February 12, 2007

United Methodists Reaching Postmodernists

A disappointing thought crossed my mind as I drove home early Saturday morning from a late night out. (The late night BTW was much less harmless than it sounds. My wife and I attended a high school musical in support of a friend, and we stayed up late conversing about different subjects.)

What if, on the whole, the United Methodist church can not reach postmodernists? I mean simply can not do it. What if the things that make a worship United Methodist are exactly those things the postmodernist revolts from?

I began thinking about the church reaching the postmodernist, and recalled conversations that I've either witnessed or been a part of. They all go something like this:

UM Pastor: "You say that the service doesn't speak to you, but give me an example of how would you change it?"

Postmodernist: "There needs to be more music. It needs to be cool, not boring. Hip! It needs to be more emotional and less institutional."

UM Pastor: "But those are not specific examples of what you would change about the service today. I understand what you said, but I don't understand how you want us to do that."

The conversation usually goes down hill from there, with the postmodernist trying desperately to explain what hip and cool means and how they could be so very moved if it were done better. Both parties walk away having no idea what the other meant.

I've heard at least one pastor explain this as, "They aren't able to explain what they want." That baffles me, as I'm pretty sure I just saw human beings who speak the same language converse about what they want. This ends up sounding like the modernist saying they are open and willing to improve the worship experience, as long as they don't have to change anything about it at all. Why can't you just be happy with the way it is now?

To me it comes down to this: The answer that modernists are looking for is which portions of the service today need be changed to reach postmodernists, without changing or losing the structure of the worship? What the postmodernist is trying to answer politely - everything. That being said, I'm sure there is a middle ground. I believe that churches that are successful in reaching postmodernists are those finding ways to say yes rather than no, and still hold in their hearts the significance of denominational traditions. Those that tie the significance of a worship service too tightly to the rigid procedural tradition may have a really tough time reaching postmodernists.

Where does your church apply the significance of worship? The process, or the expression? Are they doing church, or being the church?


Andrew Conard said...

Brian - Thank you for your thoughts in this area. It is my sincere hope that United Methodism will continue to be effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ in a postmodern culture. I do agree that simply inserting or removing particular elements within a worship service may not be particularly effective. I think that re-imagining what worship and community looks like will continue to be important. Here I think that we are starting into that conversation in worship planning, particularly in the evening services.


Kirk Longhofer said...

A post-modern, or emergent worship experience may, or may not have much similarity to a more traditional "service." Many of the elements are the same. Presentation and style differs. When folks are asking... "what can we change"... are they sometimes really asking "how much do we really have to change?"

I think there may be a lot of value and utility in the birthing of post-modern worship communities, within a traditional church. Whether that will work in a particular congregation is probably more a function of leadership (both clergy and lay) than anything else.

If the existing leadership have the strength of ego to let something different be successful on its own, without being threatened... it could work very well. If they are threatened, and want to treat the new community as "church-lite" or a pathway into the "real worship service," these folks will find the exits, quickly.

For what it's worth, we're involved in just that experiment. Check out www.nextwichita.org for more information.

Anonymous said...

Brian -

I love this quote "Where does your church apply the significance of worship? The process, or the expression? Are they doing church, or being the church?"

I have spoken with many churches - asked them what their names are - they always tell me First UMC or First Baptist etc...

Our church is known as the church across from the playground -

Our church is known as the church that gives out food on Thursdays.

While our church is doing much OutReach - its rare to find a church doing WithReach - including my own.

It is for this reason I am looking for a new church.

On Klove.com today I heard an interesting statistic. I had to track it down:

1/3 of church goers are not loyal

According to this research 1/3 of all persons in the church will not be there next year.

Are we simply content on attendance numbers vs. actually reaching and making disciples ?

I started a youth program in my church and literally was not allowed to use the Carolyn Tildon Youth Memorial Chapel. the room is supposed to be dedicated to youth ministry - instead it has become a shrine to a girl who died in her teens in the 1950's.

Instead the room remains empty - with a bible and a candle... and the youth - after not having a room to call their own - have left and gone elsewhere... (Can you blame them - we literally got kicked out of 3 rooms due to various reasons that made no sense other than to keep the status the status and not give the youth ministry a chance...)

Maintenance churches want to keep their identity and conform others to their way of thinking and worshiping. Mission Minded Churches tend to think outside of the box - and will go meet the people where they are...

Its not just postmodern, premodern, pre/post anything ---- its the fact many are just happy and content doing God their way - and are not willing to break away from their comfort zones...

- Think I will blog on this personally :-) ChurchMedic @ ChurchMedic.com

Brian Slezak said...


That is good to hear. I'm encouraged by churches that are giving an honest effort. :)


Brian Slezak said...


Thanks for your comment. I think that "how much do we really have to change," is accurate. There are too many churches that would rather do the same old thing and expect different results. I feel that ultimately harmful.

NEXT looks pretty cool. I pray it's successful, but it looks like it has a great start.


Brian Slezak said...


Wow. It's sad to hear that about the youth in your church, but I've seen the same thing. My wife and I previously attended a church that had just started a contemporary service - why we attended. The service was met with active opposition. The congregation saw it as a threat and wanted it to leave the church and go somewhere other than "their church."

We ultimately left because the band was put in the hands of someone that could not handle it, and the growth that we saw over two years, from 30 people to 150 was reduced back to around 40 in the course of 6 months. The youth left in mass exodus, and most did not come back or care to say why.

We attempted to create a more postmodern environment there, but were supported only superficially. I learned that the senior pastor really just wanted to not rock the boat, and hoped this could be a place he could retire.

It was very disappointing, but I learned a lot. Regardless I am very hopeful for churches that can break through.

Anonymous said...

Brian -

You so much have just described what I am experiencing.

The church has grown to numbers over 125 from 30 and now - we are back down to that low number.

My wife is involved as a Sunday School Teacher, myself was in music, youth -

The Pastor used this as a stepping block to get back into Seminary - while good for him - and most likely the Global Church - it has left our congregation hurting.

My wife has a sense of duty - however I do not any longer.

I hear you all to well.

On the other hand - check this out.

www.LiquidChurch.com -- here is a church that meets in a Hotel !

They are most likely where we may end up - being a United Methodist - I think its sad I am looking outside of the fold... but if this is the place God leads - I am willing to follow.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post, I have been watching the comments, then decided I should jump in.

I feel your pain, concerning the search for church and the questioning whether "the church" is reaching people. Your question is universal, {insert church name, style, denomination here}reaching {any particular group, demographic, age range etc}

I pray that you and your wife can find a place to worship and be a part of. You and I have had this discussion in great detail and I think many people are just complacent and have lost hope, in a sense and just go thru the motions.

I would believe ChurchMedic's stat, 1/3 of churchgoers are not loyal. Here's something that points to that trend concerning the church that we have gone to for the last year. They hand out a CD to all first time guests, it has a sermon on it and some good info about the church, it's not a bad thing to do really. Every Sunday the pastor holds it up and encourages first timers to get their CD and a few months ago, the pastor stated that they had given out almost all of the 1000 CD's they had made up over the last year or year and a half or whatever. I sat there and wondered where are those 1000 families, why is the church still the same size that it had been for the year we were there?

I think it's referred to as a revolving door. :) We have since left that church, along with at least 1000 other families, I guess.

Brian Slezak said...


Thanks for jumping in. I hope you and your wife find a church home to settle down in too. We have discussed this in detail, and it is just not easy.

What gets me about your comment is the hundreds that you were wondering about - they had the will to walk in the doors and even take a CD home. They are standing in the sanctuary asking for a church home! What they are not doing is finding it.

Yet I am hopeful. Those that are leading change can make a church home for the many.