The Church Is Changing Part 2: The Time I “Sold Out”
In 1995 my wife Tammy and I, along with about 5 friends, planted a new church in the nightclub district of Hong Kong. Originally called The Studio we wanted to eventually have a physical “studio” in the area that would serve as a location not only for our meeting times, but as an exhibition space for art, music, and other creative projects.
It was going to be a place that didn’t see people as objects to be evangelized but a space where people could encounter God, ask questions, and experience community. One of the ways we did this was by meeting not on the traditional Sunday morning but when the people in our location normally met; Saturday night.
It was pretty great right from the start. We met at a trendy venue called The Fringe Club for a while. The local pub journal, HK Magazine, did a big story on us when they heard a church had started in Lan Kwai Fong (the nightclub district) dubbing us “the rock-and roll church” in the article. (Made all the more funny as we had one girl on acoustic guitar, supplemented with CDs at the time.) The article caused our church to grow from 5 to 25 in a single week.
The newspaper ad for The Studio wasn’t found with the other church’s in the traditional newspaper on Saturday either but in the HK Magazine. It wasn’t uncommon to see our church announcement spaced right next to the “Men Seeking Men” Personals section.Yes, The Studio was a part of a different strata of Hong Kong society.
But then something happened. Some people in the church who had grown up Christian felt a little guilty not going “to church” on Sunday morning even if they had gone “to church” Saturday evening. Even Tammy and I felt this way…and we were the pastors. So some of the folk went to our gatherings on Saturday night and to other churches on Sunday morning.
Funny how something I would celebrate today really got me a little irritated back then. “Are we just some extra curricular activity and not a real church” I would think to myself.
As I wrestled with these thoughts, some of the leaders from the network of churches we belonged to urged us to change to a Sunday morning service, as well as change our name to something more mainstream.
“Steve, like it or not, people are hard-wired to go to church on Sunday morning. It is your storefront window where people can see who you are and what your church is all about,” they would say to me, “And your name, The Studio, what is that all about? That doesn’t even sound like a church. Bob, Carol, and the two kids aren’t looking for a church called The Studio.”
I think the fact that Bob, Carol, and the two kids didn’t usually come into Lan Kwai Fong was not something they considered. But the church system is designed for families. Reaching to non-traditional communities tended to be viewed as outreach ministries…not as “church”.
To be fair, these leaders wanted us to succeed and were giving us the best advice they could within the system they understood.
We felt though that system was failing to reach and be part of a growing community that had spiritual questions to ask, but were hesitant to ask them in a traditional church structure…especially a church structure that was increasingly being viewed with suspicion.
But I was 29 and as much as I had a genuine desire to connect people to Christ…
…I also had an ego.
I wanted to been seen as succeeding in ministry. I didn’t want “my church” to be viewed by others as simply a para-church ministry reaching the “arts and party” crowd. I wanted to see people identify our church as their church.
In the end, I wanted a “real” church!
So I changed our Saturday night meeting to Sunday morning and renamed us from the trendy sounding The Studio to a more traditional sounding Island City Church.
Oh, did Tammy and I fight when I wanted to do this. My wife was totally against doing a Sunday morning service. She also felt the name The Studio described who we were in the community and the type of church we wanted to be.
My wife was completely convinced I was selling out!
Looking back now 18 years later, I can say she was right; I did sell out!
The Approaching Wave
In 1995 we were probably a little ahead of the curve. Nobody had heard of “Millennials” and the idea of “Nones” (religiously non-affiliated) wasn’t even on the church radar. The church system was, and largely still is, geared for transforming people from a cultural Christianity to a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. The system assumes certain understandings within the general populace as to the nature, mission, and structure of church. The number of people with those understandings is diminishing every year.
Back in 1995 we were attempting to reach people that didn’t have these general understandings. We were reaching out to the “nones” before they had a name. But what was once a “fringe” group of people 20 years ago is rapidly becoming a wave that will shift the religious landscape as we know it.
This Pew Research article says it all
The growth in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans – sometimes called the rise of the “nones” – is largely driven by generational replacement, the gradual supplanting of older generations by newer ones.4 A third of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation (32%), compared with just one-in-ten who are 65 and older (9%). And young adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives.
The article goes on to say the overall number of religious non- affiliated U.S. adults has jumped nearly 5% in the last 5 years!
Years ago the Christian rock band Danial Amos wrote a song called “Near Sighted Girl with Approaching Tidal Wave”. They were always ahead of the church curve with their lyrics:
Even the guys with muscles cried, “The tide is rising!”
And all the folks with Porches made it up to the cliffs
A group of kids were praying who I’m sure went up to heaven
But no one tried to surf
Danial Amos- Horrendous Disc
The tide is rising and the church needs to learn how to surf in order to share the Good News of Christ’s Way in the 21st Century.
18 years ago I changed a church structure because I didn’t want to “surf”. These days, I’ve learned to surf (metaphorically speaking).
And it feels great!
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