Why Cool Church Doesn’t Work Anymore (More on the Future Church)

cool church

Everything has its season.

And the season of the cool church is, in many ways, coming to an end.

Recently, I wrote a post that generated a lot of discussion online and offline about why charismatic churches are growing and attractional churches are past peak. You can read that post here.

To drill down further, here’s more on what’s been happening as the culture changes around us.

So flip back a few decades…There was an era when simply being a cooler, more relevant church than the church down the road helped churches reach unchurched people.

There was a day when all you had to do was improve the church you led to gain traction.

Trade in the choir for a band. Turn the chancel into a platform. Add some lights, some sound, some haze. Get some great teaching in the room. And voila, you had a growing church.

But we’re quickly moving into a season where having a cool church is like having the best choir in town: it’s wonderful for the handful of people who still listen to choral music.

Somethings changing. And hundreds of thousands of dollars in lights and great sound gear are probably not going to impact your community like they used to.

So what’s changing? Plenty.

But we're quickly moving into a season where having a cool church is like having the best choir in town: it's wonderful for the handful of people who still listen to choral music. Click To Tweet

Cool Isn’t Enough (Anymore)

You might think I’m against churches have bands, lights, and creating a great environment. Not at all. In fact,  our church and many growing churches have full production.

If you are going to gather people, gather well.

My point is not that you shouldn’t.  My point is that it’s no longer enough.

And maybe it never was.

If you are going to gather people, gather well. Click To Tweet

The mega-churches many of us watch today didn’t get to be as effective as they are simply by being cool.

If you really study how most large churches have become effective in leading people to Jesus (and yes—haters step aside—many large churches are effective in leading people into a real relationship with Jesus Christ), they have always been about more than just lights, sound and show. There’s substance. More substance than critics would ever give them credit for.

Are mega-churches universally healthy? No.

But neither are many small churches. In fact, often the dysfunction in small churches eclipses that of medium-sized or large churches.

So why would cool church be fading into the sunset?

Often the dysfunction in small churches eclipses that of medium-sized or large churches. Click To Tweet

3 Reasons Cool Church Isn’t Enough

Decades ago as cool church started to take root among very large, rapidly growing churches, many other, smaller churches and church plants followed suit.

And for a season, it ‘worked’.

Getting some awesome lights, better sound, better music, and a slightly more hip communicator grew churches.

Sure, some of the growth was transfer-growth, but a big percentage of what many churches experienced was not transfer-growth. People invited their friends and their friends came back.

So what’s changing?

But now most cities have a great selection of cool churches. Cities have dozens, and many towns have at least a few.

It’s no longer unusual to have a band in church. It’s not even that novel to have lights and great sound or to play all the cool songs.

And…in the process of all this imitation, three things happened:

1. Cutting edge keeps changing…fast

What was novel isn’t novel for long anymore.

The rise of technology and social media means that you now hold access to pretty much anything you want in your hand whenever you want to.

You used to have to hire experts or do some exploring to find cool things.  Sometimes you even had to travel. Now you just download an app, watch a video, stream a song or follow whatever trend you’re passionate about in the moment—whenever you want to. Instantly. Usually for free.

Consequently, there’s kind of a trend-fatigue or indifference happening. Trends are shorter, less interesting, and we’re all growing oh-so-bored with what’s novel.

Which means that it’s harder than ever for churches to be cutting edge because cutting edge keeps changing.

It's hard for churches to be cutting edge when the edge keeps changing. Click To Tweet

2. Indifference to church has grown 

As this helpful Barna research points out, even in the US, people are increasingly indifferent to church.  That’s certainly been true in Canada, Europe and in places like Australia and New Zealand for a while.

So a decade ago having a cool church would have given you more traction than it does today.

If people aren’t into church, it doesn’t matter how cool, hip or trendy your church is, people won’t be that interested.

You behave this way. If you’re on a health kick, you’re not going to order the burger and fries, even if they are the best in town. And if you’re not on a healthy kick, the spinach, arugula, kale salad with tuna isn’t going to capture your imagination, no matter how healthy it is.

If people aren't into church, it doesn't matter how cool, hip or trendy your church is, people won't be that interested. Click To Tweet

3. Imitation killed innovation

Of all three points, this one probably bothers me the most.

To begin with, when churches imitate each other, we rarely borrow all the best practices—we just borrow the ones that are easy to see or seem obvious.

But what’s made growing churches grow is deeper than the cool factor. Consequently, leaders who finally get what they were longing for—a cool church—are often shocked to discover they don’t deliver what they promised.

And in the process of all that imitation, something even more important is lost: innovation.

What’s needed now more than ever is church leaders willing to pioneer….to go deep into a culture that keeps changing to reach people who are increasingly resistant.

What’s needed most as we look at what’s ahead is innovation. And it’s sorely lacking among many church leaders.

Should you never imitate? No…that’s not wise either. To refuse to borrow best practices from others is arrogant and, to a large extent, futile thinking.

The point is simply this: don’t let imitation kill innovation at your church.

Irrelevance Isn’t the Answer Either

So should you run from all things cool, trendy or hip?

No.

Relevance is better than irrelevance. Relevance matters simply because it gains you permission to speak into the people and culture around you. The culture simply doesn’t listen to leaders it deems irrelevant.

The answer to the challenge of keeping up with relevance is not to return to irrelevance.

Relevant church has many critics, but to not bridge the cultural gap is even more ludicrous (in my view) than trying to bridge it and maybe failing.

To agree to be irrelevant, ineffective and bad at what you do is a terrible option.

So what do we do as we head into the future?

Relevance matters simply because it gains you permission to speak into the people and culture around you. The culture simply doesn't listen to leaders it deems irrelevant. Click To Tweet

5 Keys to Rebirth

The church can take many forms. But for all those leaders who, like me, believe in gathering people together for the sake of a larger mission, what does the future look like?

I think you stay relevant (and maybe even a bit cool—growing charismatic churches are all that), but you go beyond that. Way beyond it.

Here are 5 keys I see to a future of greater impact. In many ways, they are the new cool.

Authenticity is the new cool. The mission is the new cool. Hope is the new cool. Community is the new cool. And so is experimentation.

1.  Authenticity

Sometimes under cool is an inauthenticity. Dump that.

Authentic resonates. People are looking for what’s real, what’s true and what’s authentic.

Here’s a post on how to be an appropriately transparent leader without oversharing.

2. A Deeper Sense of Mission

The church has always been about something bigger than itself. At the centre of our mission is Christ.

A church that is focused on a larger mission will never become self-obsessed. Cool can carry with it a sense of narcissism.

You lose your narcissism when you lose yourself in a bigger mission.

And that, by the way, is something Gen Z and Millennials are longing to give their lives to.

3. Deal Hope

We leaders are dealers in hope.

And Christianity provides more hope than anything.

I’m 100% behind making messages practical, applicable and helpful. I think the Gospel is that. But it is also much more than that.

If all we have is this life, we’re to be pitied more than anyone (pretty sure the Bible says something about that).

In an age where all most people see is that which is imminent, people need to be ushered into the presence of Someone who is transcendent.

In an age where all most people see is that which is imminent, people need to be ushered into the presence of Someone who is transcendent. Click To Tweet

Christianity at its best has always been about both immanence and transcendence.

If you become a student of preaching in growing churches, you’ll soon see that hope is a constant theme in their preaching, as it should be. After all, Jesus sees our hate and meets it with love, he took death and turned it into life. If that’s not hope, I don’t know what is. And it’s exactly what our world is longing for.

Jesus sees our hate and meets it with love, he took death and turned it into life. If that's not hope, I don't know what is. And it's exactly what our world is longing for. Click To Tweet

4. Elevate Community

I’m all for lights, sound, relevance and even video walls if they help the mission.

But as my friend Reggie Joiner says, the church will never be able to out-Disney Disney.

And that’s true, we will never have the budget or resources to entertain or engage the best. But even if we did…what would be the point?

While we can’t out-Disney Disney, no one should be able to out-community the local church.

God is in the people business. He loves us. And the goal is to connect people with Christ and with each other.

As your church grows bigger, it also needs to grow smaller by connecting people relationally. I know we’ve said this for years, but it’s never been more urgent.

The church will never be able to out-Disney Disney. @reggiejoiner Click To Tweet

5. Experiment

Experimenting is the key to innovation.

And, as we’ve seen, in an age of imitation in the church, innovation has been sidelined.

Bring that back.

Do what you do now, but start experimenting on the side to see what’s really going to make the biggest impact in the future.

And while more expressive, charismatic worship and preaching seems to be connecting right now, that likely won’t be the entire future.

But that shouldn’t stop us from trying.

Leaders and churches need to keep experimenting, keep pressing on in the name of love and keep driving down new highways to find the future.

When it comes to church, authenticity, hope, mission and community are the new cool. Click To Tweet

Preach in a way that connects

art of better preaching

As much as worship and so many other touch points impact how we are the church, 76% of people say the message is a main factor in whether they attend a church. No surprise, since it’s the majority of the service.

So how do you preaching a way that connects with today’s culture WITHOUT selling out?

The Art of Better Preaching Course is a 12 session video training with a comprehensive, interactive workbook that will help you create, write, and deliver better sermons. The course contains the lessons Mark Clark (lead pastor of  Village Church, a growing mega-church in post-Christian Vancouver) and I have learned, taught, and used over decades of being professional communicators.

This is the complete course you need to start preaching better sermons, including:

  • 7 preaching myths it’s time to bust forever
  • The 5 keys to preaching sermons to unchurched people (that will keep them coming back)
  • How to discover the power in the text (and use it to drive your sermon)
  • The specific characteristics of sermons that reach people in today’s world
  • Why you need to ditch your sermon notes (and how to do it far more easily than you think.)
  • How to keep your heart and mind fresh over the long run

And far more. Plus you get an interactive workbook and some bonus resources that will help you write amazing messages week after week.

In the Art of Better Preaching, Mark and I share everything we’ve learned about communicating in a way that will help your church grow without compromising biblical integrity. We cover detailed training on everything from interacting with the biblical text to delivering a talk without using notes, to writing killer bottom lines that people will remember for years.

Don’t miss out! Check it out today and gain instant access.

What Do You Think?

What are you seeing in the church today?

It’s easy to criticize, but what can you add in terms of contribution?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

16 Comments

  1. Munny Lian on December 3, 2018 at 10:31 am

    Whenever I read anything about building the Church, I cannot help wondering about the One who said HE WOULD BUILD HIS CHURCH and verses like Psalms127:1 and all those letters to the 7 churches in Revelations 2&3 especially in Laodicea, ‘what is He doing outside knocking on the door of His Own Church?’
    Isn’t He responsible to build the Church rather than the Church leaders or members who are just the workers or the job is left to Church itself while He watches and comments?
    Is that why we have to scratch our heads hard for answers to build the Church?

  2. Lorraine on November 25, 2018 at 7:13 am

    I think this is just another article to lead church leaders astray. There’re so many of them out there. Pastors, preach God’s Word. Be more concerned about the members you presently have growing in Christ than your church building growing in number.

    • Jim on November 25, 2018 at 8:45 am

      Lorraine,
      I find your view very profound to a degree. I wonder if you would consider pondering on the individual organized religious entities that we have been taught to refer to as “churches”. I am not against Christians assembling, however, I believe the Holy Spirit is awakening many sincere seekers of God’s truth. It is the Holy Spirit that guides all to God’s truth. If humankind were able to do so then the gift of the Holy Spirit is pointless. A Pastor [shepherd] should guide seekers to the Holy Spirit. My personal view is that over the centuries since the ascension of Christ the title “Pastor” has been wrongly changed into more than God intended. Thus the competition among “churches” and as you rightly pointed out the ignoring of the new seeker. Probably why most stop seeking once they become a member. Keep seeking God’s truth. I thank God for the wisdom He ignited through your comment. God bless!

  3. Tom Calderon on November 20, 2018 at 2:48 pm

    If our mission is to reconcile unsaved people to God through Jesus Christ, the greatest obstacle to them “hearing” the good news, especially in the USA, is the tremendous public relations problem created by the identification of the Church with political forces of the nation state, instead of identifying with the kingdom of God. All our improved methods of fishing for men are dwarfed by the gross misrepresentation of Jesus that has occurred through allying the Church- his Body- with the state. This same alliance continues to link Christianity with atrocities throughout history in the minds of intelligent people around the world. Its leaven has leavened the lump. Purging it will restore the effectiveness of the gospel in our day.

    • Toni Pate on November 24, 2018 at 3:47 pm

      I would say the same thing exactly…but not as well.

  4. Sarah on November 14, 2018 at 10:02 am

    I believe the key is to put people to be able to do relationship with Christ and with others.

  5. Gerry on November 13, 2018 at 12:16 am

    Thank you for the article, Carey.
    As we have learned to allow Jesus to be the functional head of our Church (not just a figure head), He is leading us to express foundational principles that He has always worked through to build His Church. While we are very much learning how to listen to His voice and apply His basic “unsexy” principles in our context, we are seeing Him work in us and through us. The temptation to ward off is to see them as “growth engines”, which will kill their effectiveness. They seem so basic, but we realized we weren’t getting serious in deep application of what He calls the Church to do (one example of many: in humility, dealing with our sin in real repentance, living confessionally before God and others). While our gathered ministry does include lights and band (though not necessarily as well nor energetic as some), we are experiencing real-life change, and new disciples being baptized. Your thoughts have encouraged me not only to keep growing in these things, but also to experiment more than we do.
    I am interested to learn to preach more effectively than I do, especially to those who are not yet in the family of God. Thanks for offering this.
    Sincerely,
    Gerry

  6. Jim T. on November 12, 2018 at 10:59 pm

    Whether a church is cool or not cool, mega or tiny, are worldly focuses which are ego driven. It is indicative of a relationship with an organized religious entity…not an intimate, soulful, personal relationship with our Lord. I lovingly share this. I am not condemning.

  7. Jo Ann Staebler on November 12, 2018 at 3:38 pm

    I keep hoping for an article that fits the needs of my church and others like it. We’re tiny–15 worshipers is a good day, and all over 55. The area was once a rural farming community, but developments full of GenXers and millennials are going up fast. My traditional folks–no change in lifestyle except retirement–are terrified of any change that might make us more welcoming, relevant, attractive, safe, etc. to the new neighbors, for fear of losing any of the oldtimers. In my 2+ years, I’ve been gradually tweaking things to bring us into the 21st century, and while some don’t say anything, others insist that they’re all afraid to say anything. I keep saying we have to find a way to get out into the community and build relationships, not to bring in new members but to share the love of Christ, but they’re all either old and tired, or still working and without any free time. Never mind that on a professional survey last year they overwhelmingly named “sharing Christ” as the most important thing.

    • Toni Pate on November 24, 2018 at 3:52 pm

      Getting ready to email you. 🙂
      toni

  8. John on November 12, 2018 at 12:59 pm

    Few things make authenticity seem inauthentic than to say, “Authenticity is the new cool.” It makes it sound like the latest fad, when in fact authenticity is the one trait that is truly trans-generational and enduring. Without it, we might as well not bother. So, can we please appeal for it in an authentic way?

  9. Lewis Plummer on November 12, 2018 at 12:46 pm

    Interesting article….

  10. Jonathan Lowery on November 12, 2018 at 11:21 am

    Enjoyed this very much. I am not a senior pastor, but I am a worship pastor. For guys like me who have been in the ministry for 30 years and are older, it is nice to know that I don’t have to be cool, I can just be me. I needed to hear that. My heart has always been to make a difference in the lives of people and join their hearts together to worship the Lord in Spirit and Truth. I pray I can still be fresh and willing to change but keep the same heart. I want our church to become Irresistible to Christians and Unsaved alike. Love God, Love People, AMEN!

  11. M . Carol Clifton DeMott on November 12, 2018 at 11:06 am

    I go to church just when I know no one else is there. I have an autoimmune disease and I don’t like being touched by other people. We are all on top of each other kids are having colds, snotty noses and if I was not I’ll i would say how cute! The gospels are so out of touch with reslity I have s clue what the message is. The sermons are dull. Our music is great best part of church. I can’t go to communion as everyone touches the host and just wipes off the wine globlet that everyone drinks out of. So I would rather go thru the week to s mass when no one goes and it’s just relief to not be touched! They want money for everything and was the Catholic Church helping during Florence? No it was the Baptist’s and the Methodists. All I hear about Catholic Church is how they are paying millions of dollars out to keep pediphile quiet. No priests suffer. No jail time, i’m Sorry, I am not giving money for s dinners enjoyment against God. No one came from my church when last December I was marked for death after s surgery where I almost died.

    • Jo Ann Staebler on November 12, 2018 at 3:32 pm

      Dear Carol, I’m so sorry it’s so difficult for you. Have you explored other options, such as a Protestant denomination? Some don’t celebrate communion every Sunday, and when they do, they use individual cups. At my little church (Lutheran/Presbyterian) we have weekly communion with individual cups, I serve the bread after using hand sanitizer, and you can be sure people would be with you in illness. Both denominations have been helping with the aftermath of Florence–Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is known for being involved for the long haul, until things are back to normal, rather than running in with people and money, then leaving after a month (not that that strategy isn’t important and helpful, too). And we don’t have the sexual abuse problem, at least not to such magnitude (we’re not sinless, of course).

  12. Scott on November 12, 2018 at 9:58 am

    Awesome read. In today’s changing climate of church culture it is the churches who are looking outward that will grow. Thank You for the inspiration.

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