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Jesus in the 21st Century

January 5, 2009

I went to Mars Hill Church in downtown Seattle for the first time last night. It was a church experience unlike any I’ve ever had. 

The setting is an old bar. You know what that feels like. It had that basement/concert venue look about it. You walk in and notice the coffee bar. It’s not like most churches though. The coffee is actually delicious, and they use real cups instead of 7 oz. styrofoam cups. Next, you hear the music being played pre-service. It’s rock music. Top 40 rock music. When’s the last time you heard that? Never! Then you turn and see the main room. The entire back wall is used as the projection screen, and it works really well. The graphics are absolutely incredible. The band is laid back and dressed casually. The pastor is wearing jeans and trendy t-shirt. He even announced that they would soon be starting a doggie day-care type thing during services because in Seattle dogs outnumber Christians. 

This is certainly a bit different than the church I attend in lovely Des Moines, Iowa. The setting is auditorium style. The worship team and pastor generally wear suits. Graphics are very good, but not so… risky [I dont really know how else to put it]. It is generally a somewhat formal affair, in the sense that you know what you’re getting. Now, I’m actually going to be an intern at this church this summer, so that is in no way meant to be a degradation. It is simply a difference in culture and demographics. 

What I noticed is that the message of Jesus doesn’t change. The presentation of Him does change though. Seattle is a city that thrives on coffee, arts, trendiness, and individuality. Mars Hill very wisely has formatted church in order to be open and attractive to the main demographic of the city. One of the church’s tag lines is that they are “theologically conservative, but culturally liberal”. The delivery of our message of reconciliation must be adapted to the culture we are in. Church in Seattle versus church in Iowa isn’t better or worse, it’s just different, because it has to be. Who are the people you are trying to reach? What do they like? What kind of music do they listen to? What are their cultural values? These questions must be asked. My Lutheran church in Iowa would not have the same kind of success it is having were it in Seattle. I guarantee it. The same goes for Mars Hill in the middle of Iowa. 

It’s incredible to me that demographics and “target audience” [that is a public relations term that I hate using in this context, but it fits so well] will change and in fact must change the presentation of Jesus. Again, I must say that the content of the message cannot be changed, for that would  be blasphemy. How does your church reach out to your culture? To your city’s way of life? 

If there are ways you think your church can better reach your population, bring that up to someone in leadership that you know. In humility, of course. But it’s worth it to have a conversations about this! 

Think about it.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. windberg permalink
    January 6, 2009 3:18 pm

    Extremely interesting. May be we should distinguish between outreach – informal, attached to the culture in which it takes place – and worship – praising God in the traditional formats of church (St Gregory or Chrysostom liturgy etc.) The whole question is still a open one to me.
    – A blessed proceeding in your theological studies!
    Fr Fred Kuttnr, Ph.D.
    http://www.windberg.wordpress.com

  2. windberg permalink
    January 6, 2009 3:22 pm

    Extremely interesting. May be we should distinguish between outreach – informal, attached to the culture in which it takes place – and worship – praising God in the traditional formats of church (St. Gregory or St. Chrysostom liturgy etc.) The whole question is still an open one to me.
    – A blessed proceeding in your theological studies!
    Fr Fred Kuttnr, Ph.D.
    http://www.windberg.wordpress.com

  3. Mom permalink
    January 26, 2009 3:27 am

    Great blog; Jeremy. Yes, as you know, I love attending Mars Hill and it is unlike other main-stream denominational churches out here (in Seattle) as well. I attend a Lutheran Church with Andy and it is pretty similar to what you’d have in the midwest. So, not only does location impact worship but also the leader of the church, the theology, etc.

    You are a wise young man Jeremy. It’ll be amazing to see how God uses you!

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