Yesterday as I was walking to work, I was listening to MacBreak Weekly. (Just a side note: It’s not a safe podcast to listen to because it makes you want to buy stuff you don’t have money for!) I was listening to episode 140. Leo and his cohorts were talking about Apple Stores and how, more often than not, they are usually full while other branded computer stores are empty. Their assessment was that Apple has done an amazing job of making the Apple Store THE place for those part of the Apple culture to go to; it is an extension of the Apple culture. It is also useful. It has a Genius Bar (in-store, live support), free internet access (I know other stores have this, too), a learning theatre, associates who are there “to answer any questions you might have,” and you can play with all the computers easily and without being harassed.
What caught me was the statement that the stores have become an extension of Apple culture. It’s not where Apple culture happens or originates. It’s part of the culture: a place to physically interact with others who are a part of the Apple culture or checking out the Apple culture. It’s also a place that enhances your experience of the Apple culture by providing “expert” help by way of helping you with any Apple problems, helping you expand your usage of Apple products, and helping you find out how to use Apple products in the real world.
Now, before I get accused of using Elemental Children’s Ministry to advertise for Apple (I’m not getting paid, but if anyone at Apple reads this and appreciates my endorsements, I wouldn’t mind an iPod Touch arriving in my mailbox), I started thinking about church (the institution and the building) and Christian culture. For too long, the church building has been viewed as the centre of Christian culture. You come to get your fill of Christianity, and then you go out and maybe bring that culture with you. Even if you did bring your Christianity with you and shared that with others, they had to come to the church building in order to be inducted into Christian culture.
Before I go on, I know that I have railed on evangelical Christian culture in previous posts. My criticisms have been focused on the tendency of evangelicalism to set up artificial hurdles that someone who is seeking out Christ need jump over before being “in the club.” My use of “Christian culture” in this post has to do with the greater culture surrounding those who have chosen to surrender their lives to Christ and follow him, whatever that might look like. Now, back to our regularly scheduled program…
We are bombarded with statistics showing 20-somethings walking out church doors and not coming back. The Church is seen as irrelevant and even toxic to society. This is because the church (building/institution) has been wrongly equated with the Church (the greater global community of those who follow Christ). What if we rightly return the centre of Christian culture back on Christ? That would mean being a Christian isn’t restricted by geographical location or vocation or context. Christianity becomes a part of who Christians are. Then church (the building/institution) becomes an extension of Christian culture rather than the hub. It become a place Christ followers come to meet other Christ followers or those checking out God. It becomes a place to hear from those who are farther along on the spiritual journey. It becomes a place where you know you can receive help when problems arise. It becomes a place where you can find ways to engage in the greater mission of God.
Just a thought. I’m not saying that we have to be like Apple. I’m not even saying I’m right… it just made me stop and wonder.
What do you think? Can the institution of church be renewed and reimagined? Or do we need to just drop the institution?