You hear it said all around you these days. “We have to broaden our appeal if we are to reach our culture.” ” We have to be relevant if we are to reach our community.” Ok, so far so good. However, the devil is in the details (so to speak). How far can you go in broadening your appeal or being relevant without going too far?
I studied for and received an MBA degree several years ago. I had been studying the seeker and emergent programs for about 8 years prior. I was surprised to find that the methods used in marketing & advertising of consumer goods are the EXACT SAME ONES being used by many of the new-fangled church growth programs.
Let me count the problems with this.
1) God and His word is not a consumer good that can be judged on the basis of the presumed merit in the mind of a shopper. The church attenders assume the posture of consumers and they demand to be entertained or they will simply move on to the next supplier.
2) People cannot be influenced to ‘accept’ God or to ‘make a decision’ for God. Examples where people were manipulated into joining a church instead of being saved show that simply joining a church results in a falling away very soon afterwards. Often, the people are disillusioned and bitter for having been ‘sold a bill of goods’ by a religious system. Contrast this to people who hear God’s word and cry out to Jesus for salvation. They persevere in the faith.
3) Worldly people who are lured into a church because of world-mimicking gimmicks do not last very long in that church. Statistics tell us this fact. The reason for this is that the church is a poor substitute for the flesh-satisfying lies of the world. A flesh-lite substitute will soon be replaced by a fully flesh-satisfying vice provided by the world.
There are more items but this should suffice for this discussion.
So, when the church promotes gimmicks in order to increase their attendance, exactly whom is being fooled? I am afraid the church is the one being fooled. God builds His Church. His sovereign gift of salvation by grace through faith in His Son Jesus is the only “process” that is valid. God directs, we respond. God transforms, we conform to the image of Christ (slowly over time).
So how much cultural contextualization is too much? The amount that confuses the issue of sovereignty.
Never give people the wrong impression of who is God and who is not. Expound upon the greatness of God. Tell God’s WHOLE story. Some people’s lives will be changed. We were never called by God to sharpen His brand. He needs no spiffing up to be marketable in 2011. God is as Relevant now as when He created everything.