USA Today reported last week on the trend toward churches going “informal” as if this is a recent event. This is a trend that has been going on for the past forty years, and if you include the insanity of bus ministry, even longer.
At our congregation, we are very casual but we still have a white church building and formal music (by formal, I mean the musicians practice and do actual songs). There is still a message from the Scriptures, an offering, and the opportunity for people to deepen their relationship with the Lord and other believers.
There are no tattoo parlors and about the only workout people get is sitting down and standing up occasionally. (A couple of us raise our hands from time to time, but it is the Baptist kind of hand raising which is far less aerobic than other denominations.)
What Elizabeth Crisp of USA Today does not understand is that the issue is not about formal versus informal. These folks worshiping with tattoos or singing praise songs on exercise equipment are still practicing a formal faith. It still places demands on them. There is still a liturgy (probably just called an order of worship, but the same thing).
An informal church is something more like the Unitarian Universalists who allow you to believe anything and still go to wherever it is that good people go, but no one wants to place a label on it. An informal church is one that says you can read the Bible however you want because the meaning isn’t as important as checking that task off. Actually, an informal church says whatever sacred text is fine with us – Bible, Bhagavad Gita, the collected works of Anne McAffrey, whatever.
The issue is not formal versus informal. It is about doctrine versus marketing. It is about whether our form of worship is dictated by what we believe or if it is dictated by how many people we can attract.
There’s nothing wrong with updating your music or changing presentation. There’s nothing wrong with worshiping in a converted space (we met in an old boat store for years) or not having an offering.
But there is something wrong with congregations abandoning doctrine so they cane more attractive. There is something wrong with compromising the faith or tweaking the gospel so people will find it attractive. There is something wrong with the belief that you can do whatever you want as long as it brings people in. And that applies as much to crazy bus ministries, controversial preaching, and odd ball special events as much as it does to worshiping in a gym or offering free tattoos.
The church is defined by our beliefs. Within those beliefs, there is room for tremendous diversity of practice. But there is no room for corrupting the gospel to become more attractive, or compromising the purity of truth so people don’t get offended.
My suggestion to all the church leaders who go down these avenues is to read Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and the first three chapters of the Revelation, because this isn’t a matter of my opinion versus someone else’s. This is a matter of Scripture and whether it is truly our rule for faith and practice.