Rick McDaniel, in an article entitled, The Growing Contemporary Church, writes:
“Walk in and hear rock music, see people wearing jeans and flip flops, and look at big video screens in church -- yes, in church. Messages that focus on sex, success and decision making are also common fare.
Welcome to the contemporary church. The movement is a growing part of the Christian church and began more than 35 years ago outside Chicago, Ill. A young pastor named Bill Hybels founded Willow Creek Community Church, a new kind of church that focused on reaching people who had given up on church or never went.
The contemporary church movement has radically impacted both the church and culture. Many of the new churches that start are contemporary and many traditional churches have added contemporary services. A whole generation of boomers and busters are now trying church and finding that the contemporary church meets their needs and brings them closer to God. The significant increase of these churches is in large part responsible for the growth of mega churches. Many of the largest churches in America are contemporary including Willow Creek and Rick Warren's Saddleback Church. While traditional churches are struggling with declining numbers, contemporary churches are rapidly growing.” ("Huffington Post," September 5, 2012)
Are we to think that the size or the “exuberance” exuded from these so called contemporary churches validates them? Does the size, or the growth rate, or the informality of an organization deem that organization to be something that pleased God?
I would argue no. First, of all, do not forget that not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord,” actually belongs to or even knows the one and true living God. Matthew is emphatic about that. Large crowds are no indication that people are truly believers.
We can ask Jesus about that. Large crowds followed Jesus at various times. However, when “push came to shove” and Jesus demanded absolutely loyalty, the bible tells us that, “After this may of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” (John 6:66, ESV) The informal teaching of Jesus, the excitement of his ministry, and the supply of the peoples various needs caused great crowds to follow Jesus. When the chips were down, demands were made, and the miracles ceased, those very same crowds abandoned Jesus.
I have discovered that great crowds will temporarily follow for Jesus for four very distinct reasons. Great numbers of people followed Jesus because of:
The Multitudes – people often attract people. Many personalities will tag along with a group or crowd simply because it is a large group or crowd. People want to be where the action is. After all, it is big, loud, and excitement who wants to miss out?
The Miracles – The spectacular always attracts people. People love the unusual or things that are out of the ordinary. After all, seeing blind men healed, or diseases cured, or people raised from the dead is exciting! The supernatural is always a greater drawing card.
The Meats – Poverty is no fun, neither is hunger. Free food attracts crowds. Feed between 8 and 20 thousand people on a couple of occasions and you will attract a crowd.
The Mystery - Almost all human beings are curious. They want to know first, what is going on, and secondly, why? Jesus was different. He was not a part of the religious system of his day. Many people followed him to find out who he was, what was he up to, what would he do, or how could he help them. Crowds gathered to see what was going on.
The unfortunate truth still glaringly blinds the eyes of those who follow for the wrong reasons.
Very few it seems will follow simply for…The Master. When called to deny self, die daily, pick up a cross, and follow Jesus, fewer people choose to follow. What would happen if the contemporary church movement was called to deny the loud rock music, the how to be successful, happy, and wealthy sermonettes, couldn't wear jeans and sandals any longer and be called upon to die daily? Just wondering?
The contemporary church movement may offer some benefits to both society and Christianity. Simply attributing phenomenal growth to this movement neither validates it nor suggests that it has any connection to the Master. Barring any judgment or speculation of motives the jury still remains out on the contemporary church movement. We may have to wait until the smoke clears and see what wood, hay, and stubble is consumed and what gold, silver, and precious stone remains.