Can current trends in culture affect your church? Let’s take a look at some of the implications.
Things have been moving towards minimalism and “natural” for some time. You can also insert authentic, real, or genuine in place of natural as well.
Some gum companies are proud to offer “real sugar” instead of artificial sweeteners.
Chocolate has also been in the game–and that with some heavy-hitting backers.
Mayonnaise used to be a little shy of its cholesterol inducing properties, but now it’s back and boasting.
And then I ran into this fascinating article which takes this trend to its logical extreme.
In the article by Slate titled Genius Barista: Tech Investors Think They’ve Found the Apple of Coffee, the author writes about a new coffee place called Blue Bottle. On one extreme is Starbucks. To many, they now represent the establishment company, which of course, is bad for some–much like Wal-Mart. They are the big brother crowding out the little indie companies. Starbucks is everywhere. They offer free wi-fi. Have music. Nice couches.
Coffee. That’s it.
The author notes:
In contrast to the corporate uniformity of Starbucks outlets, each Blue Bottle café is snowflake-special, its layout tailored to the quirks of its real estate. But the focus is squarely on the coffee: no Wi-Fi, no power outlets, no special deals on Sarah McLachlan CDs. The seating skews scant and Spartan, and the menu options are relatively simple. You will not find pumpkin spice lattes, dark cherry mochas, or any other sorts of coffee that do not taste like coffee. Nor will you be asked to choose between talls, grandes, or ventis. At Blue Bottle, a cappuccino is a cappuccino, and it comes in cappuccino size. What it does not come in, typically, is a to-go cup: Freeman is convinced that drinking espresso from a paper vessel results in an inferior experience.
So what’s the result of this spartan aesthetic that focuses on doing one thing really well? People are crazy over it. They have lines snaking out of their stores.
Here’s another interesting article that helps explain why companies like Blue Bottle are becoming so popular. Whereas Baby Boomers have pushed franchising and big box stores, Millennials tend to avoid things that are mass-produced. They long for things that are unique.
Which, by the way, have you noticed the trends in NormCore? Quoting Kristine Guoco from NY Mag, “Everyone’s so unique, that it’s not unique anymore. Especially in New York.” Things have gotten to the point where everyone is so unique in their style, that the only way to stand out is to look rather bland. It’s an ironic take at being cool. Think of how Jerry Seinfeld dresses. Fashion commentator, Simon Doonan, notes that NormCore is a drive away from flash in fashion and a drive towards simplification and not exhibiting brand labels.
Ok, back to Blue Bottle. They are a “quiet brand” that doesn’t market its values–offering organic coffee and being fair trade and all that–but it lives its values. It’s a subtle in-the-know brand.
I’m not a coffee guy, but I think this holds some important lessons on trends for churches, particularly those that are trying to reach Millennials. I think these are lessons that have been obvious to those paying attention, but this may serve as a reminder.
But first, here’s a few key words that I think are reflective of where the influential parts of culture are:
1. Leaders must be authentic
The days of church leaders pretending like everything is always perfect has been over for some time. People these days can sniff that stuff out quickly. (Here’s a thought for leaders on that subject. It’s a post I wrote called The Myth of the Perfect Leader on Planet Perfect.) I don’t believe this is an invitation to share every weakness you have, but I believe it’s appropriate to share some weaknesses. If you struggle with a Bible text say it. Occasionally share about a time you felt discouraged. Be real. Be authentic. As a church leader there are times in which life is not always kumbayah. Acknowledge that.
2. People are searching for intimacy and community
I see this affecting churches in two ways. First, I believe this is a call for churches to make sure to have gatherings where people can experience intimacy and community; gatherings such as small groups and other events where they can share.
Second, I think more churches should explore a multi-site paradigm.The fact is that the multi-site movement is growing. They’re growing for a few reasons. For one, it makes churches smaller, giving them a sense of intimacy. This model has been the bread and butter of LifeChurch.tv. They have over 50 multi-site campuses. The max size of each campus is about 700 hundred people. Another reason why this movement is growing is because people can still expect a high level of quality in the church gathering experience. This is important to people and is also the reason why mega churches are growing.
Third, this is an opportunity for well-done church plants. On our campus, there is a worship service called One Place. To clarify, this is not a church plant, but I think the principle still applies. It launched about a year and a half ago and instantly became very popular. They meet in a venue that holds around 280 people. Worship services are high quality. Good speakers. They are also very dynamic in the sense that there are no sacred cows. The service changes every week. People don’t know what to expect one week to the next.
3. Churches should tell stories
Testimony times are brilliant. They immediately bridge the gap between the church and the people. They connect and attract. They make Christianity real.
Now, I’m not suggesting to have an open-mic time in a church service, though occasionally those might be appropriate. I think the best kind of “testimony” times are actually interviews. The church leader has heard the testimony of the person sharing their story. That leader will then ask a few key questions to draw out the story in an effective way.
4. People are seeking to make a difference
People are flocking to brands that are “socially conscious.” This is not an invitation for churches to all of a sudden crusade against the living conditions of Apple workers in a Chinese factory, but it might. If your church is in China, do that. Better yet, do something local. In other words, don’t create something for the sake of jumping on the band-wagon–actually care. Does your church seek to make a difference in the community somehow? Does your church stand for something? If not, you should. Get to know your community. Find out what’s happening and engage it.
5. The push to more casual will increase
I predict that the push towards more casualness in churches will increase. Some in culture associate casualness with realness and authenticity and associate suited up pastors and church members with the opposite. (If you missed it, make sure to check out this post by Tiago Arrais on dress in church.) There is pushback to this trend, of course. Did you notice this article on CNN? Stop Dressing So Tacky For Church. Whether you like it or not, there will be more pastors preaching in flip flops and jeans in the coming years.
I think I’ll stop there. Like I said earlier, if you’ve been paying attention, these trends are probably not new, but I think it’s helpful to be reminded of them.
What other trends in culture have you noticed? What other implications can we draw for churches? To leave a comment click here. (Know someone that can use a primer on recent trends? Make sure to share this post.)
[image by Atilla Kefeli]