While not all modern churches have these problems, far too many do. Here are five big issues with modern Christian churches in the United States.
“Church” has several meanings. Here I am primarily referring to church institutions, usually involving a meeting place like a building. I’m not using “church” to refer to the body of believers as a whole.
Disclaimer: these critiques are far from gospel and are merely my own opinions. I’m being very critical here, yes. But not without offering suggestions for improvement.
1. Not preaching the gospel
The good news of Jesus Christ should be abundantly clear in the messages of a church. This doesn't mean every single sermon needs to include Jesus necessarily (we can still learn from other parts in the Bible), but since He’s the most important person that ever lived (and the central focus of Christianity itself), it might be a good idea to mention Him once and a while (maybe even often. How about almost always).
Obviously, preaching a partial or incorrect gospel should be avoided at all costs (“Jesus was just a good moral teacher,” “Jesus didn't really die,” etc.).
I’ll go out on a limb and say most modern churches don’t have this problem. But some do.
2. Hyper “Seeker-friendliness”
Should a church be welcoming to outsiders? Absolutely.
Does that mean services should be targeting unbelievers? Not necessarily.
Let me quickly explain a big problem with being overly-concerned with being a “seeker-friendly” church: if you mold or shape a church experience to make unbelievers comfortable, you begin to compromise your own values to do so. For example, if there’s a controversial topic for the time (homosexuality, abortion, etc.), a church shouldn't shy away for speaking the truth on these topics just because they’re afraid it won’t help bring non-believers to the church.
This calls into question the purpose of the church itself. Is it to edify an existing body of believers? Or provide a platform for unbelievers to come to belief?
The Great Commission, that is, making disciples of all nations, should be a daily ambition. However, shouldn't the primary concern of a congregation meeting together be to worship God through expression and understanding?
Non-believers should be more than welcome to attend a Christian church. But this doesn't mean services should necessarily cater to an unbelieving audience. A church’s Sunday service’s primary concern should be to edify the already-existing body of believers so we can become more winsome warriors for Christ outside of church on Sunday.
In order to effectively do this, a church needs to equip the community with biblical truth, knowledge, and understanding that might alienate or confuse an unbelieving guest. This is a risk that must be taken in order to accomplish the most important goal of the church.
TL;DR — a church should be welcoming to non-Christians, but not make accommodations for them to the point where they are compromising their own values.
3. “Relationship, not a religion” oversimplification
A buzz phrase in the modern Christian church is “I’m not part of a religion, I’m part of a relationship” in referring to their relationship with Jesus Christ and contrasting it with other religions. There are a few problems with this phrase, however.
The message, when broken down and in its original context, is actually fine. Jesus’ own stories and parables contrasting perceived “sinners” and people who only appear to be religious. And if this is truly the intent of the person who utters this phrase, good!
But…what’s wrong with admitting Christianity is a religion? A worldview? An epistemology? Why can’t you say Christianity is the religion you adhere to, which involves a personal relationship with an ever-present Christ?
Scripture doesn’t always use the term “religious” negatively. In the book of James articulates it this way: at its best and most pure, religion is serving widows and orphans while keeping oneself from being corrupted from the world.
“Religious” and “being religious” has been given a negative connotation by the modern church. Let’s destroy this, please. Only appearing to be religious while not truthfully reflecting your beliefs in your heart is called hypocrisy, and yes, that is bad. But we might not want to turn that issue into a buzz phrase to be misconstrued!
TL;DR — While the phrase’s original intent was well-meaning, let’s be careful the next time we say “it’s a relationship, not a religion.” It honestly doesn't really make sense. Christianity is totally a religion (that happens to involve a relationship).
4. Lackluster worship music
It’s the elephant in the room…
Contemporary “worship” or “praise” music for the most part is just….bad.
Of course there are exceptions, there are a few King’s Kaleidoscopes out there. But for the most part, if it’s a modern song with the genre “worship” or “religious” it’s bound to be a monotonous, single-note melody riddled with a repetitive chorus.
Most worship songs are comprised of uninspired melodies in the interest of making it “singable” to a congregation. Well I don’t think Christians are stupid, I think they can follow along with melodies that are more than a few notes apart.
Not to mention we literally have thousands of years of beautiful music written by Christ-believing musicians. However, in the worship section of most modern church services today, we only scrape from the last ten years for…some unknown reason. That, or some classic hymn is mutilated into a “modern adaptation” (but that’s for a different post).
An argument for this change in style is that it provides a “more modern” way to worship.
What? God is timeless. Why are people so worried about modernizing an expression of worship?
If by “modernize” you mean managing to flatten any semblance of a melody, then congrats guys, contemporary Christian music is certainly modern.
I’d like to add here: Christians are talented people. I know that not only are Christian musicians capable of writing better music and lyrics (because they have and continue to do so), but the talented worship bands/choirs that tend to guide the congregation in modern churches are often very talented as well. So rather than choosing something lackluster, let’s choose excellently what songs we sing for the sake of Christ!
And this has only been a critique of the musical style so far. I haven’t even touched the lyrics yet.
If you can imagine singing a worship song to someone you are dating, and having it fit…it might not be appropriate to sing to God. Just a thought.
Yes, I’m talking about the “Jesus is my girlfriend” type of songs. “I’m so in love with you” and “I’m so desperate for you” as a few lyrical examples.
You can also spot a modern worship song by how many times you hear “me,” “myself,” and “I.” Um, this should concern us.
It’s God we’re supposed to be worshiping with these songs, right? Just want to be sure.
I have an idea. Let’s take a little journey back to using something called a hymnal and find some new (old) songs to sing in our modern church. We might actually learn something!
Not trying to say that hymns = scripture, not at all. But I am suggesting that hymns, for the most part, tend to pull more directly from scripture, and even borrow some lines from Bible verses.
Remember, hymns aren't all old, either. Modern hymns are also a thing.
If you’re still not convinced that most modern worship songs have little in the way of depth, just watch this video:
TL;DR — Lots of contemporary worship songs aren't very well written (musically and lyrically). It doesn't have to be this way, though! There are Christian musicians that are breaking the typical contemporary Christian music pattern today. Let’s get those songs into churches!
5. Trying too hard to be “cool”
You know what? Churches are cool already. They’re doing cool stuff all of the time, in fact. Bringing people to Christ (in and outside of services), building up believers, and loving the world through service and prayer.
So why do modern churches feel the need to try and present themselves by the worldly definition? The world’s “cool” is a lot different than Jesus’ “cool.”
Some examples of trying too hard to be cool?
The hipster haircuts. The deep v-necks. The church program titles that sound like names of indie bands.
You know what’s cool? Being authentic instead of catering to a fashion trend.
(This is not to say Christians can’t be fashionable. That’s missing my point completely)
If Jesus visited a modern church, He might have a hard time distinguishing it from a supermarket or coffee shop (depending on the size).
This also ties in with my #2 critique on seeker-friendliness. Lots of churches seem to figure: “If we seem like we’re cool, we’ll attract unbelievers!”
Here are some suggestions for attracting unbelievers: doing nice things for them instead of trying to impress them.
Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words. Y’know, all those phrases.
In a perfect world, the church would serve the needs of as many people as possible. And it should be doing that because according to Jesus Himself, loving your neighbor as yourself is pretty important.
And that’s cool.
So making a youth group oriented around fun activities for Christians and non-Christians is fine…just make sure you’re not trying too hard to be perceived as cool. That doesn't impress outsiders to Christianity, it actually turns them off from the church.
TL;DR — Be authentic and love others. That’s cool. Not pretending to be the worldly definition of cool.
OK, I know, that was brutal
You might say, “David! Maybe it’s not your place to critique all of these things. You've never ran a church after all! You must have no idea how hard it is to run a church in 2015 with the goals and interests of God in mind!”
Those things are true.
But nevertheless, I needed to get these thoughts out there.
Challenge my points! Call me a curmudgeon! As long as these things are being talked about.
Edit: Thank you Bekah for suggesting this podcast episode following my critique of modern Christian music:
Edit 2: You MUST watch this video (especially in light of my fifth critique).