Preface: Long post. Also, ranting ahead. No refunds.
Alright, let’s make a deal, shall we?
This will be my last post about our last church plant experiment, Phoenix CityChurch. That’s my end of the deal. Your end of the deal is that you humor me this subject matter once more, and then keep coming back to see what OTHER whacky adventures I galavant into. That’s a fair compromise, right?
Now, give me a minute. I’ll get us to the plant again shortly.
On November 11, 2011, The NPR Podcast This American Life’s (TAL) Episode was entitled So Crazy, it Just Might Work. It was an episode about people sought resolutions for big problems by working in such (CLICHÉ ALERT) outside-the-box ideas, that they were often met by just as much friction with their methodology as they were meeting in their attempts at finding resolution.
Don’t get a ahead of me.
The first act of the episode is about Jonathan Brody and Anthony Holland. Here is TAL’s summary of the story:
“One day a successful cancer researcher named Jonathan Brody gave a talk at his alma mater, about how people in his field need to think outside the box if they’re going to find a cure. Afterward Jonathan’s old music teacher Anthony Holland shared an idea that was way out of the box: Killing cancer cells with electromagnetic waves.“
And so this scientist and his former music teacher begin a collaboration, researching whether cancer can be cured by electromagnetic waves, or essentially, can cancer be cured in a similar way to how you reheat your frozen burrito. Needless to say, I was hooked on the story.
But it was an idea in the building momentum of this story that caught me like a left hook in a dark alley. The two were discussing the obvious challenges to why such a radical idea had not, and likely would not, gain major acceptance in the global medical or scientific communities. Brody lamented of the stagnant state of cancer research. His frustration built over the reality that researchers kept rehashing familiar ideas, endlessly refining the same concepts, because ‘the familiar’ is more likely to be funded. He quipped that it had become akin to work in Hollywood, saying,
“I do think it’s much like being out in Hollywood, where, you know, you might you might go out the Hollywood thinking that you’re to be Kafka, and you might end up writing the worst, hackiest sitcom, because you want to survive. So what happens in this country when the same thing happens with science?“
The last question I have lingering about our church plant experiment has everything to do with this. Was our vision for a faith community so outside the box of Evangelical methodology, that it was doomed from the beginning? Did we set ourselves up for a revolution of failure because we decided to write our own rules for what a community’s rule of life is?
Let’s be honest. I could have set up a church plant in the suburbs of Phoenix, thrown all of the (little) money we did have into a Sunday service, crafted it as modern and flashy, and people would have come.
And I’d be a pastor of a church right now. I’d put everything I own on that bet.
But that was never the vision for our plant. We were an oddity in the Evangelical movement, so much so that to many who were comfortable with the status-quo of American church culture, though friends of mine, could not find themselves fitting into such a strange and foreign community.
Though I don’t have any numbers to support it, my (educated) guess is that if you look at the approach and methodologies of new churches that last past three years, the majority of them are cookie-cutter suburban churches that are worship gathering centric, and high on ‘flare’. This might be the point in this overly long post that you call me cynical or pessimistic, but can you tell me you honestly think that this is not the case?
For so many Americans, church is a product to be consumed, not a community to invest in. When there are zits or blemishes on a church, or when it doesn’t provide its consumers what is desired, the American Evangelical simply goes to another vendor of faith and enlightenment.
Phoenix CityChurch was a script that Hollywood would have panned for another Spiderman sequel. It did not provide the ‘shuck-and-jive’ that so many churches feel compelled to produce to maintain numbers. It was something just different enough that it was going to be hard for people to catch on.
We hit “Perfect Storm” status there, didn’t we?
But here’s the M. Night Shyamalan twist; the PCC vision wasn’t an original script. It was an amalgamation of 2000 years of trial and error, experimentation and journeys of various communities of faith. It just seemed so strange in comparison with the modern tone and language of the American church experience, it just didn’t fit in people’s framework for what a church looks like.
And so, in the final analysis, here is how PCC ended up dying;
- Lack of support from our faith heritage.
- Relying to much on consumer Christians for sustainability
- An approach to faith and life that was different enough to make people too uncomfortable to join – More-so true for Christians that non-Christians.
So, put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Funny thing is, if what we just did was so outside of the box for Christians, that they couldn’t find themselves being in that narrative… They are in for a BIG surprise about what the church will start to look like over the next few years. With the money of the Baby Boomers in the coffers of the church will be running dry.. well, that’s another topic for another time.
Y’all best hold on tight.