The American church sure isn’t the way it used to be. There are new churches popping up all over the nation that seem to be cut from a different mold.
It doesn’t just meet in the Sanctuary chapel that only holds 80 people. You don’t sit in a pew. There aren’t hymnals. There’s no organ or acolytes or choir robes. Instead, it’s in a warehouse style building big enough for 2,000 people, with industrial lighting and concrete floors and a hipster coffee shop in the corner. You sit in a stackable plastic chair. There’s a screen with the lyrics to the worship songs the band is playing. The pastor is wearing jeans and an untucked button-down.
Is it bad? No, not at all. Just different. We’re still worshipping Jesus, we’re still reading out of the same Bible you’d find in the back of the pew, and we’re still meeting on Sundays. The fundamentals are still there, even some of the same traditions, but it’s a whole new experience.
In my short 24 years of life, I’ve experienced the development of this “new age” church. I was a child coloring pictures in the blank pages in the back of the Bible and hymnal that were in the pocket of the pew in front of me. I sang songs about how Jesus loves me in children’s choir. I transitioned over to our church’s first contemporary style service. I heard all the debates about it. I watched our church shrink and I watched our church grow.
I’ve been to churches that use smoke machines and a light show to “set the mood.” I’ve been to churches that play their worship music so loud and the guitarists jump around on stage so crazy, you’d think you were at a rock concert. I’ve been to churches that meet in schools, and even one in a nursery. I’ve been to churches that have someone painting a picture during the whole service and they say “Shalom” to greet you. I’ve been to churches that preach by yelling fire and brimstone from the pulpit, and some that never say a single offensive thing.
There are also different “models” of these new churches that I’ve experienced. Two main models I have noticed: 1. For those who are already strong believers in/ followers of Christ, and 2. For those who do not know Christ. One church caters to growing up and sending out disciples of Jesus Christ, and one caters to inviting and teaching those who do not know Christ, about the Gospel.
Do you know what I learned from all these churches? More about Jesus. More about the Word of God. More about how much love I have for Christ’s church. I saw a million unique people all worshipping the same God in different ways. Imagine that: the American church representing the diversity that is America! No wonder there is not just one way to do church in our culture (However, this should be be confused with “there is not just one way be a Christian,” because there is just one way: accepting that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. This should also not be confused with interpreting or ignoring Scripture to make it support our own opinions). Sure, many of these churches were not the right place for me to learn best, but I saw saints of every make and model growing in their relationships with Christ and I worshipped our amazing God along with them. And it was beautiful.
After all these years, after all these transitions, that’s still what the church is doing. Isn’t that incredible? Of course, after all these years, the church looks VERY different than it did when it first began.
I often wonder if this was what Paul was going for when he traveled around the Mediterranean, with direction from the Holy Spirit, starting churches all over the place. Did he expect that there would be multiple churches, of many denominations, even within the same town? I wonder if he would be surprised to see the body of Christ split up the way it is. What letter would he write to the church of Cypress? How, exactly and specifically, would he rebuke and encourage and instruct?
The modern day American church is still very new. Not long ago, Christianity was the dominant religion in the States, and most people attended a church (like the one I described at the beginning) on Sunday morning. Now, however, things have changed and are continuously being reshaped. Our culture as a Nation is changing, and the church is just now beginning to try and catch up. If we’re all being honest, we’d all probably say we’re not even sure exactly what we’re doing. But God does. And He gave us His Word and His Holy Spirit as a guide. Amen and Amen!
I’m not sure what the future of the American church looks like. But I am sure that God has a plan. I am sure that we have been commissioned to tell everyone, of every tongue and nation, about Jesus, to baptize them, and teach them to be disciples of Jesus Christ through the instruction of the Scriptures. I am sure that we have been called to love the Lord God and to love one another. I am sure that we are simply servants of Christ; our hands are His hands. Our feet are His feet. Let our words be His words.
The church is full of people; it will never be perfect. We must all go back to the basics: die to yourself and live in Christ; decrease so He may increase. That is the only way the church will ever function the way it is supposed to. May the only mold the American church is ever cut from be the Word of God and His Holy Spirit, and nothing else.
Jesus, we are your bride. Thank you for loving us and leading us, though we often stray from You. Make us decrease so that You can increase. Let us bring glory to Your name and nothing else. Mighty God, be in our buildings, in our lives, and in our conversations. Guide us so that we may stay within Your perfect will. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.