What you’re thinking about Church is probably more cultural than it is Biblical
This past Christmas my wife bought a game for us to play as a family. It’s called ‘OK Boomer’, which is funny because that’s what my kids call us now (even thought we’re not, to be clear). The game was a blast to play and it highlighted different cultural experiences that we all had in our little generational slice of American historical experience. After playing the game until late at night with lots of laughter and story telling, I couldn’t help but notice how different the cultural markers were and how those cultural markers draw parallels to that generation’s expression of church.
So as a follow on to my last blog post: ""Be Open to the Online Expression of Church," I wanted to talk about what seems to influence how Church gets expressed more than anything else.
You can see it in the differences between Jewish culture and Gentile culture of the first century heavily influencing the way each expressed devotion to Jesus and culture’s affects can be seen today around the world where the American expression of church is wildly different from the church seen in other parts of the world like Africa, India, or Asia.
But what about generational culture? As I reflected on generational cultural markers, I couldn’t help but notice that they too have influenced the way we express church.
So, I started to do some real scientific in-depth research. I asked ChatGPT. And what came up was surprising (which ChatGPT usually is), especially when thought of in comparison to each generation’s cultural markers in America with the American church expression that particular generation builds.
Here’s what ChatGPT said about the Baby Boomer generation, but as you read it, think of it in the light of the Boomer church:
'The period between 1946 and 1964 is often referred to as the "Baby Boomer" generation, and it was characterized by several cultural markers that defined this era in American history. Some of the key cultural markers of this period include:
- Post-War Prosperity: After the end of World War II, the American economy experienced a period of rapid growth and prosperity, and this had a profound impact on the cultural and social landscape of the country.
- The Civil Rights Movement: This period saw the emergence of the modern civil rights movement, with African Americans and other minorities demanding equal rights and opportunities in all areas of life.
- The Cold War: The threat of nuclear war and the growing tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union dominated the political and cultural landscape of the period.
- Suburbanization: As the American economy boomed, millions of families moved from cities to the suburbs, where they could enjoy a more spacious and relaxed lifestyle.
- The Counterculture Movement: During this period, a counterculture movement emerged that rejected the dominant cultural and political values of the time, and sought to create alternative forms of expression and community.
- The Women's Liberation Movement: The women's liberation movement emerged during this period, as women demanded greater equality and opportunity in all areas of life.
- Technological Advances: The period between 1946 and 1964 saw many important technological advances, including the development of computers, television, and space exploration.
These cultural markers defined the era between 1946 and 1964, and had a profound impact on the social, cultural, and political landscape of the United States. They continue to influence American culture today, and are remembered as an important part of the nation's history.’
I can’t help but notice how the church the Boomers built is prosperous, suburban, and thinks of technological advance in terms of television. Also, the counterculture movement was known for ‘sex, drugs, and rock and roll’ which seem to also have influenced the church as well.
Now I don’t see this as necessarily a bad thing to adjust to the culture in order to win it, even Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.
20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.
21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.
22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
It’s just worth noting that our current expression of Church may be more cultural than we think it is. If you want to reach Boomers, talk about prosperity, plant your church in the suburbs and use TV and pop worship music, it all makes sense.
But what if you want to reach the emerging generation? What about Gen Z?
Well, here’s what ChatGPT says about Gen Z culture, and again, think of this in terms of what the church will need to become in order to reach this new culture. Here’s what the American cultural markers of Gen Z according to ChatGPT:
‘American Cultural Markers between the Late 1990s and Early 2010s:
- Advances in Technology: The late 1990s and early 2010s saw a rapid acceleration in the development and adoption of technology, including the widespread use of the internet, smartphones, and social media.
- Globalization: This period saw increased globalization, with the rise of international trade and travel, as well as the growth of multinational corporations.
- The War on Terror: Following the attacks on September 11, 2001, the United States launched the War on Terror, leading to a significant shift in foreign policy and military engagement.
- Economic Recession: The late 2000s saw a major economic recession, characterized by high unemployment and widespread financial instability.
- The Rise of Social Media: Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram emerged and rapidly gained widespread popularity, changing the way people communicate and interact with one another.
- Increased Political Polarization: This period saw a significant increase in political polarization, with the rise of more extreme political views and greater division between political parties.
- Environmental Awareness: Environmental issues became a major cultural concern during this period, with increased awareness and activism focused on issues such as climate change and renewable energy.
- Pop Culture and Entertainment: The late 1990s and early 2010s saw a proliferation of pop culture and entertainment, with the rise of reality TV shows, celebrity culture, and the growth of the video gaming industry.
- The #MeToo Movement: The #MeToo movement emerged during this period, as women spoke out about sexual harassment and assault, leading to a nationwide conversation about gender equality and the treatment of women in the workplace.
- The LGBTQ+ Rights Movement: The LGBTQ+ rights movement gained significant momentum during this period, with the legalization of same-sex marriage and increased visibility and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.
These cultural markers reflect the significant social, cultural, and political changes that took place between the late 1990s and early 2010s, and continue to shape American culture and society today.’
When I see this new culture we are called to win, I can’t help but think of distributed and fragmented global expressions of church using smartphones in social networks, and gaming platforms for starters. Sounds like the new Digital Church to me.
And for those who think the prevailing model of church is the right one, just look around at who shows up.
Also, it’s not as if the American model of a church service actually reflects how Paul said to do in 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 (and if you’re brave enough to continue on to verse 40). I haven’t seen a 1 Corinthians 14 church service liturgy anywhere in America.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing either, especially where parts of that direction from Paul were also culturally driven for gentiles in the first century.
We just need to be sure which culture we’re intending to reach and let that culture’s expression of church be what Jesus wants it to be as that culture follows Jesus. No matter how weird it might seem to our generational culture.
Jesus wasn’t a boomer either.
What do you think? Why else should Pastors and ministers be on social media? Share your ideas below or on social media.
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