With more and more of America’s youth leaving the church at a rapid rate, some ministries are crossing traditional boundaries to stay “culturally relevant.” But is there such a thing as going “too far” to attract believers to, and keep them engaged with, Christ?
In some extreme cases, churches have incorporated tattoo parlors into their ministries or founded “Christian” night clubs for believers who want to get their groove on in a non-secular setting. These moves, despite their good intentions, do not come without criticism. Some critics say such attempts to stay culturally relevant blur the boundary between Christian worship and a sinful lifestyle.
One ministry changing with the times is The Bridge church, located in Flint Township, Mich., which has incorporated the Serenity Tattoo Parlor into its community.
The parlor was opened when tattoo artist Ryan Brown, a recovering alcoholic, needed a place where he could practice his art while maintaining his moral code. Brown and fellow tattoo artist Drew Blaisdell work at Serenity by appointment or from noon to 8 p.m. most days.
The Rev. Steven Bentley, who leads The Bridge, and his wife, Katrina, feel that the church has become “ineffective in reaching the lost in our cultures," according to the church's official website.
As Bentley told The Christian Post, critics of the tattoo parlor have referred to the church as merely a “building.”
“The building is just a place, it really doesn't matter,” Bentley told CP, contending that Christ’s community is far more important than the building where the community worships.
Bentley says that he and The Bridge are trying to convey the message that they “don’t condemn” because “people are just scared of being rejected, judged, and condemned.”
He added that his ministry is trying to find a way to love everyone, because nowadays “the church of America is often known for what they are against, rather than what they are for.”
Similarly, in Great Falls, Mont., Faith Center Foursquare Church has recently installed a skate park in its youth center. The skate park is open to anyone in the community, and serves as a new venue for youth to visit during the winter months.
The church's youth pastor, Joey Petty, says the purpose of the skate park is to remind the youth that they are “loved regardless of the choices they have made.”
“When [the youth] come in, the premise is that you were thought about enough that people invested their time, their money, and their resources without any strings attached,” Petty told The Christian Post.
Most of these ministries will say they have been successful, but some have shown that staying current with the times does not come without its risks.
Mosaic church, an untraditional ministry in Chattanooga, Tenn., has been forced to relocate after a gang-related shooting occurred at its Christian nightclub, Club Fathom, during a Christmas party.
Mosaic will be leaving its current home by Jan. 31 “under the current mayor's administration and court rulings that gave us orders on how Mosaic is allowed to worship and what types of people we can or cannot allow at our worship services,” wrote the church's pastor, Tim Reid, in a Facebook comment.
“These orders make it impossible to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ that teaches us to love and accept all,” he added.
The gang-related shooting occurred on Christmas Eve at neighboring Club Fathom, Mosaic Church’s urban youth outreach program.
The shootings occurred when the 400 participants of Club Fathom’s Christmas Eve party exited around midnight. Nine people were wounded in the shootings.
According to a press release from Mosaic church, the shooting that occurred outside of Club Fathom was not a result of gang rivalries, but rather were a result of a gang ambush on innocent youth members of the church.
“Our youth have chosen to walk away from the gang lifestyle, but they remain in harm’s way because of the violence of Chattanooga’s current gang members,” Pastor Reid wrote in a statement on Mosaic's website.
Reid vows to continue offering a safe haven for teens to practice their faith.
“Some people hate us and some people love us, but peel back all the sensationalism, hype and false statements we will still love those who the rest of the church ignores! God has purposed us to be pioneers in how to conduct ministry. The truth will come out in 2012!” Reid wrote on the affiliated Mosaic Arts Venue Facebook wall.
These are not the only examples of churches heeding the call to stay culturally relevant. Youth ministry rock bands, ministry-sponsored camping trips and techno-themed sermons are just a few more examples of churches trying to keep in pace with the 21st Century.
Dr. Rusty Freeman, director of Youth Ministries at the Southwest Texas Conference, says that it is important for churches to stay culturally relevant, but “it may not always work,” adding that youth leaders must remember to ultimately focus on the leading of the Holy Spirit.
“It goes back to that basic relationship in ministry ... the relationship between the students and God,” Freeman told The Christian Post.
“I really do think God's spirit will lead those folks into knowing and discerning how best to be relevant in the community,” he added.