant. Quoting Friends is met with blank stares. Some of the kids I work with have never even heard of Friends! So observe, and tremble. We have our vision of what church should look like, and in the future we cool ones are going to be fighting just as hard for our archaic modes of worship as those we mock today. Culture is changing so fast that we can’t even conceive of what that’s going to look like.

In the mean-time, we’re losing the idea that church is for everyone. We’re losing the idea that the family of God and the Body of Christ includes people that don’t like what we like. Maybe we’ve already lost it… hey, I’ve been on the other side of the equation (and reacted against it) at a church that refused to make any accommodation at all for the preferences of a new generation. It’s like churches are being forced to make a decision about which generation they are going to minister to (or to be so bland and middle-of-the-road that people will just head off to one of their preference-specific congregations anyway), and so one church loses the vigour, passion, and energy of the young, and another misses out on the wisdom and experience of the old.

I’ve become more and more convinced that the root of this evil is the idea that Sunday morning is for saving people, and that the attraction of the church should be the attraction of worshipping God. We’ve come to expect Sunday morning to be the primary point of contact between people and God. We want a place that people will be drawn to with excitement. We want a place where people will want to be because what is offered there is what they want to see. We want it to say “see, God is for you.”

And God is for you. But God’s also for him. And her. And the crying infant in the back. And the toddler rolling out into the aisle to chase their Hot Wheels car. And the embarrassed mother reigning them in, who should’t be embarrassed because God loves the fact that her kid is growing up in church surrounded by people that he is for. Like the 40-something woman in the other row that’s having trouble worshipping because she secretly envies the embarrassed mother because she can have children. Or the guy in his 50s that is completely tone-deaf and can’t keep rhythm to save his life. And his mother and father who taught him to love God with his whole mind and not his voice. And the elder with the walker that can’t decide whether to turn up his hearing aid to hear the music or turn it off so he can’t.

Sunday morning is about coming together as the family of God and the body of Christ, and joining together to worship and grow. And that’s hard. It’s so much harder than breaking off into little (or large) homogeneous groups worshipping in our own superior ways. And we panic, because coming together as the whole messy old and young body probably isn’t overly attractive to the world.

Man, I’ve gone on for a while here… I’m going to wrap it up soon, I promise. I don’t want to end it on this complaint, though, I want to talk about the solution. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wanting to hear it. By now you’ve forgotten that I’ve got weird hair, and my baby-face doesn’t matter on the other side of a wall of text. TL;DR has no meaning for you. Well done.

So here’s my solution: Forget about saving people. Churches should not be in the business of saving people. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be saved at church. I’m not saying that the Gospel shouldn’t be preached. I’m saying that that’s not the primary purpose of Sunday morning. The primary purpose of Sunday morning should be to equip us to be like Jesus. You know why people flocked to Jesus? Because he was like Jesus. You know who else can be like Jesus? Us. The Bible says so. Do you think a church with a congregation full of people like Jesus would do anything but grow? Who cares what the stage looks like. Who cares what the music is or what volume it’s played at. People would come.

People would come because we would be living lives of love that reached out to the people around us rather than insulating ourselves from them. People would come because we’re living holy lives – a holiness not focused merely on preserving ourselves from corruption but instead focused on setting ourselves apart for God – living as the people God made us to be, for the purpose he made us to have. People would come because they’d want what we have. People would come because they want to be like Jesus too.

We wouldn’t have to worry about front doors or back doors on our churches, because doors wouldn’t hold us.

I know… easier said than done. I know I’m not nearly as good at doing it as I am writing it.

What do you think?

About Aaron Mark Reimer

Aaron Mark Reimer was born in 1980 on Prince Edward Island, Canada, and his parents promptly moved him west to Ontario. He is a pastor, a writer, a speaker, a musician, and a bit of a geek. Published works include The Art of Being Broken, Worshipping Through John: A Devotional For Praise Teams, and a short story about going to Jupiter with his dad that he wrote when he was seven. He has one wife (Vanessa), two sons (Dúnadan and Taliesin), and many cats. Follow him on Twitter as @IAmAnErrorMaker

Posted on June 14, 2013, in Christianity, Church, People, Ramblings and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Well done, love. Let’s keep aiming for that together.

  2. Good stuff – thanks!


  3. Well said, “hon”! 😉 God, the Gospel, & the Word of God have an irresistible appeal. It’s not about mode or style. WE can’t draw people into a relationship with God, that’s the Holy Spirit’s job! But I believe if we live a completely submitted life of worship, God will “add to our numbers daily”, “exceedingly and abundantly more than we can ask or even imagine”!

  4. Well, I had all sorts of thoughts on this kind of thing when I was a Christian. But having parted from that path, traveled down the unnecessarily and overly limiting course of atheism, and then round to a somewhat spiritual view of reality, I can say a couple things about the subject of your article:

    1) Re-contextualising church is a coercion that manipulates both ends of the spectrum: it requires that culture be infused into worship in a homogeneous way (e.g., the largest youth concentration get the most attention, therefore services are molded to fit their ‘style’). That’s one end of the spectrum.

    The other end of the spectrum is that culture is determining the message of the church. For example, adopting the lowest common denominator for communication in order to broadcast to the greatest amount of people. It’s the very same thing that newspapers and television shows do. And I think that’s an underlying reason why people somewhat instinctively shy away from ‘modern’ approaches to church: because they know it is a tactic, not a declaration. The latter is generally received much better than the former. Which brings me to…

    2) Sincerity. I’m in no way saying that you, personally, are being in any way insincere. But on the subject as a whole, and in general, sincerity, regardless of the form in which it is delivered, *always* compels people more than methodology. So what are the genuine compulsions of your church? What is the dominant cultural expression already present in your church? What is the underlying pulse of the people in your church as a whole? What do they really resonate with?

    Figure that out and then cater to it. That will keep you present with your congregation rather than looking out beyond it to a future that doesn’t yet exist. That will be the most genuine means of communicating the Christian gospel to those who desire it right now, in the present, regardless of flash, pomp, conservatism, or what have you. None of that actually matters.

    What really matters is what Christ said in John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (ESV). When it comes to ministry and reaching more and more people, the best motion is always inward, from the source (God) to the church (believers, local congregations); centripetal action. Once that happens — regardless of current cultural attractions — there is a sincerity established that can’t help but move outwards (centrifugal action), and that lines up with Christ’s eschatological declaration in John 12:32.

  5. For sure an interesting challege, which has been and will be. I write the following because you said easier said than done. I hope this is a encouragement to go further. The text below is by no means a perfect maybe just useful.

    Now what? Are you up to the challege? Is improvement part of the church culture? Is leadership part of the church culture?

    Without leadership and the desire to improve this could be the end of the discussion, yet let us say yes to the questions above.

    Let’s brainstorm.

    Start with the mentioned solutions above:
    – equip people to be like Jesus,
    – resonate with the pulse of the congregation, and
    – be sincere.

    Answer these questions:
    – What is the best way to equip people to be like Jesus? The answers to this question will be biased by many different factors. Start with what you believe to be the current image of Jesus in the congregation.

    – What is the current pulse of the congregation?

    – How is the message currently communicated?

    – What are some other questions about now?

    This now.

    Where can you see opportunities to improve?
    Communicate (with sincerity).

    Blah blah blah… 🙂

  6. I randomly stumbled upon your blog and thought I would leave a comment. I am one of those 20-something’s that used to be like that. I used to go to the big, flashing worship services that were loud and inspiring.

    I’m not anymore. As fun as it was at the time…I grew up, I guess. I became tired of only feeling inspired through loud music, and I hoped for something more transcendent. I wanted a personal relationship with Christ that demanded a quiet prayer life.

    So, I found myself in a crowd of blue-haired women. Despite the generational difference, I felt much more at home. I found peace that Christ refers to. I didn’t need to be entertained by a band, but chose to go on my own because of devotion.

    Just my thoughts. I hope that more young adults will join me. I am 28, and I love my faith.

    • Thanks for commenting, K. I got so lazy with blogging that I’d almost forgotten that this was here!

      I’m inclined to agree with the idea that a lot of what “inspires” people in many modern churches is entertainment. There’s a personal, relational faith that has atrophied among people that have been taught sideways that something artificial needs to mediate between their desires and a God experience.

      Blessings, man.

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