Something happened on the road to cool: Why the church will never “relate”

Woodcut of the Augsburg Confession, Article VI...
The church has gone to great contortions in the last 30 years to adapt, to change, and to become more relevant to the world.
Hymns? Gone
Steeples? Gone.
Denominational names? Gone.
Tradition? Gone.

We allowed for these and a thousand other changes so as not to alienate the world. We so desperately wanted to embrace and relate to the culture. Paul stood on Mars Hill and preached to the heathen masses, even using their statue “to an unknown God” as a way to pierce their hearts. And we thought we were doing the same.

So we put ashtrays outside our sanctuaries, added mood lights to our stages, and dressed the pastor in jeans. “Now the world will relate! They’ll flock!” The result? There has been a continued downward trend of self-identified Christians and a huge uptick in those who claim no religion at all.

  • In 1948, only 2% of Americans did not identify with a religion.
  • In 1998, 6% of Americans did not identify with a religion.
  • In 2002, 10% claimed no God.
  • Today, it’s just 13%.
Something happened on the way to being cool.

We need to quit worrying about how we look to the world and simply be about the business of following Christ.

The first century church was relevant, it was engaging, it was exciting. Nearly everyone had either witnessed a miracle or knew someone who had. And yet despite this, the world looked at those early followers with skepticism. Look at Acts 2. The world was “confused”(v. 6) and “perplexed,” (v. 12) And then they mocked (13) the early Christians.

If the first century church had mockers, so will we. It just goes with territory. The foolish things will always confound the wise. In the end, i would rather be a “fool” for Christ, than “cool” for Christ.
“In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world. John 16:33
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About David Rupert

Newsletter Editor for the High Calling Find me over at
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10 Responses to Something happened on the road to cool: Why the church will never “relate”

  1. some people go to great contortions to be liked and understood by unbelievers.but, we can not do this.believers, are to Love others,not go to great contortionsto be liked.the fact is, we are not doingwhat we have been told to matter what people think or feel or do, believers are to Love others.that is the second main thing.

  2. I don't think the variety of church style has anything to do with it… Our culture is what it is, and there will always be people who don't embrace God, Jesus or spiritual life. The fact that the statistics show that segment growing over the decades, well, that's just another statistic. Those churches who are becoming "relevant" are growing in and of themselves – what about that statistic? I think it would be even worse if those contemporary churches weren't out there trying to reach people in their own way. I go to a more traditional church (no ashtrays), and we can't grow any more beyone 1,800 mostly because of space constraints.

  3. Sam Van Eman says:

    Is church coolness a cause or an effect? I don't really know. Maybe the ones who started cool in church were the ones who wanted to make church work, but couldn't find a way to grow in it. Or the church – as practiced – was failing to answer some of the big questions for younger members. Or the seekers – those who were maybe more likely to approve of ashtrays – influenced the direction of innovative pastors who took to heart the idea that going to "them" was better than getting them to come to "us."It does raise many questions, David.

  4. PFaustin says:

    I like the fool vs cool comment.I think the real problem comes when all this stuff is packaged and sold to other churches. It's one thing when a church does something because they like it or find meaning in it. It's another thing when they get instructions from church-growth central on the latest proven techniques.Hey. I would like to smell incense in church. That goes way back. It could be the latest thing too.Philip

  5. justapen says:

    I think the big problem that churches face is conformity. Cool does not equal conformity but in an effort to embrace culture a lot of churches have simply conformed to the world rather than stand out, stick to our values and be that light to the world, a people set apart. While some people look for a certain look or vibe, most will respect a well defined identity, even if they don't like it.

  6. I agree!! There is too much emphasis on trying to appeal to the unchurched and those that need to be entertained in a church service…instead of focusing on reaching out to the unbelievers in love without compromising the TRUTH of the scriptures and traditions of our faith. Pass me the hymnal please…

  7. Graceful says:

    Hmmmm. This is a good question, David. I'm not sure what I think. On the one hand, I absolutely agree. Church — God — is not about being cool. But on the other hand, when I was teetering on the edge of belief, I came across the writings of Rob Bell. Now I don't know if he's considered cool, or perhaps passe by now, but his message appealed to me at a time when I felt alienated and "outside" more traditional churches. I think I'd had far too much tradition in the religion of my upbringing, and not enough connection. Bell and others like him appeal to me because they speak and write in a language I understand — one that's accessible, welcoming, rather than exclusive. You know what I mean? I'm not a hipster Christian by any means. In fact, I took McKraken's quiz on his website and failed abysmally. When I didn't recognize the names of the people mentioned in the first question, I knew I was hopelessly Christian unhip. And now I'm an active participant in a regular old, traditional ELCA church in Lincoln, Nebraska. Not exactly hipster. So maybe it has more to do with where a person is at in the spiritual journey/landscape?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Hmmm. I agree with be a fool not cool for Christ but the list of things that you gave: Hymns, steeples and denominational names don't make you a fool or cool and are meaningless to God. Reaching the lost and growing in our faith as a church is what matters and the packaging is actually irrelevant unless it helps us accomplish those things or not.

  9. my name is lea, and i am nota cool believer.

  10. Sonja says:

    I attend what you would consider a "cool" church. We see up to 25 people committing their lives to Christ each week. We are growing leaps and bounds. Everyone is welcomed and loved and not treated as an outsider. Do you really think steeples, denominations and tradition are going to get you to heaven. Where in the bible are this things even mentioned. Jesus commissioned us to win souls and if our culture says we need to change the method of delivery then so be it. The message is sacred not the method in which we deliver the message. If you want to attend a "traditional" church that's great but blaming the "cool" churches for the reason the stats show Americans claim no God, makes no sense at all. Did you ever consider maybe the problem started when we kicked God out of our schools?

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