Walk in and hear rock music, see people wearing jeans and flip flops, and look at big video screens in church -- yes, in church. Messages that focus on sex, success and decision making are also common fare. Welcome to the contemporary church. The movement is a growing part of the Christian church and began more than 35 years ago outside Chicago, Ill. A young pastor named Bill Hybels founded Willow Creek Community Church, a new kind of church that focused on reaching people who had given up on church or never went.
The contemporary church movement has radically impacted both the church and culture. Many of the new churches that start are contemporary and many traditional churches have added contemporary services. A whole generation of boomers and busters are now trying church and finding that the contemporary church meets their needs and brings them closer to God. The significant increase of these churches is in large part responsible for the growth of mega churches. Many of the largest churches in America are contemporary including Willow Creek and Rick Warren's Saddleback Church. While traditional churches are struggling with declining numbers, contemporary churches are rapidly growing.
The contemporary church in central Virginia began almost 19 years ago (it takes the capital of the Confederecy a little longer to embrace change) when I founded Richmond Community Church. Initially, we were met with skepticism as to whether we were in fact even a church. Meeting in a school, eschewing religious icons and focusing on relating to the culture were all viewed with curiosity if not dissent. Today that seems somewhat silly as numerous contemporary churches have started around our region and contemporary methods have made their way into many different churches.
What is important to know is that the contemporary church is just that, the Church. The message is absolutely faithful to Jesus and the Bible but the methodology is definitely modern. Relevance is the word for the contemporary church as it tries to find a timely way to communicate a timeless message. The immense amount of change in our culture has necessitated a response from the Church. Computers, e-mail and the Internet were not even on the radar screen 30 years ago yet today they are such a part of modern life no one could live without them.
The appeal of the contemporary church is undeniable. Since we started we have seen explosive growth. The vast majority of the growth has come from previously unchurched people. The contemporary church has become the most effective way to reach spiritually seeking people. Because there is a significant emphasis on making the gospel message understandable to everyone seekers come. Because there is openness to innovation and change moderns are attracted.
Another fascinating aspect of the growth is the amount of young people that are interested in attending. When churched folks visit they are always amazed at how many young adults attend our services. The contemporary church has been very effective in reaching younger people and engaging them. Part of that engagement has to do with community service. The old dichotomy between the social ministry emphasis of the mainline churches and the evangelistic emphasis of the evangelical churches is eliminated. Contemporary churches are reaching out in unprecedented ways to meet the needs of the poor and needy. Young people find it appropriate that following Jesus involves caring for those in need. In classic practical style the contemporary church offers young adults (and everyone else) specific ways they can make a difference in their community.
There is also impressive diversity in the contemporary church. People come from all kinds of racial and ethnic backgrounds. What connects such a diverse group of human beings is the unique contemporary vision. Folks find it quite enticing to experience worship in a culturally relevant way. Listening to music that is heard on the radio, singing praise songs with a live band instead of hymns with a choir, hearing messages that are practical and relatable to their lives are more important than different backgrounds. Being able to dress casually, having high quality children's care and ministry and watching interesting videos make more of a difference than anything else.
The contemporary church is complex but there are certain generic qualities that have been identified. It is arguably the most significant spiritual movement in our country today. The growth and influence in both the number of churches and the numerical growth of the churches is significantly impacting our cultural landscape. Without changing its message, the church has changed it methods, and the result is very positive for all people.
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