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Are Churches Changing Culture or is Culture Changing Church?

Are Churches Changing Culture or is Culture Changing Church?

Last week’s post outlined the biblical definition of “church”, showing how it has been redefined over recent decades in America.  The principal words for “church” found in Scripture, Ekklesia meaning “assembly of called out ones” and Kuriakos meaning “those belonging to the Lord”, both refer to the church in terms of a collective body of individual believers.  Yet now, society sees church as a “what” and not a “who”.  When evaluating how that transition took place, it is no surprise to learn that the distortion of the word “church” in America reflects dynamics of secular culture that have seeped into the “4 walls” of our church buildings and psyches.

Culture is Shaping Church…

As we discussed last week, “church” (as defined in the Bible) should not be characterized by any of the 10 terms listed below – but those words reflect common perceptions and realities of churches in America today.  Not coincidentally, those same terms accurately depict America’s culture.  Apparently, society is exerting significant influence over how we view and do “church”.  Let’s look at each of those 10 characteristics and perceptions of church and show how it syncs with the related cultural trend…

  1. a Place – Church came to be seen as somewhere Christians go on Sundays as Americans have become more reluctant to accept personal accountability and responsibility (e.g. for being the embodiment of “church”)
  2. an Event – Church evolved into a weekly production as Americans sought greater convenience and developed shorter attention spans
  3. an Institution – Church increasingly became structured as a legal entity operating in (expensive and underutilized) buildings as our nation became progressively more corporate and litigious
  4. a Social Club – Church has turned into fellowship without obligation, free to come and go as we please, as loyalty and commitment have declined in our country
  5. a Business – Nickels and noses have grown more prevalent measures of success in churches as money and metrics have taken center stage in our consumer and bottom-line culture
  6. a “Hospital” (for “sinners”) – For the “unchurched”, attending a weekend service became a last resort for those in crisis only when Americans’ endless search for fulfillment and happiness elsewhere eventually met dead ends at every turn
  7. Easy – Churches began allowing congregants to abdicate evangelism to the “professionals” as consumers came to expect excellent customer service (or take their business elsewhere)
  8. Quick – Worship services grew shorter and Sunday schools disappeared as our schedules got busier, leaving less time for church between work, social and kid’s activities
  9. Scripted – Sermons, songs and segues became more carefully choreographed as Americans grew accustomed to a high degree of professionalism and entertainment value at any events they attend
  10. Segregated – Collaboration among churches across denominations has decreased and diversity has suffered as divisiveness has increased between those on different sides of the racial, demographic and political aisles

Yes, churches in America have (either intentionally or unwittingly, but either way unfortunately) adopted many features commonly seen in the secular world.

Church is Not Shaping Culture…

Flipping the coin, if we look back again at our post from last week, we also reviewed 10 characteristics the Bible indicates that churches SHOULD have.  Yet we don’t find any of those prevalent in American culture today.  Therefore, it does not appear that church (as it should be) is substantially influencing our culture…

  1. Not a Place, It’s YOU – Because church is now generally defined as an institution, no longer consistent with the original Greek words used in Scripture, fewer individual Christians are being equipped to live out their intended Great Commission mandate (as the personification of church to those around them)
  2. Disciple-Making – Hesitancy to call congregants to obedience, instead promoting a “cheap grace” corresponding to our nation’s moral relativism, has kept many believers from imitating Jesus’ powerful prayer, care and share model that changed the world
  3. Decentralized – A body of Christ that better balanced taking care of its own with pursuing lost sheep in the community and sacrificed building congregations for building disciples would see its reach expand dramatically as individuals truly became the hands and feet of Jesus wherever they live, play and work
  4. Evangelistic – Training more believers to effectively share the Gospel (despite popular opinion deeming any voicing of religious views as improper social etiquette) would undermine the “I’m right, you’re right” philosophy that has supplanted “I’m ok, you’re ok” as the rallying cry of intolerance by those (ironically and intolerantly) unwilling to endure dissenting views
  5. Compassionate – Reoccupying the lead role in compassion, a position the Church occupied for 1900 years as it followed Jesus’ example of demonstrating His love before telling people who He is, would speak clearly to a waiting world that believes it is more concerned than Christians about poverty and social justice
  6. Believers – In a culture increasingly inclined to doubt the validity of absolutes and truth, and in the name of tolerance hold that all (religious) roads essentially lead to the same destination, there is no better time for each of us as the living, breathing church to take responsibility for leading people to Christ
  7. Risky – Stepping out on a limb to deal with tough issues within the church like sin and repentance would provide a firmer (and less hypocritical) platform to speak about sin and repentance to a world riddled with guilt but mistrusting of the church to show it the path to redemption
  8. Loving – Society sees the love churchgoers have for their (institutional) church, but not necessarily their love for the Lord and those outside the “4 walls”, instead sensing self-righteousness and judgementalism in part due to the prioritization of little “c” over big “C”, inadvertently redefining “neighbor” to include a narrower audience than Jesus intended
  9. Transformative – The calls to radical life change, submission, surrender, holiness and sanctification have been replaced with repeating a prayer of salvation and getting involved in church activities, making it difficult to distinguish churchgoers from their unchurched counterparts
  10. United – Everyone desires a sense of belonging, yet that carnal craving diminishes the collective influence of the Church when Christians sell out their individual responsibility to be a light in a dark work in exchange for service to a single congregation

It’s Your Turn…

Do you agree with our assessment of the convergence of church and modern culture?  If so, what do you plan to do to advance the biblical definition of “church” within your circle of influence?


10 Responses

  1. How appropriate that the American Flag dwarfs the cross in the feature photo. Because that serves to demonstrate the priorities of the Church in America. Protecting and preserving our comfortable, affluent, indulgent American lifestyle, with a little Jesus sprinkled on top on Sunday mornings. Jesus told us to expect persecution. Whereas, we seem to feel we are entitled here in the good ol USA to protect ourselves from any and all possible persecution, sacrifice, loss, and inconvenience by any means necessary. We develop and program our churches to appeal to popular culture, not to challenge or change it. The world hated Jesus, but we want the world to love us.

    The early Church in Acts spoke of the church being a community, where the common good was more important than individual success. Where those who had extra, would sell the excess in order to give to those who had less. The Bible calls that loving our neighbour. But the American Christian scoffs at it as Socialism.

  2. I believe you are right that we (the Church) have assimilated into the world instead redeeming the world. In the High Priestly prayer Jesus prayed in John 17:12 – 19, partially verse 15 – 19, “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.” From this passage we were not to be assimilated into the world but “sanctified” which means “set apart” in truth from the world. If we were truly “sanctified in the truth” we would be effecting the world as the early Church was doing when “the Lord was adding to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47) This continued throughout the early Church but it is missing today. There are some individual congregations and some denominations that are still remaining “sanctified in the truth.” but more and more are allowing the world’s ideas of abortion and homosexuality to be accepted in their organizations. As we allow the ideas of the world to become apart of our beliefs, we loss our influence to change the world as we conform to the world instead of being transformed.

  3. As we begin to look at church and culture i think this assessment is well researched and organized. it is exactly what is happening, and we need to take these things and take action. we need to as Christians need to study the culture and see the rapid change around and outside of church and then evaluate the slow change in church. but if we are really going to have church and the body of Christ change culture them we have to have empathy, relationships, communication. when we study culture through generations, race, political views, music, and fashion we then can begin to talk to those outside the church hear their story and with some context relate to them not with sympathy but empathy. then as we relate we then can build a strong relationship with those people. finally with those relationships we then can communicate to them and love them and celebrate the life change that happens, but without empathy and relationships we will not be able to communicate because they will disregard what we say and look at what we are trying to even though it is with desire and passion to reach the masses it will look like we are shoving the gospel down their throat.

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  5. The bible says we’re
    a peculiar people but as we adapt to fit in we’re getting less peculiar year
    after year.

    if we don’t stand for something we’ll fall for anything.

  6. Should the church be “changing culture”? I don’t believe Jesus had any desire to change culture. Christians are to be a light to the world, but we will never change the world. That will only happen when Jesus makes all things new. We are to follow after Christ in order to draw others out of the world.

    There is a doctrine being taught, popular among televangelists, that Christianity will somehow sweep across the landscape and overcome the world. That’s simply not going to happen, and the Bible makes that abundantly clear.

    Our fight is spiritual, not carnal. And Jesus’ kingdom is “not of this world”.

    “…narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:14

  7. My church seems to be very accommodating to culture. It has become entertainment. Thirty minutes of a “sermon” off a large screen on the platform. When Vacation Bible School was over, all the plastic blow up gadgets one could find around a swimming pool were displayed during “worship service” and one teen and two pre-teens dancing to an instrumental song. The 30 minute sermon was presented as soon as the dance was over. We were all told to stand up, raise our hands in the air, dance in an effort to “worship” God. If a person wants to “get saved” text the decision and they will get a tee shirt with the church logo, and they will receive printed information the next week about their decision. There will be no acknowledgement of Human Right Sunday re abortion, because as my pastor said when I asked about it, “I’ve talked to too many women who come into my office crying their eyes out because they had an abortion. We don’t want to cause them more pain if they are here.” The old hymns that the older folks grew up with will be held once a month in the evening to sing the old hymns. Now, we are going to start a third “worship service” which could likely end the Bible Study my husband and I teach. The Bible Study or Sunday School Class as it was once known, is being replaced by small groups, a new one is called Dude. Its where men going shooting with another man or their son to build relationships. There’s a relationship group – how to relate. Generally, we are given a handout asking us to list topics we want to hear i.e., How to Make Good Decisions, etc., then a fill in the blanks during the 30 minute “sermon” time. There is generally a treat for each of us when its over: Donuts, Rice Krispie treat, ice cream, a coffee packet, watermelon, popcorn, etc, and an occasional food truck out front when “worship” time ends. One Sunday there was a huge bouncy toy in front of the church. My heart is broken when I see the Word of God, The Gospels, hardly a mention of Jesus anymore. Hardly anyone brings a Bible. My husband and I are thinking about leaving. Have I just described “the emerging church?” Supposedly, 74 people have been saved and joined the church this year. There is no follow up. When I suggested a discipleship class, I was told that would be too hard to organize. Our pastor has a degree in journalism. The majority of our leadership is under thirty years old. We have a fairly large youth group but there is no Bible Study for them – mostly fin stuff.

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