Monday, October 29, 2007

the relevant in the room

Okay, I admit it: relevance is slippery and somewhat subjective.

Back in the nineties we had a student ministry that connected well with a specific segment of the youth culture: the goth/punk crowd. I remember walking down to the basement of our building on a Sunday night where students met and finding the room extremely dark. I’m pretty sure a couple of kids were making out in the back and most were wearing black. It was a small group…and very relevant to a particular subset. But nearly every other student avoided it like the plague.

Hence, the challenge of cultural relevancy.

Our society is hyper-niched. When I was a kid there was only one radio program to hear music from Jimi Hendrix or the Doors or the Mothers of Invention or Buffalo Springfield or the Fugs: Jelly Pudding, a two-hour Saturday late-night program on the classical music FM music station WEBN here in Cincinnati. No kidding. Every other music station was AM radio playing pop-and-roll. Hard to imagine, eh? These were pre-talk radio days. There wasn’t a lot to choose from. Today Sirius and XM offer 300 stations that include niched channels from Hair Nation (hair bands from the `80’s) to XMU (indie and unsigned bands) and old-school hip hop to Canadian-only groups. And that’s not even considering internet radio…or myspace to hear bands that only your friends like.

So whose culture do you want to be relevant to? In culturally-aware churches, this gets tricky when each culture (or subculture) expects the same level of quality as the hyper-specialized media…or even the large weekend celebrations. That gets challenging to pull off without staffing against it; and who can afford that in a myriad of subcultures? When you throw in racial/ethnic issues, socioeconomic factors, age demographics, personal tastes, etcetera, it gets even more difficult.

So you want to be relevant to the culture? Uh, who’s culture?

And so for a church our size at that time in the mid-nineties—about two thousand people—that wasn’t going to work. I asked our student pastor to turn on all the lights next week. I’m sure he was bummed. But for us it was a matter of painting with a broader brushstroke. We had to reach a wider swath of students and watch out for the dog in the manger; the kids in acid-washed jeans and polo shirts were on a trajectory for hell just as much as the kid in Doc Martens back then.

Did that de-legitimize their ministry or the need? Of course not. It’s simply part of the difficult decisions leaders make in balancing the larger mission against resourcing.

Does that get you wondering? Welcome to my world…

One final note: I’ll be in Northern Ireland this week leading an Outward Focused Church Conference. I’ve struck up a friendship with Jason Scott, pastor of Vineyard Church Dungannon We’ll be bringing a number of churches together to talk about becoming more outward-focused in philosophy and practice. Mark Lutz will be speaking with me as well. Would you pray for us? And pray for Jason…I sent him a pair of boxer shorts with Guinness on the butt. Just being relevant.

Oh yeah…make your own hip cassette at


  1. clever wordplay on this week's title, dave. when you get back from the motherland lets talk about you volunteering on the celebrations team.

  2. praying for breakthrough in northern ireland...

    peace out(ward focused)

  3. praying for wow moments for the Irish leaders...glad you're going across the pond and investing some good Cincy Vineyard dna...
    planning an outreach?

  4. Write custom messages on more image generators @ :)