Emerging Churchgoers Demand Relevance not Religion

By Darryl Izzard

How many times have you gone to church and left saying to yourself, “This was a waste of my time.”? Then you are among thousands. Though this cry can be heard from coast to coast, few pastors have responded. GT highlights two trendsetting pastors who have responded to the call and decided to make church relevant, not religious. The question is, in an effort to be relevant, are there any limits?

“When it comes to ministry, says Lester Love (New Orleans, Louisiana), I believe that our terminology needs to penetrate to the current generation. It goes back to Jesus. The Scribes and Pharisees got mad with Jesus because they felt like he was changing religious tradition with his terminology. They got mad when Jesus would compare God to fish, but he was talking to fisherman. They got angry when Jesus would compare God to tares and wheat, but He was talking to farmers. Jesus was a master at taking the language of the day to explain the principles of yesterday. We need to be relevant. I think you can be relevant and not be vulgar; relevant and still be spiritual. We are showing people that we can connect to them where they live. We can\’t present an 8-track Jesus in an I-pod generation.”

Eleven years ago, at 35, Lester Love was “sent” to the Greater Antioch church (by Bishop Paul S. Morton, Sr.). Ten years after he arrived, Greater Antioch became “The City of Love.” The name change went into effect Easter 2009. Love\’s tenure has also witnessed amazing numeric growth—from a few hundred to over 5000 each week. Today Lester Love has become a YouTube/Facebook sensation with over a million views that capture the attention of churchgoers worldwide with music and the word as a part of worship.

Terrence Johnson (better known as “Pastor J”) established “Higher D” 11 years ago with 29 people. He was 27. Currently the weekly attendance is over 6,000. “Houston is a big town with a lot of church tradition; but at 38, Johnson is establishing a new tradition. “I think the key to my ministry is my personality,” said Johnson. “I bring a unique approach to the ministry. I\’m relevant without compromising reverence. Our intention in the ministry is to create a church for “unchurched” people. In our approach, our attire isn\’t typical. I may be in the pulpit with blue jeans and a jersey on; not to say I don\’t do the suit and tie thing, but we aren\’t traditional in our approach. Our services last about 80 minutes. We understand that our demographic\’s attention span is limited. Even so, we\’re still (Holy) Spirit-led. We may start the service out with a game (pre-service). Which makes people feel comfortable and have fun. That way, when we ask people to get involved in worship, they\’re more apt to do it.

All in all the main goal of these two ministries is to engage people. However, is there a limit to how far one can go to be relevant in church today. Getting people excited with songs of the day and beats that grove is infections to some, but should there be a difference between our songs and the world’s. Is there a set of guidelines that must followed in the house of God. Also, can someone tell me exactly how should churchgoers dress? Can I really wear anything I want to God\’s house and it is accepted?

These are questions that these pastors have boldly faced and dared to be different. At the end of the day, it\’s about reaching more people and bringing about change. Maybe you agree or disagree with the method, but one thing is true, people today want a living Jesus who is real, helping them to make it through there everyday, ordinary lives.

What is your church like? Is it reaching the people where they are, or do people just come to church as a part of their weekly routine?

Here more from Lester Love and Terrence Johnson along with Gospel Today\’s Teresa Hairston live on the Word Network\’s Rejoice in the Word with Gregg Davis on November 12, 2010.