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Should churches aim for Biblical content or cultural relevance?

tcarringer October 22, 2012

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Biblical content or cultural relevance?

Just this week, my pastor said, “Aim at the center of the Biblical tension and stay away from the fringes.” That idea really stuck in my head. It got me thinking about how churches relate to the Bible, and how they relate to their congregations.

It seems like many churches ask themselves the question: “Should we aim for Biblical content or cultural relevance?” There are clear benefits to both. Cultural relevance will help attract people to your church. Speaking to people about their lives in a relatable way will help them apply teachings in their day-to-day existence.

But without Biblical content, well, how are you really being the church? That Biblical content, the actual word of God, it’s the foundation that everything else is built upon.

As a result of this type of thinking, many churches plant their flag. On the one hand, they may say, “We are a Bible-based church. And that’s it!” On the other hand, you find churches that don’t want to get bogged down in all of that. They focus on the now. On Christ’s lessons applied to today’s world.

But neither of those answers is going to lead to lasting success. Neither Biblical content nor cultural relevance alone can serve today’s churches. To succeed, you’ve got to embrace the genius of “and.” Biblical content and cultural relevance.

“Stability and revolution”

As Jim Collins says (and for the following quote, you can replace the word “company” with church – it’s just as relevant):

“If there’s one lesson from our finding to keep in mind above all others, it is this: … build your company so that it preserves a passionately held core ideology and simultaneously stimulates progress in everything but that ideology. Preserve the core and stimulate progress. A truly visionary company embraces both ends of a continuum: continuity and change, conservatism and progressiveness, stability and revolution, predictability and chaos, heritage and renewal, fundamentals and craziness. And, and, and.”

It seems pretty obvious when you look at it that way, doesn’t it? Quad C is obviously not going to be very effective. But quad A, STRONG Biblical content with no cultural relevance, won’t get you far, either. Nor will quad D, STRONG cultural relevance with no Biblical content. You’ve got to focus on quad B!

It’s the same thing in today’s churches with the question of missional vs. attractional churches. So many churches want to identify as either/or. Either we are missional, and we focus solely on the mission, or we’re attractional, seeking to pull people into your church. But the answer to the question “missional or attractional” is yes!

What do you think?

Now, this isn’t just my opinion. I have spent years looking at hard data that have formed my views and opinions on what makes churches successful. I’ve spent time in churches, talking to the people who lead them, and I’ve helped shape the strategy at some very successful ministries over the years.

But I want to hear what you think, too. Tell me about your experience. Have you seen the impact in your life, or in your church, when people embrace the genius of “and”?

  • Josiah Sumpter

    You can’t have it both ways. In the words of Gary Gilley: “The new-paradigm church has caught the wave of our times and has created a church for the entertainment age. Rather than expose superficiality and wrong mindedness of a generation addicted to fun amusement and self, the modern church has all too often chosen to go with the flow and give “them” what they want. To be sure they have camoflaged their product with religious words and Bible verses, but when the wrappings are removed it is very dificult to distinguish what the modern church is providing from what the secular world is offering.”

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