Why does the church look and sound more like the world?

Why does the church look and sound more like the world?

As part of our Tough Questions sermon series, we received this question:

Question 1: Why does the church look and sound more like the world (it’s music, dress, message, and results)?

I don’t’ think this is so much a question as a statement: The church looks and sounds more like the world! What’s going on?  If we were in a courtroom, the lawyer would object saying, that you are leading the witness! It’s like the question, “So how long have you been beating your wife?” That’s the heart of this question. So I want to answer it. Then I’m going to share why I don’t believe the church looks anything like the world!

I’m going to assume you are talking about the “church building” when you say “church.” I’ll assume you are referring to a parking lot, a large building, a lobby, televisions, a stage, lights, etc. I’ll assume you are thinking why don’t we have a steeple, or a spire, or a bell tower. Why have we replaced pews with chairs, hymnals with a screen, suits with blue jeans, a pipe organ with drums, and so on?

The modern-day church looks and sounds like the world because it’s the cultural context we live in. Bell towers, pews, hymnals, pipe organs are outdated. Now don’t get me wrong, they still have their place in worship, in the church, and in many active churches. However, they lend to a worship we label as traditional.

Let me give you an illustration:

I grew up in the 70’s and early 80’s. Current music was rock/pop music. I listened to it on the radio. Now there was also the oldies – songs from the 50’s & 60’s.

As I got older and we moved into the 90’s, I was surprised to hear my 80’s music labeled as “Classic Rock” Then later in the 2000’s, I heard my rock/ pop music on WCCW in TC – An Oldies station!

Richard Campbell from Patheos.com blog commented:

You are welcome to our church, it’s a Hug at the door, sermon from the Bible, boring old hymns that end with A-Men, repeating the same old songs week after week, and never letting anyone sing something that was written in the 20th or even the 19th century… Our church is full of LOVE, for each other, the Old Hymns, and yes, even GOD… But it’s dying off, one 80+ year old at a time, while they are doing nothing to attract new members, new blood, new youth, who are needed to fill the seats, the offering plate, and the positions that keep a church alive… I’d welcome the chance to bring in a band, a guitar, a set of drums, ANYTHING that might bring one new person in the door…!

Because we want to be relevant. To be relevant to people, we must look and sound like something people outside Christ can RELATE to. In the church, we use language, imagery, and music that is familiar with the culture.

Because we want to reach people in our community. If Christians don’t look and sound like normal people, how can we find an opportunity to tell them about Jesus?

Because we want to create a place where lost people find Jesus.

We want people to move beyond the idea that the church is a building. That it is “God’s house.” That it is only used on Sundays. That it is Holy. We want to communicate that the church building is a tool. A meeting place.

A few years back a friend on Facebook posted that a church up north of us had closed its doors and needed to clear out the building in preparation for selling it. My wife and I drove up there to see if there was anything we could use for ministry here in Kalkaska. Do you know what we found? Pews, hymn books, old Sunday school materials, an overhead projector, a cassette player, broken toys in the nursery, a flannel graph, and a mimeograph! If you don’t know what a mimeograph is, Google it!

This church didn’t change from when it first opened its doors. I’m sure it still shared the Gospel we share, but it didn’t change as the culture changed around it. And unfortunately, if you don’t change, you die.

“What is the difference between a living thing and a dead thing? In the medical world, a clinical definition of death is a body that does not change. Change is life. Stagnation is death. If you don’t change, you die. It’s that simple. It’s that scary.” Leonard Sweet

The older you get the harder this concept is for you. “The church must change its methods, music, and manners to remain relevant to modern day man! However, the message must never change!” As you grow older, it’s harder to change. You like things just the way they were. Don’t move the icons on my desktop! Don’t take a different route to the store. And don’t change the order of my church services! Ironically, the older people find it easier and easier to complain about things. Remember Archie Bunker or Roxanne now? They speak their minds. The younger people, who most church have a hard time reaching, generally don’t complain. Most just move on. Many don’t feel connected enough to give their opinions. Teenagers are like “whatever” I just can’t wait to get out of here and hang with my friends.

Why not build a church around their generation? Engage them with technology. Encourage them to text, use social media, watch videos! Play music from this decade. Speak to the issues and struggles of their generation!

The older generations may feel left out. Although, I bet they have children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, so they may not be as disconnected as we think. It’s a fine line and because we are family, we want to stay relevant to every age and generation. It’s not easy.

Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22

“To the Jew I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men to that by all possible means I might save some.“

There is no change in doctrine or message


Change in behavior and manner of approach!

2 litre of Coke = Gospel Message!

Picnic – Red Solo cup

Ball Game – Plastic Tumbler

Home/Dinner table – Glass

Fancy Restaurant – Wine Glass

Fast Food Restaurant – McDonald’s cup

No matter the container, it’s still a cold, refreshing thirst-quenching drink! The Gospel message doesn’t change although the packaging may be altered. 

An example from the Mission Field

When you go to the mission field, you really can’t share the Gospel effectively until you assimilate yourself to the people, the country, and their language and culture.

  1. Learn the language
  2. Learn the culture – Haiti – Saying “Bonjou” Nodding,
  3. Norms – Men holding hands, Kiss on the cheek
  4. Dress – wearing shorts, exposing your shoulders, etc.
  5. Taboo – That which is offensive. Crossing legs in church,


I would have to agree with Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church:

“There is no such thing as ‘Christian music’; there are only Christian lyrics. It is the words that make a song sacred, not the tune. There are no spiritual tunes. If I played a song for you without the words, you’d have no way of knowing if it were a ‘Christian Song.’” – Rick Warren – Purpose Driven Church

Today Christian musicians write and sing music in every genre known to man.


1 Samuel 16:7 “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

James 2:1-9 James writes about how our dress can actually cause us to play favorites!

The Bible instructs us to dress modestly. If you turn on your TV, watch a movie, or surf the Internet, I think you can see a vast difference from how people dress and how Christians dress.

Message & Results

I wasn’t sure what you meant by these two. If in messages, you mean sermon series, stage decorations, and lighting. I would say again, it’s to attract people to come. I’m not ashamed to invite and attract people to church. I want the church to be THE place people want to come on a Sunday morning! Not a camping site. Not a hockey rink. Not home in front of their TV. But right here!

So that’s why the church looks and sounds more like the world, but is it working?! Has updating the church building actually brought more people into the faith? A 2015 George Barna study stated that only 8% of millennials don’t attend church because it is “out of date.” A whopping 87% say the church is too judgmental and 85% say Christians are too hypocritical!

Now, honestly, the church is not a building, as you probably know. The church is the people. That’s where the difference should be seen!

Let’s define our terms before we answer this question.

The Church

Church is from the Greek word, “ekklesia”, an assembly called out of the world.

Household – adopted into the family of God (Eph 2:19)

Building – stones in a metaphorical building (Eph 2:20-22)

Spiritual House – 1 Peter 2:5

AKA  = People who name Jesus as Lord, Disciples of Christ, and Followers of Christ

World “Worldly” “of the world” “in the world”

Romans 12:2 “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world…” (NIV 1984) [Side note: I still prefer the NIV 1984 version to the 2011 NIV because that’s what I grew up with]

1 John 2:15 “Do not love the world or anything in the world…”

1 John 2:16 “For everything in the world-the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does- comes not from the Father but from the world.”

2 Corinthians 10:3 “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.”

In Conclusion

The church of today should not be worldly or act worldly but should embrace the culture, social norms, and current trends to stay relevant and influential in order to share the greatest message of all time – the Gospel of Jesus Christ!