This was a fascinating look at new urban protestant congregations by the New York Times. And it is not a hit piece. Usually reading the NYT on churches is about cultural ridicule. The fact that it isn’t should give pause (Hey, why are these guys who are usually completely against the church actually nice to these groups?), but I’ll let that string go because the report is just good data.
Here is the hook…
The mural painted on the side of a building in the Deep Ellum warehouse district here is intentionally vague, simply showing a faceless man in a suit holding an umbrella over the words “Life in Deep Ellum.” Inside there are the trappings of a revitalization project, including an art gallery, a yoga studio and a business incubator, sharing the building with a coffee shop and a performance space.
But it is, in fact, a church.
Life in Deep Ellum is part of a wave of experimentation around the country by evangelicals to reinvent “church” in an increasingly secular culture…
There are several deep questions embedded in there: 1) What exactly is a/the church? 2) What would it mean to reinvent a church? 3) What has the church been historically and what roll does space play in that?
A key quote from later betrays some motivations or implied answers to those questions by the people interviewed.
“Every generation wants their own thing,” said Houston Clark, whose company designs spaces and audiovisual systems for churches nationwide. “Kids in their late 20s to midteens now, they really crave intimacy and authenticity. They want high-quality experiences, but don’t necessarily want them in huge voluminous buildings.”
The first thing I would say is that “wanting your own thing” in religion is a notoriously bad idea. Being sinners, getting what we want is almost the definition of trouble. The Christian proclamation is that God sent His son Jesus for you. If you are looking for your own thing what you end up is alone and lost because God is not naturally found in your heart or inside. God comes to us from the outside.
What I’d say is that these guys are by and large a false church peddling an emotional experience (that is the word he uses!) What that eventually leads to exhausted folks far from the true path. We are not Vulcans that purge all emotion, but the emotions need to be formed under the Word to feel rightly. They are not a path themselves.