Until about two years ago, I never paid much attention to the messages blazoned on the backside of the car in front of me. Lately, however, it seems that bumper stickers have become the last bastion of free speech—the final frontier of public politically incorrect expression. As I was making my way home from work the other evening I saw one that got my attention. It was simple in its design: a website address in white letters on a black background. It was the name of the website that really got me thinking—
In a day where churches are competing for people’s time as much as anything else, it makes sense that churches would resort to advertising and marketing to attract new visitors. While polls and surveys still reveal a high number of professing Christians in this nation, church attendance is remarkably low. It seems as though most professing Christians either see no reason or benefit in attending their local church on a weekly or even monthly basis. This lack of connection between profession and attendance has prompted many church leaders to re-evaluate how they “do” church. The idea being that the church needs to justify its existence somehow, that it must give the many families in its communities which claim to be Christian irresistible reasons why they should be in church every Sunday. And at least one church believes that attendance is low because church is not “fun.” Apparently they believe that if they can succeed in convincing metro-Atlanta citizens that “church can be fun,” they will be combating a common belief that church isn’t fun, thereby increasing attendance at their “fun” church.
I don’t doubt that church can be boring to some people; I find it to be quite boring myself sometimes. But the fact of something being either fun or boring should not be the determining factor of whether or not to attend. Many people find their jobs boring, but this doesn’t prevent them from showing up for work each day. Six Flags may claim to be a lot of fun, but the reality is that much of the time spent there is wasted standing in long boring lines. I wonder if we could decrease attendance at Six Flags theme parks by making a bumper sticker that says “Six Flags can be boring.” This idea sounds ridiculous because it is. But it does highlight the faulty thinking that permeates a “church can be fun” marketing campaign.
The real problem with church attendance goes far beyond being simply boring or fun. It even goes far beyond the overused catch phrase of the mega-church movement: “relevant.” Where does the Bible claim that church should be fun or relevant? Or to ask the question a different way: What is the purpose of church? Is it only supposed to be a time when believers gather together each week to drop money in the plate and listen to a self-help sermon? If this is the case we could mail our checks in and watch an episode of Dr. Phil instead. The role of the local church is an important and vital one, but the modern idea of “doing” church has gotten so far away from the biblical understanding that it is no wonder that we must resort to advertising and marketing techniques to remind our local communities that we exist.
The church thus is not essentially a building or an institution, although both can be manifestations of its life. It is a covenant people who believe and apply the covenant law-word to all of life and who seek to bring men, nations, and all spheres of life under the dominion of Christ as Lord. Thus, while the church may be a building and an institution, and both can be important and needed aspects of its life, it is primarily a power and a government at work in the world.1
One of the primary driving forces of modern American culture is its focus on youth. We have not only become child-oriented in our parenting, we have also become child-oriented in our lifestyles. We are perennially looking for the next adrenaline rush, the next escape, the next weekend.
During the last half-century, mankind decided that youth was its favorite part of the poem [of life] and discarded the rest. Whereas growing old used to be considered good because it suggested the accumulation of wisdom and the approach of a rendezvous with eternity, it is now considered bad mainly because it means getting too weak and ugly to carry on as one did when eternity was the last thing on his mind.2
Is it really any surprise that the church is finding difficulty in reaching the pleasure-seeking dads and moms that populate its communities? The church’s primary message is one of responsibility and dominion, not one of escape and retreat. Thomas Aquinas correctly stated that it is “better to illuminate than merely to shine, to deliver to others contemplated truths than merely to contemplate.” The church should be in the “illumination and delivery” business, not the “fun and theme park” business. The church has work to do, but this a hard sell to a community full of adult children which have come to view their weekends as a break from the sweat and toil of the “work-week.” Maturity is in short supply these days.
What we see now with adults is all too often a continuation of infantile behavior patterns. Maturity is less and less an ideal, and more and more evaded by all too many people. In the 1970s, I wrote, in aChalcedon Report article, about the absurd and painful appearance of a woman well into her 80s in a bikini bathing suit, imitating a teen-age girl. The response was amazing. Some were highly emotional as they insisted on the “right” of a woman to act as a teenager, whatever her age. Of course, I never denied her freedom to do such a thing; I did question her lack of common sense and maturity!… Maturity is something which does not come from a television set, nor from emotional outbursts. Our growth in sanctification produces maturity, something to work for and enjoy.3
Rushdoony’s observation in the 1970s is all the more valid today. As long as the church continues to cater to the pleasure-seeker—the “fun”-seeker—we can expect the maturity level to decline. The church is the one place in the local community where maturity should be found in high doses. The church should not be teaching and preaching retreat, but advance. The kingdom warriors of the church should be displaying masculine manhood and feminine womanhood for all the world to see. Perhaps church attendance is so low because it has become “fun.” “Fun” churches have nothing to offer when the fun wears off. This country needs a good healthy dose of maturity and adulthood and the very place where it should be found is too busy becoming more adolescent and childish. Just as the first Adam was a model of immaturity, the last Adam (Jesus Christ) was the prime example of maturity. The first Adam shirked responsibility, but the last Adam faced it head-on. Jesus should be our example, not Adam. Churchattendance should not be the goal, but church faithfulness. If Christ’s Church would become less concerned with how many are not sitting in the pews and actually disciple the ones who are, the empty pews will begin to fill as a natural result. The question is: Does the modern church have enough faith to actually begin doing this?
- R.J. Rushdoony, Systematic Theology, as quoted in Christopher J. Ortiz, “Upon This Rock: Rushdoony’s Ecclesiology of the Kingdom,” Faith For All of Life (July/August 2009), 18.(↩)
- Arsenio Orteza, “Art for Youth’s Sake,” WORLD Magazine (June 20, 2009), 36.(↩)
- R.J. Rushdoony, “Maturity,” The Roots of Reconstruction (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1991), 443-444.(↩)