Why Cool Church Doesn’t Work Anymore

Why Cool Church Doesn't Work Anymore

Everything has its season.

And the season of the cool church is, in many ways, coming to an end.

Recently, I wrote a post that generated a lot of discussion online and offline about why charismatic churches are growing and attractional churches are past peak. You can read that post here.

To drill down further, here’s more on what’s been happening as the culture changes around us.

So flip back a few decades… There was an era when simply being a cooler, more relevant church than the church down the road helped churches reach unchurched people.

There was a day when all you had to do was improve the church you led to gain traction.

Trade in the choir for a band. Turn the chancel into a platform. Add some lights, some sound, some haze. Get some great teaching in the room. And voila, you had a growing church.

But we’re quickly moving into a season where having a cool church is like having the best choir in town: It’s wonderful for the handful of people who still listen to choral music.

Something’s changing. And hundreds of thousands of dollars in lights and great sound gear are probably not going to impact your community like they used to.

So what’s changing? Plenty.

COOL ISN’T ENOUGH (ANYMORE)

You might think I’m against churches have bands, lights and creating a great environment. Not at all. In fact, our church and many growing churches have full production.

If you are going to gather people, gather well.

My point is not that you shouldn’t. My point is that it’s no longer enough.

And maybe it never was.

The megachurches many of us watch today didn’t get to be as effective as they are simply by being cool.

If you really study how most large churches have become effective in leading people to Jesus (and yes—haters step aside—many large churches are effective in leading people into a real relationship with Jesus Christ), they have always been about more than just lights, sound and show. There’s substance. More substance than critics would ever give them credit for.

Are megachurches universally healthy? No.

But neither are many small churches. In fact, often the dysfunction in small churches eclipses that of medium-sized or large churches.

So why would cool church be fading into the sunset?

3 REASONS COOL CHURCH ISN’T ENOUGH

Decades ago as cool church started to take root among very large, rapidly growing churches, many other, smaller churches and church plants followed suit.

And for a season, it ‘worked.’

Getting some awesome lights, better sound, better music and a slightly more hip communicator grew churches.

Sure, some of the growth was transfer-growth, but a big percentage of what many churches experienced was not transfer-growth. People invited their friends and their friends came back.

So what’s changing?

But now most cities have a great selection of cool churches. Cities have dozens, and many towns have at least a few.

It’s no longer unusual to have a band in church. It’s not even that novel to have lights and great sound or to play all the cool songs.

And…in the process of all this imitation, three things happened:

1. CUTTING EDGE KEEPS CHANGING…FAST

What was novel isn’t novel for long anymore.

The rise of technology and social media means that you now hold access to pretty much anything you want in your hand whenever you want to.

You used to have to hire experts or do some exploring to find cool things. Sometimes you even had to travel. Now you just download an app, watch a video, stream a song or follow whatever trend you’re passionate about in the moment—whenever you want to. Instantly. Usually for free.

Consequently, there’s kind of a trend-fatigue or indifference happening. Trends are shorter, less interesting, and we’re all growing oh-so-bored with what’s novel.

Which means that it’s harder than ever for churches to be cutting edge because cutting edge keeps changing.

2. INDIFFERENCE TO CHURCH HAS GROWN 

As this helpful Barna research points out, even in the U.S. people are increasingly indifferent to church. That’s certainly been true in Canada, Europe and in places like Australia and New Zealand for awhile.

So a decade ago having a cool church would have given you more traction than it does today.

If people aren’t into church, it doesn’t matter how cool, hip or trendy your church is, people won’t be that interested.

You behave this way. If you’re on a health kick, you’re not going to order the burger and fries, even if they are the best in town. And if you’re not on a healthy kick, the spinach, arugula, kale salad with tuna isn’t going to capture your imagination, no matter how healthy it is.

3. IMITATION KILLED INNOVATION

Of all three points, this one probably bothers me the most.

To begin with, when churches imitate each other, we rarely borrow all the best practices—we just borrow the ones that are easy to see or seem obvious.

But what’s made growing churches grow is deeper than the cool factor.

Consequently, leaders who finally get what they were longing for—a cool church—are often shocked to discover they don’t deliver what they promised.

And in the process of all that imitation, something even more important is lost: innovation.

What’s needed now more than ever is church leaders willing to pioneer…to go deep into a culture that keeps changing to reach people who are increasingly resistant.

What’s needed most as we look at what’s ahead is innovation. And it’s sorely lacking among many church leaders.

Should you never imitate? No…that’s not wise either. To refuse to borrow best practices from others is arrogant and, to a large extent, futile thinking.

The point is simply this: Don’t let imitation kill innovation at your church.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Speaker and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in Canada. With over 6 million downloads, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast features today's top leaders and cultural influencers. His most recent book is “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.” Carey and his wife, Toni, reside near Barrie, Ontario and have two children.

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