Over thirty years ago Apple changed the personal computer landscape. The Macintosh was introduced—“the computer for the rest of us.” Now our cultural landscape is changing. Does this call for a church for the rest of us?
Introduced in 1981, the IBM Model 5150 was the first widely used personal computer. But it didn’t appeal to everyone. Intuitive types felt computer languages were foreign. Typing in long commands wasn’t instinctual. Then, in 1984, Macintosh arrived. It felt like a computer for the rest of us.
A similar revolution is occurring today. It’s cultural, denoted by the rapid rise of religious “nones” and exiles. Neither is drawn to the church. It feels like IBM.
Nones are intuitive and into spirituality. The church feels left-brained and linear, speaking a foreign language. Exiles are Christians who feel like outsiders in church. They resonate with nones. Both see the church as an outsider, an exile in today’s world. By 2030, nones and exiles will likely be 70 percent of the US population. It’s unlikely they’ll come to your church. It’s unlikely they’ll respond to present-day outreach.
It’s not that modern outreach efforts are ineffective. They’re not expansive enough. They don’t touch nones and exiles. I know—I’m an exile. I know a great many nones. I know many exiles as well. We don’t have a church for the rest of us.
I’m not talking about hip, cool, or trendy. I’m talking about a church that “understands the times and knows what to do” (II Chr. 12:32). Many analysts say the church in Europe and the US is, spiritually speaking, in exile. It’s an outsider. So were the Judeans in the Babylonian exile. Is this a template for us? You tell me.
If the Babylonian exile is a template, a church for the rest of us would recognize reality. Max de Pree said the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. In Babylon, God said the Judeans were “the exiles whom I have sent into exile” (Jer. 29:4-6). But few Judeans “got it.” Most denied exile because it was an indictment of their unfaithfulness.
I think we’re in a similar situation. I recently attended a pastors’ breakfast. The topic was “the culture” and how to “win it” with superior arguments. This is indicative of a left-brained, linear approach that blinds us to our own faults. The entire morning was about how those outside the church are the problem. Not a word about the church in exile.
A church for the rest of us would also redefine success. In Babylon, God told the Jews to “seek the welfare of the city, for as the Babylonians flourish, so shall you” (Jer. 29:7). A church impacting nones and exiles defines success by the degree that local institutions flourish. If they flourish—take the gospel seriously—we flourish. If they don’t, we don’t.
If you want to discover how any church defines success, ask this question. How’s your church doing? Nine times out of ten, you’ll hear something like we’re a church of 800. Or you’ll hear about the physical plant or the size of the budget. Dallas Willard called these the ABCs—attendance, building, cash. Nones and exiles feel the ABCs have no necessary correlation with effectiveness. Remember, the Jews prided themselves on having a nice temple in Jerusalem. But they weren’t impacting most of their neighbors.
Finally, a church for the rest of us translates the faith. The sons of Judah (the only ones who recognized reality) were selected to “learn the language and literature of Babylon” (Dan. 1:4). Took three years. This is what missionaries do after setting foot on foreign soil. It’s hard to seek the flourishing of others if you don’t speak their language. A church for the rest of us would recognize we’re outsiders. We’re missionaries. The US is foreign soil.
This sort of church could be launched inside almost any church. It could take the form of an innovation lab or skunk works. I worked with a church years ago that did this. Out of this came a CEO who asked me to translate the “four-chapter” (creation-fall-redemption-restoration) gospel into business language. I came up with ought-is-can-will. This is similar to what the early church did. The anonymous “Letter to Diognetius” notes: “For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech.” The early church was for the whole world, not just believers.
I’m working with a few pastors who recognize reality. One of them recently told his church they’ve likely reached everyone in the county they’re going to. Like the IBM PC, they have a good model for some. But they lack a model for nones and exiles. A church for the rest of us wouldn’t be novel. Mac and IBM are rooted in the same binary code—ones and zeroes. This church would be rooted in the same gospel but more accessible.
Apple changed the world. All tablets, computers and smartphones are now instinctual and icon driven. The computer for the rest of us is the computer for most of us. Wouldn’t it great if a church for the rest of us was one day a church for most of us?
Follow me on Twitter: @Metzger_Mike
Thanks, Mike. Great weekend. I will be sharing with my wife and boys. Please pray for as much of the interactive leader in me (50%) be used by the Lord.
Nones, exiles, …all of us are looking for a “brush with the transcendent power” of Jesus within the context of real community. When a church worships in a manner that heightens our awareness of His presence, reads the scriptures for formation as well as information, and truly works at fostering a genuine community, it will be noteworthy to every demographic grouping we can devise.
Looking for the “like” button, Tim! True, that.
Here is where I think we might want to make another distinction – that between body of believers and the formally assembled body in worship – although I don’t want to ever strictly compartmentalize work, play and worship. . . .
I’m still thinking this through.
In some ways the churches that have tried to be more accessible to ‘nones’ on a Sunday have informalized the level of their worship of God to the ‘barely there’, sometimes mentioned only in passing, and in the form of a catchy song that also emphasizes their own very worthy (or very needy) selves.
I’m thinking that Daniel in the upper room holds a clue.
Thought-provoking as ever, Metz!
“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Effective hearing, assimilation and response were so strongly commended by Jesus, as ineffective hearing and unresponsiveness to his teaching were not without consequence. As a borderline exile, hearing well and responding well are most difficult, and often leave me on the sidelines of institutional church. Thanks for your thoughts today.
Excellent insights, resonating with this 70-year old exile. This is not a generational issue. It’s a human issue. Thanks Mike.
Redefining success: influence in the institutions that connect nones and exiles.
your piece resonates here in Australia too, where we see a similar response. We need to be culturally literate and avoid the Christian echo chamber if we are to remain relevant