I was talking with my friend Steve the other day and he brought up an interesting thought. What would draw someone to church in American Suburbia (this certainly applies to other contexts, but mine is suburbia so that colors lots of my conversations).
Now, before you go giving me all of your “holy” answers that people are drawn to your church because of Jesus and love and all of that, let me clarify the original thought. When you ask many people in suburbia what drew them to a particular local church over another, their answer usually falls into one of three categories: 1) the kids program, 2) the preaching and/or 3) the music. Yes, many people in in suburbia choose a local church based on personal preference, but let’s think about what draws people.
The kids program is understandable. Suburbanites want the best for their kids, even if it means raising their kids to expect to be catered to and entertained, even while learning about God. I have lots of thoughts about suburban church kids programs but not right now; it’s the music and the preaching that I want to think about today.
Let’s be honest, many people are drawn to certain local churches because of the music and the preaching. But let’s be honest, I don’t need a local church to get great music or preaching. With the rise in technology, I can access some of the world’s best bible teachers any time I want. I can listen to men like Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, John Piper, Tim Chester and (even though he’s still a holdout who charges for his sermons) Tim Keller (please don’t use the comment section to air your beefs with any of the names I just mentioned, that’s really not the point). In other words, I can, at any time, listen to a sermon that’s probably “better” than any local preacher around me. Any time I want.
Or, consider the music. Many of our local churches are all singing the same songs so I guess, it comes down to some as a question of “band preference” or ambiance. But, why should I go listen to your band when I can listen to Hillsong do the very song you’re covering? “The live atmosphere,” you might say, but I can put on a live Hillsong DVD, crank up my surround sound system, fill my living room with my kids and get a live experience. Or better, yet, I’ll go see Hillsong’s live movie in the theater. Or better still, I’ll go see them when they tour with Chris Tomlin on the mega-worship tour experience!
Despite my cynicism, I understand the draw of preaching and music, I just think we need to think a little more below the surface. If I have access to the world’s best music/preaching at any time I want, is it really the preaching/music that draws me to a local church? Well, sort of. After all, why don’t we just video in the world’s best preachers and musicians while we all get together on a Sunday morning? Yes, I know about “video venues,” but this is not the norm and I think there are good reasons.
The music and the preaching become different in the context of a local gospel-centered community committed to living together as part of God’s family on mission, sent to serve the world and continually learn to walk in His ways. The music takes on a different light when we sing it with people we are experiencing life with. The preaching takes on a different light when it is directed to us and our specific context, our struggles, our victories, our community.
Though we might have access to the world’s best preaching/music any time we want, the Christian life is not meant to be a solitary existence. The point (at least part of the point) of the music and preaching is not just to equip the individual but the community.
But how often do we hear people say that they were drawn to a local church family precisely because they lived together as family? Maybe this should be our focus? Maybe we should concentrate on laying down our own preferences and rights for the sake of others. Maybe we should know enough about the person sitting across the aisle from us to weep with them when they weep? Maybe we should know their name first? Maybe, if we strive to build true gospel-centered community, the music and the preaching will come alive in ways we never otherwise expected, because really, it’s not about our preferences in the first place.