Evangelizing the 21st Century culture

In ministry, some things must never change but others must change constantly.

Clearly, God's five purposes for his church are non-negotiable.

If a church fails to balance the five purposes of:
  1. worship,
  2. fellowship, 
  3. discipleship,
  4. ministry, and 
  5. evangelism,

then it's no longer a healthy church, and it is in danger of becoming simply a social club.

On the other hand, the way or style in which we fulfill these eternal purposes must continually be adjusted and modified because human culture is always changing.

For instance, when I first started Saddleback Church, fresh out of Southwestern Seminary, personal computers were in their infancy, slow and cumbersome and capable of very limited functions. The Internet was just a crude academic network and nobody had even heard of e-mail.

Now I often sit in my pajamas and have e-mail conversations with people across the globe.

Today you can be an e-vangelist, just using the Internet to reach people for Christ.

In addition, you can get on a plane and within a few hours fly to almost anywhere in the world, and that means there's even less of an excuse for not being involved in foreign missions, even if just for the short-term.

The times, they are a-changing, and they'll keep right on a-changing whether we want them to or not.

And that's why at Saddleback, any time a new tool comes down the line, we embrace it.

Right now we're using TiVo to broadcast our weekend sermon into several different venues on our campus. In other words, someone who prefers a choir and more traditional music can worship in that atmosphere, and then at the scheduled time, see the exact same sermon as those worshiping in our main auditorium. This is duplicated across our campus with an acoustic worship, another aimed at Gen-X, and so on.

The thing is: we've moved past the MTV generation into the Internet generation, and yet many of us are just now responding to the TV generation!

Our message must never change, but the way we deliver that message must be constantly updated to reach each new generation.

In other words, our message of transformation must never change while the transformation of our presentation should be continual, adapting to the new languages of our culture.

Consider this: the word contemporary literally means with temporariness. By nature, nothing contemporary is meant to last forever! It is only effective for a while and only relevant in that particular moment – which's what makes it contemporary.

What is considered contemporary and relevant in the next ten years will inevitably appear dated and tired in 20 years.

As a pastor, I've watched churches adopt many contemporary styles in worship, programming, architecture, music, and evangelism. That's OK, as long as the biblical message is unchanged.

But whatever is in style now will inevitably be out of style soon, and the cycles of change are getting shorter and shorter, aided by technology and the media. New styles and preferences, like fashions, are always emerging.

Let me give you a word of advice. Never attach your church to a single style – you'll soon be outdated.

One of the secret strengths of Saddleback Church is that we’re constantly adapting; we’ve changed styles of worship, programming, and outreach many, many times in the last 24 years, and we’ll continue to do so because the world keeps changing.

“The only way to stay relevant is to anchor your ministry to unchanging truths and eternal purposes but be willing to continually adapt how you communicate those truths and purposes.”

Be constant in adherence to the biblical text, but be flexible in how we present its truths.