I have now visited over a dozen different churches in Austin. Because I have focused my time on young church plants, I found them to be exciting, mission focused places. I promised not to be negative, and to take note of (1) their ability to reach young 20somethings, (2) their heart for the poor, and (3) their desire to reach lost people. Sadly, there was more than one time I sat down and found myself with nothing positive to say.
Here are a few thoughts that I hope all the churches in Austin can keep in mind:
1-Your Bigness is Overrated. There are churches doing some BIG things. They do music BIG. They have BIG television broadcasts. They have BIG buildings. They even have BIG crowds that show up on Sunday. Now don’t get me wrong, because I love big churches. But even if you can fill a room, while your preaching is so shallow it won’t even get your audience wet, or your music is so overproduced that the struggling indie artists will just find it alienating, then you might reconsider how you rate your success. Besides, Austin is the home of all things indie, where the most obscure niches can thrive. Big and fancy often reeks of corporate and inauthentic.
2-Don’t get excited about how many young people you are reaching. As a young committed Christian, who had recently moved to Austin and is looking for a church to plug into, I was amazed by how many people I found in the exact same situation as me. Which has led me to develop the following theory: churches with a lot of young adults are actually drawing almost completely from transfers from Houston and Dallas and other places. Numbers are growing, but Austin is still not being reached. People point to some places and say “look at all the young people!” Please don’t forget that Austin has over 1.5 million people, and is one of the fastest growing cities for young adults. Your big singles group seems exciting, but it’s really just a drop in the bucket.
3-No One Knows What You Are Talking About. Explaining what it means to communicate in a post-Christian world is a post in and of itself. Suffice it to say, most churches are mired in language that makes no sense to anyone who hasn’t gone to church their whole life. People don’t know who David or Paul is, what a Thessalonican is or why on earth anyone might want to raise an Ebenezer. More over, biblical and theological illiteracy is rampant within the church. This means that everything we say, every song we sing, how we pray, when we stand up and sit down, and the reason we take shots of grape juice has to be explained again and again to a world that does not know what we are talking about. Think this doesn’t apply to you? Reflect on this: If you don’t talk like there are people who aren’t Christians in your audience, there never will be.
4. What Do You Care About? One Church I visited made 4 or 5 mentions of prison ministry. Another Church made it abundantly clear they cared about Happy Hour. Both Christians and non-Christians are looking to be a part of a community that is making the world a better place. If I can’t visit your church, see what you care about, and learn how I can be a part of joining you in it, both of us have wasted our time.
I love Austin, and I want to see it reached. There are a some great churches doing some great things. There are also some I can’t write anything positive about. We need to all look in the mirror and ask God which one we are, and then look out the window and determine what we will do next.