The Church of “Generica”

I travel a lot and I am in many cities across the county.  One thing that has really struck me is how similar one city is to the next…especially in the “burbs”. Almost every Outback, Chili’s or Applebee’s  has the same basic design.  I can be taken blindfolded into almost any Home Depot or Lowe’s, remove the covering and not know what city I am in. In most cases I can be plunked down in a community with developments that are less than 10 years old and much of the architecture of the  shopping centers, the so called “urban” housing, and office buildings look very similar.

I am conflicted when I see this.  A part of me feels comfortable and “safe”…but a deeper emotion wonders if we have settled for a generic, industrial, revolution mindset and formations. What happened to unique? What happened to original and innovative? Have we commoditized everything to the point that we press them into existence like we were running a Ford assembly line? Have we accepted that we live in “Generica” (A term not learned from Jon Crosby)? If so, are we also content with worshiping at The Church of “Generica”?

Recently, I read a blog by Sam Rainer III in Church Executive Magazine entitled “Hurdles to Established Church Innovation”.   I have a lot of respect for Sam and his dad Thom.  They are passionate about the local church and live it out in their personal and professional lives.

Sam starts the article by asking 2 questions:

“Does the established nature of some churches hinder innovation?”

“Is an established structure antithetical to quick, nimble changes?”

These may seem obvious or possibly rhetorical, but I think they are far more thought provoking than they may appear on the surface.  He drills down on what is “innovation” and “established”.  According to Sam, innovation is “the process of successfully establishing something new” while establish means “to create firm stability.”  Sam goes on to poke a couple holes in both by writing:

“Established churches, in particular, can take comfort in the establishment. Traditions and history can easily become a guise for complacency. Innovation can take a back seat to the entrenched processes that help create the stability.”

As I read further in to the article, I believe that Sam is communicating that it is a both/and scenario. We need to have innovation in all of our ministries.  We need to be exploring new and fresh ways to “be the church” instead of getting comfortable with our holy huddles.  It may require serious paradigm shifts, and yes…you may very well lose people because of it.  If that happens, and you believe that the innovation you have implemented is going to further the Kingdom and the mission of the church, then wish them well and let them go because they may very well have been the limiting factor to you reaching your God given vision.  I like what Joyce Meyers say…”Rejection is Protection”. When we are rejected, many times it is the Lord protecting us from a potentially bad situation or relationship.

At the same time, church plants and new works can not stay in a mode of only innovating and primarily focusing on being “cool”. At some point you need to establish systems, processes and core values. There needs to be a sense of stability and permanence.

“Generica” can be just as prevalent in a contemporary setting as a 100 year old traditional church. When I go to a conference of church planters or “cutting edge” churches, it strikes me as odd to see many pastors/leaders with the same hair style, same untucked shirts and pointy shoes. Or I will visit a contemporary church to witness the  same haze machines, 3 video screens, drum cage and mono-sloped roof lines.  What we think is cool, relevant  and cutting edge can be just as generic as the coat & tie, 4 white columns, red brick and steeple. This “condition” is an equal opportunity malady that can infect any church, any movement or any ministry organization.

Sam wraps up his article with 4 hurdles that may be hindering a church from innovating.  They are:

  1. Lack of intentionality –When resources are plentiful, the temptation is to be less intentional. The practice of spaghetti-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks is not true innovation. It’s haphazard chaos.
  2. Lack of originality –  Innovation is introducing something new, not introducing something with the façade of newness or a new logo.
  3. The wrong metrics -What gets measured gets done, and what you measure is typically an indicator of what you value. A mature church will measure different things than a new church. However, an overemphasis on the metrics sustaining the establishment will inevitably de-emphasize innovation and dissuade team members from attempting innovation.
  4. The ease of appeasement – In an established church, some leaders prefer the ease of appeasing members rather than innovating to reach new people. Appeasing existing members is much easier than challenging a church to innovate and reach new people.

Avoid becoming the Church of “Generica”…Innovate! This applies to how you “do” church, how you reach the community…and yes…how your facilities are designed.

Check out our book, Why Church Buildings Matter. Church facilities will not save a person from a life of sin and frustration. But the lack of attention to the church campus can indeed be the road block to reaching those people that need to hear the gospel message the most. Don’t minimize their impact. This book will reveal how to maximize your church facility to share the greatest story ever told, the gospel.

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