A Stranger in Church

“Oh wad some power the giftie gie us To see oursel’s as others see us! It wad frae monie a blunder free us, And foolish notion” – Robert Burns

While this happened a while ago, I recently stumbled on a series that the Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger did where they visited a very wide swath of churches (and a Mosque and a Synagogue for good measure) in a city noted for being “unchurched.” Now you can imagine that the folks writing for an alt-weekly in Seattle may not be the most religious sorts – and to the extent that the authors reveal anything about their personal beliefs it is apparent that most of them are either atheist or agnostics. Some of them feel something of a connection to the places of worship that they visit while others are left cold.

My reasons for linking to this article though to hold up a sort of mirror to the various Christian communities out there. Many, many churches are stuck on trying to appear “relevant” or “contemporary” to an increasingly post-Christian society. Some of those churches may not like what the unbelievers writing for The Stranger have to say about them, but this is who they say they are trying to reach.

Some observations of my own about the article:

The more a church tries to be contemporary through the use of technology or “modern” music, the more it seems to fail at doing so. The use of high-tech satellite link-ups and such seem vaguely alienating if not downright Orwellian. And many of the worship teams seem to have been picked out as pale imitations of the stuff you can hear on Saturday night in a bar. (Having played on worship teams myself, I know that this is often not the fault of musicians but rather of conflicted elders or pastors who want to sound modern but not that modern. Owing to this sensibility, many churches seem to end up with some that is unsatisfactory to both traditionalists and the more contemporary types. Too often the result sounds like the sort of music that might be played in an infomercial. If you wanted to make a Spinal Tap for worship teams the joke would be “these amps go all the way to ‘two’.”)

What is it with megachurches? As you can imagine, this review included Driscoll’s behemoth Mars Hill, but it’s noteworthy that there are at least several other multi-site megachurches in the greater Seattle area. This is curious to me because Seattle has a much smaller population than Toronto and yet I can only think of one or two churches following this model in the GTA. Is this because this is one of these strange ways that Americans and Canadians are different (see: “about” – pronunciation of) – we don’t like churches to be too big up here? Or does this mean that America’s most unchurched city has nothing on Toronto in terms of religious apathy?