For a Church to Attract and Retain, It Must Have Distinctive Meaning

I’ve been saying this for a long time, but from the land of Starbucks this, in a book review:

Wellman expected to discover that the Northwest’s progressive social ethos and politics would be fertile ground for liberal Protestant churches. Instead he found the contrary. While it has strong liberal congregations, Wellman discovered that in general the region is not hospitable to progressive Christianity. And perhaps just as unexpectedly he found that “entrepreneurial evangelicals have carved out a foothold in the region, and are fast becoming the dominant Christian religious subculture…”

Wellman’s other conclusion is that members of liberal churches are experiencing an identity crisis. Too often, he observes, liberal Protestants in the Northwest struggle to develop an identity that is distinct from the broader culture. “To a large extent liberal churches mimic or mirror many of the elite liberal cultural attributes of the PNW culture, such as the belief in the power of the individual to take care of oneself and to make the world a better place.” Ironically, he concludes, “liberal churches fail to attract the unchurched in part because they share so much in common.” Evangelicals, on the other hand, seem more certain of their identity and thus more confident in the ways they engage and critique the prevailing middle-class ethos of the Northwest—or in some cases create an alternative Christian culture.

Leonard Sweet says that every Starbucks is a challenge to the Christian church.   No where is this more true than in the chain’s birthplace.  But the churches which feel the challenge the most sharply are liberal ones.

The blunt truth is that, if you’re a liberal church and your message is indistiguishable from the culture, people will stick to the culture and head out for a good cup of Joe.

On the other hand, the challenge for evangelicals is to effectively communicate the Gospel in a culture that no longer has been moulded by it.  That means crossing many bridges of many rivers and other wide bodies of water (the PNW is also the home of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, better known as “Galloping Gertie”) that weren’t necessary to traverse before.

And that, by definition, is being missional.

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