A number of my worlds collided when I encountered this article by Baptist News Global about what has to be the coolest project I've heard of in a long time—a postmodern theological book shop and learning center in San Antonio.
The owner of the book shop—Jillian—is quoted as saying, “I have only had good experiences with church. I know I am the rare exception ... I want other people to have good experiences, and this is me creating my ideal contemporary church space ... I want to make theology cool.”
My circles often intersect with Jillian's. Her dad and I are close colleagues, and I know well the church he pastored for decades. I don't doubt for a moment that she only had good experiences with the church. That makes sense to me.
I also know that she really is the rare exception. In reading her words, I found myself envious of her lack of harmful church-specific baggage because I am not an exception. Not many of us are.
If anyone can make church cool again, it's Jillian and other similarly creative theologians in similarly creative ways. But many of my clients are traditionally-structured churches with big buildings and committees galore and a vocabulary that few people my age and younger understand.
Many of these same clients are trying to be cool because people haven't returned en masse since the pandemic and they're not seeing young families populate their pews. In fact, the desire among churches to appear "cooler" is partially why I have a successful business.
Let me be clear: wanting to appear cooler, or to express relevance to younger generations isn't a bad thing. Truly. Within my client base, it stems from an earnest desire to connect, to serve, and to share. A desire to learn to do things differently.
What I realized in reading about Jillian's inspiring project, however, is that my clients have to do more than increase their "cool factor." They have to be more than relevant. They have to acknowledge that for many of these young people churches are seen as part of the problem...because at one point in these young people's lives a church was part of the problem.
Yes, you need a cooler website. Yes, you need to have digital and alternative access points to your ministry. Yes, you need to develop key messaging that is more casual in tone and branding that is more approachable in its presentation. There are many things that you can do to be relevant to young people today. Relating to them, however, will require something else.
Relating to young people will require that churches acknowledge that they are not just not cool, but that they are (often and rightly) understood to be part of the problem.
Rev. Amy Butler said it much more eloquently in a clip from an event I attended in Dallas back in October. You can watch it here.
My question to my church clients is this: How does our communication change if we are willing to acknowledge that for the people we hope to attract we at last were and maybe still are part of the problem?
How's that for food for thought on a Tuesday? Sigh.
Sending love. This is tough work. Tough and good work. Thank you for doing it, from a "non-exception."