There are four things that the Church is going to need to be, to do, and to take hold of in this 21st Century. It can and should shape everything that we who care about the gospel do – all the plans we make for any and every generation we are trying to reach out to in Jesus’ name, forwarding the unchanging message to our culture’s new inboxes.
This is not about how to be culturally relevant to a particular generation. I’m not convinced by the socio-babble of Gen X, Y, Z or back through the alphabet according to when they were born (sounds a bit too much like astrology to me). People are people!
We don’t need to read much more stuff written by people who’ve removed themselves from culture in order to supposedly study it. We need to know God and get to know people, to see people as Jesus sees people and deal with individuals, one life at a time.
As I meet people these days I think this is how people connect to one another; four things summed up in one word. EPIC.
I highly recommend a little book by John Eldredge with that title. It talks about all the stories that people connect with in our culture; how they link in to the true Story God is writing in HIS-story. How the church needs to recognise how we’re here to help people play their part!
I remember hearing and reading from culture vultures quoting Lyotard about how post modernism is ‘the death of meta-narrative.’ What that means for us who like our knowledge put on a lower shelf is that people generally have put aside the idea that there really can be an overarching story which gives meaning to life, so they settle instead for random short stories at best or soundbites at worst.
But the Church has a meta-narrative, a grand story which helps people know and find their place. Until they find where they are in the story they’re LOST. Like when you walk in the room and someone was telling a joke and you only hear the end.
“You can buy the dog for a tenner, it only tells lies anyway!”
It’s a great adventure, about a cosmic battle, the ultimate hero, a personal enemy, a sacrifice that wins the victory forever. It twists and turns like a twisty turny thing before the glorious final page.
I’m watching 24 at the moment. A great rambling unfolding adventure (Ricky Gervais says when people moan it’s unbelievable he shouts at them, “It’s not a documentary!). Someone does have to keep reminding of you where you’re up to or you lose the plot. (Who’s that guy again?)
People in our society have literally lost the plot (and many of them suspect the way this chapter is going there’s not a happy ending for their character).
People have lost the plot. They need something EPIC to help them find their place again. The faith the Bible offers us is a great Story, one in which each of us can play a central role.
EPIC is a very useful acronym for us to think about what you do as Church as you try to connect people back to the big Story.
Involved in wanting church to get better? When next you plan the services, plan some kind of event, in fact whatever else it is that you are doing in your church I would suggest to you that what you’re doing needs to be EPIC! (This acronym and idea from my friend futurist Len Sweet)
E. It needs to be Experiential.
This is so important because people are hungry for experiences that they have together with other people. They are trying to fill that God shaped hole with all kinds of other experiences and the world at large is trying to anaesthetise them or make them feel that they’re already satisfied, by the creation of experiences that are addictive but ultimately leave you just as empty as when you started.
P. It needs to encourage Participation.
When I start a teaching seminar these days I’ll generally get everyone to stand up and stretch together at the beginning, or get them to greet someone near them. At one recent conference I even got them to sing “You’ll never walk Alone!” (Many people sang it with far more enthusiasm than they would a worship song).
Participation matters because gone are the days when people will just sit still. When I was little we kids were made to sit in church with our fingers on our lips. The only time I remember being interested was when I got to sit behind a girl called Sharon who I fancied. The priest was up there doing some mumbo jumbo and who cared. In church if you fidgeted or were an otherwise normal kid you were glared at. No wonder I got out of there as fast as I could and didn’t come back till God brought me back in my twenties!
We need to find ways of engaging with people so that they participate together with us in the good things of God. (If you shy away from the idea of worship as an experience pull the page that has Isaiah 6 in out of your Bible.)
I it has to be Image rich
All around us people are saturated with media. We’re so used to having all kinds of images and all around us people are driven and pulled by the whole idea of images, icons and metaphors. Seth Godin’s Purple Cow should be required reading for any C21st communicator, followed closely by a fresh look at Jesus’ parables as if you’d never read them before.
Leonard Sweet wrote, “Images not words are the languages of the 21st Century”and it’s so important that we find about the stories, the metaphors that God is speaking to people through.
C is connected.
People are suffering from loneliness and false intimacy substitutes – looking for ways in which they can be connected that they can belong, even before they believe; acceptance and friendship were modelled by Jesus’ scandalous table fellowship with EVERYONE except the Pharisees who chose to disconnect and reject.
I told our church on our Vision Day at the start of the year that we aim to be a place where Nobody’s Perfect, but Everyone’s Welcome because ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE.
The church needs to be an EPIC place!
The church of Jesus Christ is in fact the only organisation that can truly give all of those four things to people in meaningful ways and if we can do it right then I really think we can just about connect with anybody and connect them into the amazing things that God is doing.