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May 11th, 2009

by Craig Groeschel

69 comments (+ Add)

Suggestions for Today’s “Relevant” Church

When we started Life Church in 1996, we intentionally desired to be a “relevant” church. For way too long, what happened in church on Sunday seemed way too disconnected to the other 6 days and 23 hours of the week. With sincere intentions, we (and many others) deliberately sought to present God’s eternal truths with daily applications.

A decade and a half later, it is rare to find a church that isn’t making an attempt at a “contemporary” service. While I believe the shift that occurred in the 80s and 90s was appropriate and in some ways necessary, in my opinion—at many churches—the pendulum has swung too far. Another correction is necessary for many.

  • What used to be edgy is becoming distasteful.
  • What used to be cool is becoming cheesy.
  • What used to be creative is becoming gimmicky.

While the intentions of most relevant pastors (including my own) are generally to reach those who don’t know Christ, we have to ask ourselves, “How effective are our ministries really?” Just because we are “growing” numerically doesn’t mean the people coming are growing spiritually.

This week, let’s respectfully discuss some possible corrections for the “relevant church.”

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  1. May 11, 2009 at 6:44 am

    Michael Horton’s book: ‘Christless Christianity’ (White Horse Inn) addresses the same question, plus he poses a few more sobering questions. I found this book sobering.

    Our pastoral team read this book and tried to unpack his solution: change emphasis from us to Christ, strengthening believers theology via creeds, more emphasis on grace than works (namely: semi-pelagianism], emphasis on communion & water baptism & biblical preaching as the means of grace.

  2. May 11, 2009 at 7:05 am

    I agree with you Craig, and honestly it is not easy to find the balance, when we are (in Europe) still surrounded by very dull and “religious” churches. However, I believe the balance should be and could be found in the content of the message. Relevant style in delivery and deep substance in content.

  3. May 11, 2009 at 7:13 am

    “respectfully discuss” is the key phrase!!!!

    Well, last night I could not sleep and I was channel surfing and I stopped on some “christian ” TV programs.

    1st show… the lady said that when I die my New Body’s brightness will be determined by the number of my sins in this life and HOW much I love God will determine if I will be bright or hideous when I die…FLIP… 2nd show; the preacher said that ANY body piercing was from the Devil because the Devil pierced Jesus on the cross and when we pierce ourselves we are allowing the Devil to penetrate our lives….FLIP…3rd show; some guy with a bad hair piece and a keyboard singing in a cheesy mic “what a friend we have in Jesus” telling people to go to the phone and send him money….Turned the TV OFF! WOW!

  4. May 11, 2009 at 7:15 am

    Ready to open a can of worms there big guy? Go for it! :) My first foray: how do you know when we have lost our distinctiveness in “what is holy and unholy?” Pundits with all kinds of agendas will talk about music being evil, preaching that is punchless, fellowship that is shallow, etc. I am eager to hear what others have to say. Meanwhile, I will be praying for you and the attacks upon you that are sure to come. Please remember that not all feel as the “police” do.

  5. May 11, 2009 at 7:17 am

    Jenn: I knew there was a reason I didn’t watch “Christian” TV or late night channel surf. Yikes!

  6. 7Benson
    May 11, 2009 at 8:23 am

    Not sure it would ever be wise to stop asking good questions about delivery and content. We always need to be challenging our motives and asking God to make us and keep us humble.

    I think we may get into trouble when we try to be “more on the edge” or “closer to the line.” It’s like we are looking for shock value or something. Sometimes I wonder if we say things like “oooh…I heard that such-and-such-church did this… We should do that too…only when we do it…we should do this…” And I am not at all slamming the practice of sharing ideas… but in fact think that’s important. What I would be cautious of, is getting to the point where we are looking to one-up each other. It’s like being at a party and someone makes a comment that is just a little bit edgy–but it’s tasteful and funny. Then others make comments and they are getting edgier… and then the one guy makes the gross statement that just crosses the line…and then everyone says, “oh, come on…that just crossed the line.” Some churches may be in danger of becoming that guy.

    Let’s keep it to a conversation of “what is the message of Jesus Christ?” “What would God say to these people in this place at this time?” Let’s not ask ourselves how we can be edgy or shocking… but how can we deliver a message of hope to a hopelessly broken world. It’s not about us being edgy. But I do think the conversation always needs to ask, “What is relevant.”

    One more thing… (sorry this is long)… Relevant is not necessarily “cool”… If you are in the backwoods of Hillbillyville, playing U2 for your intros etc because a church in Metrosexualville did, does not make you relevant. Let’s quit trying to out-do one another and follow the lead of our missionaries who brilliantly ask the questions, “Where am I?” “What language do these people speak?” “What pitfalls related to the Gospel do these people face?” “How can I share the message of HOPE to THIS hopelessly broken world.”


  7. May 11, 2009 at 8:24 am

    Well, the concept of sacred and secular is in fact a catholic concept of separating what is in the church building and what is outside. I believe Bible is more holistic and it is very tricky to think this style is holy and this unholy. I would think sometime the piercing would be more holy than very religious sounding song :-)

  8. 9Dave
    May 11, 2009 at 9:04 am

    I think Benson hit the target. We shouldn’t be asking, “What can we do to attract people?” but rather “What can we do to glorify Christ?” We msut look at our communities and wonder “What is it that keeps them from knowing and accepting Christ, and how would Christ have us, His body, adress that specific issue?”

  9. May 11, 2009 at 9:26 am

    I agree that we need to be asking the missional questions. Once we find the answers to those questions and begin to present it to the people,it has to be done in the context of our gifts and abilities. Copying what someone else is doing is tempting. I really enjoy watching “cool” and “relevant” people do church. Sometimes I wish I was as creative or had thought of those things. But, that is not me. Jesus got invited to a lot of parties and wild social events, but He never stopped being Him. He just felt comfortable around everyone. For me, the best advice I have been given is, “when you are planting a church, keep your heart pure. The best ministry flows out of a pure heart.” I believe if we keep our heart pure and be ourselves, God will give us the key to unlock our city.

  10. May 11, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Is what I am doing at our church pointing to Jesus or is it just to be cool and attract people for the wrong reasons? That’s my filter for every worship experience. I have found myself stopping myself because I was starting the “stuff” before starting with Jesus.
    Jesus now wins out every time. :) Just like it should be.

  11. 12Wes
    May 11, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Right now I am serving in a church that was contemporary in the 60’s. I think when we define ourselves by style eventually our contemporary style will become traditional. I was recently reading Tony Morgan’s blog, and he pointed out that the contemporary music many of us sing does not reflect the music on the top of the secular charts. He deduced that contemporary Christian music has already become the new traditional music.

    My recent challenge to my church, as we wade through the questions of reaching a new generation, was to focus outside our walls, not inside. I think much of the reason most churches struggle is that we think if we can get our service right then we win the lost. The church is meant to equip. As the church equips, then believers bear fruit and win those around them (their contemporaries) to the lord.

    I think the new emphasis that has been growing on missional churches is dead on.

  12. May 11, 2009 at 9:49 am

    Craig, you sure know how to get a guy fired up in the morning. I’m impressed at how respectful the discussion has been to this point.

    If we are discussing potential corrections for the “relevant” church here would be a few (keep in find I pastor a “relevant” church)

    1. Keep the focus on Jesus. Stop using nebulous terms like God and actually talk about Jesus. We altered our mission statement last year to reflect our emphasis on connecting people to Jesus, not just God.

    2. Think critically when using culture as a bridge to the message of Jesus. Are we trying to be cool, hip, or edgy just for the sake of being “relevant”? Or are we creating a bridge between peoples’ existing worldview and the message of Christ?

    3. Ask ourselves the tough question who do we celebrate more? Our creativity, our band, our video guys…or our Savior.

    4. Recognize that they may be a need to apologize for our tendency to emphasize relevancy over the person of Jesus.

    Thanks for provoking some much needed thinking!

  13. 14Carrie
    May 11, 2009 at 9:52 am

    Hmmm…I think we misuse the word “relevant”. Relevant isn’t a style or the way your building looks. It’s how you are reaching the culture God has placed you in. What works in the deep south, may not work in the northeast. That being said, I think you need to reach your culture by allowing people to take God’s word and apply it to their everyday lives. People don’t need some corny punch line or gimmick to do that. I think our society is waking up and realzing that we have REAL problems and people want REAL answers. Now that doesn’t mean our message can’t have humor in it, cause I’m all about humor in a sermon (believe me :)), but the humor doesn’t have to cross the line to be “hip”. And on a side note…pastors…I love ya…but stop dressing like a teenage boy. If you are past the age of 25…don’t shop at Hollister :) Shop at the big boy stores :) Express for men is YOUR store (it’s great for any age). It’s hip, it’s trendy, and you too can look like a grown man :) (Ya’ll know I’m just playing with ya, right?)

  14. 15Philip
    May 11, 2009 at 9:59 am

    I’m on staff at a fast-growing mega-church. My dream job. But, my question over the past few years has been, “Are we growing a big church at the expense of the mission Christ has given us?” I’m still wrestling with it.

    The church’s best opportunity for relevancy is outside the church facility. We’ve all been teaching it for years but we’ve created an environment that says “come to ‘God’s house’ for worship, find community in a small group, and since you don’t know how to share the gospel, just bring your lost friends to church and we’ll explain it to them.”

    Our concern should be more about releasing the church into the community than building a crowd at our facility. Again, we teach it but we’re building, staffing, programming, leading, and budgeting with growing a big church as our primary concern.

    We didn’t think it would end up this way. We’ve done it with pure motives. We didn’t get in the game to get rich or find fame. We did it because we wanted to see God glorified, lost people come to Christ, and believers find their role in the mission. But, for the most part, we are coming up short.

    I don’t think that there is a “one size fits all” solution. Whatever God calls each of us to do we have to do it and model it for others.

    God and I are working out what He wants me to do personally. It is tough but God and I are tighter than ever. Honestly, I’m a bit scared because I believe God may be calling me to step out of my comfy church staff position to model this life for others.

    Ironic isn’t it? God may be calling me to step outside the church to find the life He’s calling me to live. Not outside His Church but the church we’ve worked so hard to create.

    I hope nobody is offended by anything that I’ve said but my heart is broken for the lost in my community, in our nation, and around the world. I think God’s attention is much more focused on them than our gatherings on Sunday morning. I want to be about God’s mission even if I never make another dime from it.

  15. May 11, 2009 at 10:05 am

    the word relevant might still be useful… maybe it has too often been used to mean “cool”.

    what has happened is the world has changed. not that anything is unexpected and “new” but it’s possibly a shift from the last 100 years in how the common person views the world.

    we have to continue to re-think how to communicate God’s message to the common person.

    some practical suggestions:

    - the way we use the word community needs to change. from the perspective of just 10 years ago, the internet was not an acceptable place to find community… today it might. it’s hard to understand how you can have community without seeing a face, or hearing a voice… but have you ever had a blind or deaf friend? you can know someone without having to see them or hear them. this is one of our greatest tools in explaining our relationship with God… a being we can’t touch, or see…

    - reverse the rules. the church has been known for the things it doesn’t do, and the people it keeps out. that is not being holy, that is being exclusive and fearful. the church that is meaningful to the common person will be defined by an extreme amount of trust, and see hope in every person. if you really believe every person is created to be holy, treat them that way. keep in mind that when we “make the cut” to get into the church, we tend to raise the bar for the next person entering…

    - put priority on prayer. for some reason prayer is not ministry. i don’t know why, but it is a hurdle we all have to face. how does prayer and fasting fit in? the funny thing is that the common person is looking for a way to personally connect with the Living God of the Universe (if there is a CEO/Creator of all things) and the typical person knows this is our concept of God: all powerful AND personal. if this is true, then we would be praying more, and praying meaningful prayers.

    i love the discussion, and reading many good comments. i see God as being completely obsessed with having our heart (to “glorify Him”) and completely obsessed with results (”attracting people”). everyone is a number and name to God - every 1 counts. he often calls us His “witnesses”… like we are His evidence in court, what He relies on and hopes in, His representation to the jury… so can it be both? can we live fully in both worlds? i think if we fully pursue God and His glory, we will naturally attract, and want to attract the common person to Him

  16. 17Jared
    May 11, 2009 at 10:12 am

    Regarding the comment from bill (cycleguy): what is holy and unholy?- I’m fairly new to the “straight and narrow” scene (almost a year now) so correct me if I’m wrong. Isn’t something Holy the same as something that is pleasing to God, and unholy something that is displeasing to God. In my own experience as a christian, I strive to do things that I feel are holy. For me, I have to feel the Holy Spirit all the time. I am almost afraid to do or be around anything unholy in fear that the Holy Spirit may “take a step away from me” I know the Holy Spirit will never leave me but I know that through free will and after conviction you can stray from God and commit sin which would seperate me from God. Again, I am a little green so be gentle if I am wrong.

    Jared- Owasso, Ok

  17. May 11, 2009 at 10:24 am

    [...] a recent article Suggestions for Today’s “Relevant” Church, Craig Groeschel writes a challenge to the relevant and growing churches of today:   “While the [...]

  18. 19Jay
    May 11, 2009 at 10:58 am

    I think the key thing is simply…what is God asking YOUR church to do?

    I think the most relevant people in the church are those who are originals and not cheap copies!

    Anybody can youtube what other churches are doing, but what has God asked YOU to do. The blessing of God resides on His plan for our ministries!

  19. May 11, 2009 at 11:03 am

    Hello everyone!
    Here in Guatemala, we have the problem of “secular” and “christian” music. When you look closer yo see that the “christian” and “sacred” is just the old hymns (which I love). Then, we saw that the great majority don’t even know the lyrics of the hymns because they just sing them on church, and without any passion (the most).
    So we decided that, in our church, we want to do music that people want to hear in the car, at office, any day of the week. Worship so cool that people would want to worship all day.
    For you guys, this may not be so surprising, but in Central America, has not been that 90’s turnaround in church “style”. Here, the church is still as it were in the 50’s. Example: “We dress our best for the Lord” (meaning: why don’t you have a suit?).

  20. 21Jim
    May 11, 2009 at 11:25 am

    This is interesting because of a struggle I am having currently with myself in my thinking. I candidating at a church this weekend. In my talking with the church, I found that most of the evangelical churches in the this rural area have gone to a contemporary service. Some of them changed on a dime so to speak - one week blended or taditional and next week contemporary. This change has people searching out new churches. I am a contemporary service kind of guy but think that not everyone will come to Christ in a contempoary service. I think that churches should be different as to make in roads for Christ with all types of people. I think about how effective a church in that area could be if they did the best possible traditional or blended service possible. They might just draw in some of the de-churched people. God keeps working and moving in my thinking on this.

  21. May 11, 2009 at 11:38 am

    James 1:26-27 26 if anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

    If I don’t understand, have not or do not act out the above in love, relevance becomes relative based on what I believe vs. what the Bible calls relevant, which is: 1) watching my tongue, private life discipline 2) helping out needy families.

  22. May 11, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Wow…this is great and will be a great series.

    This is one of the reasons I believe it is great to have the next generation on leadership and sermon construction teams…there’s a freshness

    By the way…sittin in the media design building!

  23. May 11, 2009 at 1:28 pm


    This question totally explains why I prayed for you this morning the way I did. Of course, at the time - it was the Spirit praying for you through me.. not on my own.

    Bill (our dear friend): In regards to your question..

    Does it draw you or another person closer to Christ?

    Does it make them want to take the next step even if they aren’t sure what that would require?

    Is there more than just a feeling to it but is felt and known all through it?

    If one were standing before God the moment after - would God be pleased?

    If one realizes that God can and does see all - is He pleased in that very moment?

    Make sense? And yes, dangerous prayers were just prayed as always!

    Craig: You preached/taught on the Kerith Ravine this past weekend and on Elijah. I believe this same sort of thing needs to happen with being revelant. If God alone is not revelant enough any moment, day or year - than why would He be the Only One worthy of calling Master? After all, He is the beginning, middle, end and every thing in-between whether or not a person comes to see Him as such until they take their last breath.

    May He alone be our tradition, our contemporary, our today, our next moment.

  24. May 11, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    If the church points to anything else other than Christ it has become irrelevant or at best confused. A church pointing back to itself is a bride being in love with “being a bride” and not learning to be in love and ready for the bridegroom.

    All expressions of the church whether in ministry, programming, media, or mission should push people’s hearts toward the impending beauty of being with Christ and the urgency to be a part of the wedding.

    The church should also understand relevancy is a friend but not the groom.

  25. 27John
    May 11, 2009 at 2:18 pm


    In light of the question you opened for discussion “How do you know when we have lost our distinctiveness in “what is holy and unholy?”

    Do you think your popular, often quoted comment, “Anything short of sin” has hurt the church as it wrestles with what is holy and unholy?

    THanks, John

  26. May 11, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    Hey Craig,

    Thank for all you do for the Kingdom, your ministry has really stretched and grown me. Thank You!

    Now that the fluff is gone. I had this conversation just yesterday with a pastor I am encouraging. Relevant to me is taking the never changing message of Jesus and putting it into terms that modern day minds can wrap around. If you use culture for shock then you are missing the point, but if you can harness the power of culture to share Jesus, do it and don’t stop.

    At times we do use shock as a factor for something, but we make sure we think and pray it through. How about the valley of dry bones, that was pretty shocking, or turning the tables over in the temple. Jesus and Paul taught us to use culture, just remain true to the Word.

    As to being contemporary, we don’t consider ourselves contemporary because that is so 70’s. We try not to fit a category, but fill each week with meaningful content to help people far from God get a glimpse of His love for them.

    Just a side note - even doing that we are taking some amazing heat right now. Thanks to some great friends I am enduring, especially in light of a comment we couldn’t track. “You church will never grow beyond your threshold for pain.” It sounds so Craig, just not sure.

    Enjoying the read!

  27. May 11, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    I have just now been able to get back to this discussion (4:00 ET). WOW! What a great one it has been! Lest I be misunderstood, I am not opposed to using contemporary music (the more the better), I am not opposed to using multi-site campuses (anything short of sin as someone is fond of saying) unless it draws away from the real focus of attraction: Jesus. But I know those who are and will state in no uncertain terms that those who do those things are playing with the devil. I believe strongly in what lifechurch and NewSpring and others do to get the message in the hands of the people. There will always be that “tension” of “Are we/you selling out or not?” to come into play. The church I pastor Cheeo would look sideways at me if I wore a tie (except Easter and an occasional Mother’s Day). But for you it is normal wear. I think Camey asked some very good questions for me to answer and for all of us to do so as well. (Thanks for your prayers Camey). I think Jim has the right point in looking at the culture of the community he is moving into and finding what reaches the people who live there. Great mistakes are/were made by me (and others) in trying to make the Purpose-Driven Church (for example) the way church ought to be done where we pastored. it didn’t work and Rick would say as much. I’m sorry I have taken so much space here Craig but I want to thank you for allowing the freedom of thought and discussion that this has brought. It was refreshing to see a good spirit. I look forward to the rest of the week.

  28. 30Carrie
    May 11, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    Although my earlier comment was somewhat lighthearted, I have to say everyone’s comments have really got me thinking in my area of ministry (writing kids curriculum). Am I writing something to be clever or cool or am I writing something that draws kids closer to Christ? It’s sometimes hard to find that balance of God’s truth and reaching the culture. Thanks for all of your insights today…made me more purposeful in what I write.

  29. May 11, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    For although I am free in every way from anyone’s control, I have made myself a bond servant to everyone, so that I might gain the more [for Christ].
    To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to men under the Law, [I became] as one under the Law, though not myself being under the Law, that I might win those under the Law.
    To those without (outside) law I became as one without law, not that I am without the law of God and lawless toward Him, but that I am [especially keeping] within and committed to the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law.
    To the weak (wanting in discernment) I have become weak (wanting in discernment) that I might win the weak and overscrupulous. I have [in short] become all things to all men, that I might by all means (at all costs and in any and every way) save some [by winning them to faith in Jesus Christ].
    And I do this for the sake of the good news (the Gospel), in order that I may become a participator in it and share in its [blessings along with you].
    (1 Cor 9:19-23, AMP)

    The gospel is always the same. The presentation should fit the situation.

    Hmmm, “situational presentation.” ;-)

  30. May 11, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Great post, Craig. I’ve heard it said that we often confuse being “relevant” with being “recent.” Being recent can be nothing more than staying up to date with the latest technology, the newest product, or breaking news. These are certainly important and I believe they help us understand what’s happening in our world. However, just because someone has the “latest greatest” doesn’t mean they are relevant. Relevance is more about connecting with people right where they live. Relevance is an attitude that informs what action should be taken based on the need at hand. Ministry is relevant when it is marked by changed lives.

    In his latest book, Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church, Reggie McNeal encourages churches to make three shifts:

    1. Shifting from an internal focus to an external focus
    2. Shifting from program development to people development
    3. Shifting from church-based leadership to Kingdom-based leadership

    Perhaps these three concepts would help the church become more effective and measure what is most important.

  31. 33Russell
    May 11, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    I would tend to agree, some churches have continued to push the envelope so much that they and the secular world are one in the same. These churches strive for shock value and in an effort to reach people where they are have become those people.

    The point of being relevant is to our methodology, which should be driven by our theology. Our music, art, and style can be (as stated above) recent, but if it doesn’t work with our theology its a bust.

    We need to make sure that we are still separate from those in the world, but relate and understand the the community we have been called to reach.

  32. 34Avery
    May 11, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    Your probably gonna catch some “flak” for this message, or rather series of messages… don’t let it sway what God has laid on your heart…

    I can’t think of a more “relevant” message than this subject and I am glad it is you who are sharing it…

    I am eagerly and expectantly waiting to hear what God has been sharing with you… and what He will do with what you share across the nation…

  33. May 11, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    This has been an interesting read and I am struck with the ease in which the discussion can drift to ’style’ of service or music. At our little United Methodist Church we are in the middle of encouraging our members to be Jesus to their neighbors in the real world. We recently posed the suggestion of gathering for church one Sunday, but instead of our traditional contemporary style service, we will get into teams or 4-5 and head into the nearest neighborhood to serve the community by cutting grass, washing cars, praying for people - whatever we can do to serve people. Sadly this has been met with some opposition, but to be relevant to our city I believe that we need to do what Jesus did - go into all the world and preach the Good News. Maybe it is time that we spent as much time considering how we can reach the streets of our city with the love of Jesus and getting out and doing it, as we do on how our Sunday service will go. Just a thought.

    To suggest an answer to Craig’s question - it seems simple, but if we only do the things the Father says and say the things the Father says then that should keep us on the holy side of the line. It worked for Jesus.

  34. 36cabiller
    May 11, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    ‘Being relevant,’ in the context of this discussion should mean nothing more than just doing church normal. What I mean by normal is that at any point in church history, an unbeliever visiting the church would identify with and understand most of the sights and sounds they experience. Granted, some principles in scripture and some of the content of the gathering may be foreign to them, but the unchurched should not leave without having been able to enjoy and relate to the various components of the service (music, media, format, etc).

  35. May 11, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    Pastors need to go deeper in the Word and take their people with them.

  36. May 11, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    [...] Suggestions for Today’s “Relevant” church [...]

  37. May 11, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    Good call Jim… do need to know the DNA of the community you serve. If I take a “big city” approach to worship in our mid-western community of 2000, it may not last long. That’s not to say it wouldn’t be effective, only God knows. I’ve experienced this already, but am currently seeing what it means to truly listen to God, be still and know that he is directing what is truly “relevant” to the people of the communities we are serving in. Again I say, know your community.

    Just because it’s good in one place with someone else in leadership….may not be in another. The message is the message and that can never change. Reaching others to be fully devoted to Jesus Christ. Now that, is always relevant!

  38. 40Pastor Bobby
    May 11, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    In our race to be relevant, we must understand its a marathon and not a sprint. Always and utmost 1. Stir up 1st place love for Christ, will involve Bible,Praying,Worshipping,serving,evangelizing.2. Reveal the things that rob us from loving Christ. and remember in our zeal to be relevant beware of license.

  39. May 11, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    Relevant is about relationship. First with Christ then with others. Life in community as it was in the beginning. Attractional efforts should be supported with equal diligence to help people connect in relationships that revolve around a growing relationship with Christ. Fresh, fun, energetic, life-giving experiences are relevant when shared with others beyond the superficial connections our culture is trying to substitute for the real thing. The relevant church will love people from selfish to selfless living. Sunday morning is just a door to life… the good life.

  40. May 11, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    I also think the “anything short of sin” isn’t helpful - especially when it pertains to church leadership. How about what Andy Stanley has said, “in light of who I am and my past experiences, what is the RIGHT/BEST thing to do?” Let us all create MARGIN in our lives and not just see how close we can get to the “line of sin” without touching it or crossing over it!

  41. 43Dwight Meeks
    May 12, 2009 at 12:36 am

    Completely agree but please for God’s sake let’s not make things so bad they we become legalistic again as below:

  42. 44Dwight Meeks
    May 12, 2009 at 12:45 am

    Just remember please no more legalism. Legalism equals death!

  43. 45Amber
    May 12, 2009 at 1:46 am

    I am so thrilled to hear someone in your capacity for leadership addressing this issue. I have been disgusted with the phrase “culturally relevant”. For many churches this has been a platform to get rid of all the old and bring in the new. It has turned out to be a turning of our backs on our Christian heritage, the development of character and accountability, and the simplicity of Christ’s ministry. It has become an excuse to be more like the world so all of us sinners will be more comfortable. Relationships, humility, and service are the keys to ministry. Music, lighting, facilities, Sunday service formats, etc are great, but just fluff without the keys that unlock the chains that bind so many people! The world is full of empty entertainment, an experience with the church…the people in ministry…is powerful and life changing.
    Lead pastors invest personally in your leaders (like Jesus or Paul) then send them out into the everyday lives of people to invest. Relationships, humility, and service offer an introduction to Jesus Christ, the ALL in ALL! Build it a little at a time and the results will multiply for God’s glory!

  44. 46Scott D
    May 12, 2009 at 5:58 am

    Great thoughts Craig. I appreciate everyone’s authenticity.

    Stay true to the mission we have put in place…..For example, if your mission is… “Lead people to become fully devoted followers of Christ” Then stay focused on it.

    When we get fatigued, we have a tendancy to get cowardly.

    Stay focused on the mission at hand, challenge ourselves frequently to ask “are we doing this for God’s kingdom or for the glory of my church.” The answer should be simple and direction should be clear.

    God’s children are all different, come in all shapes and sizes, and like someone has always said, we should do anything “short of sin” to lead people to Christ

  45. May 12, 2009 at 8:08 am

    What I think happens quite often is that one church sees another church with “edgy” worship, a secular song or two, MTV style videos, haze etc. and 8000 people in attendance. It’s hard to dismiss what they are doing as “unbiblical” or “selling out,” so many churches want to try that too. The challenge is doing church the way God has called YOU to do it. As stated above, spiritual growth far outweighs numerical growth and I believe God will bless the church who’s heart is truly pointed to reaching others for him.

  46. May 12, 2009 at 9:14 am

    You used the metaphor of a pendulum. I think it is helpful to also think of this issue in terms of two parallel tracks. A lot like the incarnation - Jesus fully God and fully human. (And note that Jesus meets people where they are without being distasteful.) The pendulum is only balanced when churches are full-on for loving Jesus and loving people. Many times churches claim to being reaching people by talking daily applications, but we know that people are only reached by preaching Jesus in daily applications. In some ways we don’t need to be less “relevant” but strengthen the “fully God” track to balance the pendulum.

  47. 49bcooley
    May 12, 2009 at 10:02 am

    I think that we miss the mark when the idea of being relevant focuses on our delivery at all… I mean, aren’t the relevant things in my life those things that I regularly access because I perceive that I need something from it? (Examples: the morning news, my e-mail, the grocery store, my wife’s affection, etc.) Clearly to depart from the basic truth that this broken world needs it’s Creator and Redeemer to pick it up, love it, and put the pieces back together is the unavoidable definition of relevency for the church. Cool or not, the measure to which people are returning to our doors to reconnect with this love/truth is the actual degree of our relevency.

  48. May 12, 2009 at 10:27 am

    Great discussion Craig. Simply put, I think the relevant church has to be a church of the Word.

    Jesus came to give us live and “life more abundantly.”

    When Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” It’s the truth people know (and apply, i.e. obey) that helps them live that abundant life and produce fruit.

    With 65% of believers never having read the New Testament and some estimates say as few as 10% have ever read the entire Bible, how can we get our people back into the Word? And then live it out in a culture that has drowned our generations with ungodliness?

  49. May 12, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Philip, you sound exactly like the heart we are looking for. Email me and tell me more about your ministry and passion; your location etc.

  50. May 12, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    First of all, Kudos to Paul Allen for recommending Michael Horton’s book: ‘Christless Christianity’
    Very very good read. Second, Craig, you are a great pastor. God has really used you in a big way and this is a very big topic in certain evangelical circles. Others and I have seen a shift in the members of denominations. While some preachers are preaching 30 minute topical sermons, the members are hungry for deep theology. Theology is not boring, because it brings us to know Gods Attributes and who He is. Systematic Theology in general is what some generations are looking for. They have heard the “relevant” churchgoers say it is boring and not necessary. The truth is, there is a hunger in this generation for theology and after knowledge of God and growing in Holiness through Gods Word. I believe a problem with service and volunteering has alot to do with it too. If the new Christians, at first would spend time in theology or deep classes. And example would be Mark Driscoll’s church and the massive teaching they provide for their members. I do not believe a Lifegroup can achieve this because without a Man of God, who spend his life learning and teaching the flock, there is only blind leading the blind. I just say FEED ME I NEED MEAT! Lets Do it! Call up Mark Driscoll and ask his opinion and check out the results over at Mars Hill (WA).
    Hope that made sense!
    Love Ya Craig!

  51. May 12, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    Craig! An excellent example of what Paul Allen was talking about in the first comment is Pastor Matt Chandler and The Village Church (Highland Village). The church brought in Matt Chandler 6 years ago and it went from 160 people to over 5000 people and more now. Because he preached 45-60 minute Grace Filled, Theology Filled Meaty Sermons! This is what we need! We need Meat, The Gospel so we can know God, preach the Gospel and preach it while we are feeding the hungry, clothing the poor. Because the salvation of their soul is most important.

    Mark 16:15

  52. May 12, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    Oh and one more thing on Relevance. All of the preachers before our time, Preached. That is all they did. Charles Spurgeon, John Huss, John Knox, John Calvin, the Wesleys, Martin Luther even started the reformation just by the Word of God. I do not think it is bad, it is just not necessary if your preaching the Gospel and your flock are too. And that would be evangelism, something nobody does cause nobody has been taught, or they claim it is for those who are gifted in evangelism. Which I believe is not biblical and it was a command to preach the Gospel. Mark 16:15

  53. May 12, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    In Australia I was involved with the team pioneering the Willow Creek Association 15years ago. It was then that Bill Hybels launched the message of cultural relevance which took the local church by storm. However, sin being in nature what it is, it was not long before some were driven by cultural relevance instead of being driven by Kingdom culture and sadly the world’s standards & practices began to blur the lines.

    If only we had listened more closely to what Bill actually said. He said, be culturally relevant while remaining doctrinally pure! Ooops that was the anchor to stop us drifting into dangerous waters of compromise!

  54. May 14, 2009 at 7:28 am

    Pastor Craig,

    As I read this post I am encouraged about your openness to see when you are in a place of change in your ministry.

    I am planting a church and the funny thing is that we have called the church “relevant church”. I agree with some of the other comments here that state that relevance is not in the methods, but the message. I know that the one thing that has always been relevant is the message of Jesus Christ. It is the same message that was spoken 2000 years ago and it will be the same message that will be spoken 2000 years from now. Our conviction is to see the culture that we a giving the message in and making it “relevant” to them. The relevance of our delivery method must always be flexible to the times and culture we are living in. As we change our delivery method, the “relevant” message of God’s love for us through Jesus Christ will never change.

    This is my view on being relevant.

  55. 57bcooley
    May 14, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    A few days of thought has prompted me to add that a relevant church must be deeply rooted in prayer as well as the Word. The Author will, of course, have the best advice for us regarding our interaction in the world, yet not of it.

  56. May 15, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    [...] Craig Groeschel on Suggestions on Today’s “Relevant” Church [...]

  57. 59Kent M. Gibbs
    May 15, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    First little background. I have sat in the congregation as a member, been an elder and been part of a church based ministry. I have known, had fellowship with and been a loving brother to a number of Pastors from various denominational and non-denominational churches. Most have had a deep desire to see the lost saved and to love the members of their churches.

    But, I must confess to an unease about where the church is at and where she is going spiritually. This has been a concern for more than twenty years. Sadly, in the attempt to be ‘relevant’ the Gospel has become irrelevant for ’salvation’. “Pray the Prayer and You’re In” has become the norm. What we have lost is the fact that God alone calls men and women out of darkness. Our mission is to present the Gospel, the Good News. The truth. That means Genesis to Revelation. Christ Jesus is in all of it. Some will accept it because of the quickening by the Holy Spirit but most will reject it.

    And genuine believers are starving to death because it’s not being preached. Genuine growth in Christians is stunted because the weekly message is so watered down that there is no meat in it. Why? Because there might be someone sitting out there that will be ’sold’ on the message and “Pray the Prayer”. Sunday services are for the elect, not the lost. The sheep will bring in the lost if they are being fed.

  58. 60Kent M. Gibbs
    May 15, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    Just as an aside, I wonder if the so called ‘Emergent’ church isn’t really a rebellion against the ‘relevant’ church with much of it’s superficiality?

  59. May 15, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    I actually visited one of the many branches of Life Church in the OKC area not too long ago… And my impression was not very positive, I’m sad to say. I felt like things were more “cheesy” and “gimmicky” than edgy or cool. And the “relevance” of the whole place/experience was equally questionable.

    I’m fairly new to the OKC area, and my search for a new local church has been pretty discouraging—because most of the Protestant evangelical churches are part of the unhappy trend you describe in your post. Still, I am glad to hear that folks from Life Church (and elsewhere) are cognizant of the need for balance, and continual re-evaluation. If you’re interested in reading more on what I experienced on my visit to Life Church, you can check out my own blog post at:

  60. 62Jimmy
    May 15, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    M.McMillan, So sorry you are having a difficult time finding a church in OKC. I clicked on the link and your critique of Life Church. Too bad you left in the first 15 minutes and didn’t even stay for the message. It is understandable that you didn’t like the style of worship, but I hope you wouldn’t judge a whole church based on 15 minutes and then walking out. I pray you find a great church.

  61. May 15, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    Jimmy, thanks for the prayers, hope you (or anyone else) don’t think I have an ax to grind with Life Church specifically–my post was spurred by years of similar experiences (before coming to OKC); and I do think there’s a place for stylistic differences in worship, building setup, presentation, etc. But I do think there is need for ongoing evaluation, as measured by standards that are maybe not always trendy, but still relevant for all Christ-followers…

  62. 64Randy Mellichamp
    May 18, 2009 at 8:45 am

    I am wrestling with relevancy and how to see that translate into the ever changing culture of the people who are coming to our church. The Lord has moved greatly in our area and we are being blessed with new souls almost weekly. But thoes souls bring their situations and their needs that need to be met by a relevant church. I don’t know if I am saying this correctly but the issue that I am wrestling with is reaching people while keeping the recently converted on task, the already converted involved, and the always be a pain people out of the way. Any help?

  63. 65Scott
    May 19, 2009 at 9:00 am

    I know this will sound like an over-generalization to some, but the reality is that as long as God is speaking, it is necessarily relevant because he is the creator and we are his creation. To often we fall into the trap of thinking that God needs our help with this whole relevant topic. The Church doesn’t need translators for God, we just need to be more willing to drown out all the other noise, and do the hard work of getting to know God more. I know this is a scary thought for many, but if God really is who we say he is, we shouldn’t be worried about it. The fact is that God has placed his people in each church they are in to do the job that needs to be done there. Being relevant is not the “do what works” mentality that seems like such a convincing argument. Being relevant is doing what God has gifted you to do in your own context. He knows exactly what he is doing!

  64. 66Greg
    May 19, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Great blog everyone!

    Response part 1 Is it a real suprise that we would actually “find life” outside of the church. Isn’t that where Jesus told us to be? That pesky verse about going into the world and preaching the Gospel has always caused the modern church SO much problem. Sheep produce sheep. It is not the pastor…or the staff’s responsibilty to present the Gospel message to all of your unsaved friends. That would be your task. Funny thing is that by doing so…you find life. No one could ever be more relevant in your lost friends eyes than you. They relate to you…you are relevant to them. The teaching in the church should equip people with tools that enable them to go into the world…Take a look at Col 3:12-14…Clothe yourself in these things, and be Like Christ.

    Response part 2 Who is God of the house? Knowing that God is a jealous God, and will not stand along side pride, who is the focus of the gathering? Ask yourself this question: If I were to invite a non believer to church this Sunday…what would be the attraction that I sell them on? Is it on my Pastors great humor and intellectual presentation of the gospel? Maybe it is the incredible worship team…who by the way just released their third worship CD. Maybe it’s the people…yeah that’s it…we are a friendly church.

    Or…maybe it is because God alone is glorified in the house in all of our responses. We consider it a priviledge to be invited to come into His house each week…can’t wait to get there…cause we have a few things on our heart that we want to share with Him…in His house. This is HIS day…it is ALL about Him…and ALL for Him. I don’t care why you came…I came to give Him the shout of the day.

    If the sound system didn’t work…if the projector lamps were all dead, and no backup. If the pastor lost his voice and couldn’t bring the Word…if the worship team all had the swine flu and couldn’t come…:-)

    Who is the focus of the gathering? Pastor…are you more concerned about pleasing the people…or the King? Worship leader…are you concerned about singing the right song…or that a given percentage of the congregation are participating…or is it an audience of One? Would you absolutely “lose it” if the presence of the Lord was so strong that the band just stopped playing in the middle of the set. How would you respond? This will define what you define as relevant.

    So here is the real thermometer of what is going on at your place of worship: What do people leave talking about? That is what your focus is…

  65. May 19, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    “Relevant”…we teach our member to serve and there questions when they greet each other is about the business of church:”where are you serving at?”. Our men serve but no accountability to each other is taught. The church teaches “accountability” by “confrontation and accusation”. We are sleek, we have seeker sentive churches and God is seeking, calling all. The church must understand programs are just guidelines, we must understand that God has called us from day one to understand his heart/his way, the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24

  66. 68Donovan Price
    May 20, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    I would like to submit that the question of relevancy as it relates to the church being culture is a mute point, when one actually consider what it means to be relevant to something. By definition, being relevant supposes that the thing that is being relevant is aiding in the accomplishment of the purpose, or task of the object that is it relevant to. If this is the case then one should pose the question “Is the church helping culture accomplish it’s task or purpose?” Moreover, “What is the task or purpose of culture?” It is my contention that the church is by function of it’s nature incapable of being relevant to any particular culture. I will allow however, that it is possible for culture to be relevant to the purpose and aim of the church. Just as the pipe wrench is relevant to the task of the plumber, while the accordion remains irrelevant to the plumber in his aim to fix the leaky toilet. The question of what is culturally relevant to the church is certainly open for discussion, as long as one remembers that the purpose of the church is to bring salvation to the world through Christ Jesus.

  67. 69Paul Prins
    May 21, 2009 at 9:29 am

    I feel like a key is to ask the simple questions about what one is doing. What is the desired result of this thing I am doing? Everything from sermon illustrations to other functions of a church. Then it simply comes down to have a disciplined church staff that is focused on reaching the lost and turning them into people who are becoming more and more like Christ.

    The problem is that it gets easy to shift your focus into doing something bigger or better, and forgetting the reason for doing it in the first place. Once someone or some church is doing something just because it is only a matter of time until they become ineffective, regardless if they are ‘relevant’ or not.