The Relevant Church

Culture is changing, and it’s changing fast.

More than ever before, the church has an incredible opportunity (and responsibility) to make a difference.

But let’s be honest, we can’t lead with cultural relevance from the back of the parade.  

We can’t lead future generations if we don’t know what they want, how they experience life, and how God wants to engage them.

Keeping up is the baseline.

Understanding how people perceive their world is essential.

It’s best to be thinking ahead, seeing around the curve, anticipating, and staying relevant.

This doesn’t mean you need to panic.

It’s not a race; it’s about being deliberate in your leadership.

Relevance is not about being cool, creative, and clever; it’s about the ability to connect.

Churches become irrelevant when they can no longer connect with the next generation.

The gospel is never irrelevant, but we have a responsibility to discover the best way for it to be received.

How do you assess if you are relevant? Who decides? This article gives you practical insights to frame a conversation for your leaders.

5 insights for a practical grasp of ministry relevance:

1) To be relevant, it simply means that it matters.

Relevance means what you do matters. Relevance means that your ministry makes a difference, and people’s lives are changed.

True relevance would suggest that the surrounding community notices your presence and appreciates your ministry. Relevance is measured only in part by attendance, and perhaps a smaller part, it’s truly measured by the community’s opinion of the good you do.

The first step in your city perceiving your ministry as relevant begins by knowing that you care.

2) Don’t confuse relevance with style or culture.

Relevance is not about your choice of worship songs or how casual you may or may not be; that is a matter of style, preference, and culture. Relevant isn’t about whether your shirt is tucked or un-tucked, or whether you preach 25 minutes or 45 minutes.

Ministry relevance is more about quality and effectiveness.

Pastors will ask me if I think choirs are still relevant in today’s culture. If the choir is really good, it is absolutely relevant. Bad choirs are irrelevant.

Regarding relevance, just ask the question, “Does it work?” If it works, it’s relevant. But you have to be honest about the answer to that question.

3) Don’t answer questions that no one is asking.

Have you ever played Trivial Pursuit? It’s a fun game, but beyond that, who really cares about those questions? If you weren’t trying to win the game, no one would care about the answers.

If we aren’t careful, we can answer questions as part of a local church ministry that no one is asking. That is irrelevant.

As a leader, I first learned this principle with my own children. When they were young, they asked hundreds of questions. By their teen years, the questions slowed to a near stop. I had to find where they were at, be patient, learn what their questions were, and parent from that perspective. Then I could use their questions to lead to timeless truth.

You don’t have to dumb down your theology to be relevant, but you do need to understand what people are asking to be a relevant leader, teacher, and pastor.

Start with their questions and then lead them to biblical truth.

4) Relevance requires asking what the community needs.

Innovation that comes only from your boardroom is not likely to be relevant.

Talk to people who don’t attend church. Ask people who left your church. Ask people in your church who are under thirty years old. Learn how other churches are connecting. (Again, that doesn’t mean you need to do what they do, but you can get ideas and adapt to your context.)

One of the best ways to shut down relevance is to talk to the same people about the same issues, making a small tweak and end up doing the same things.

Relevance isn’t in competition with the culture; it’s about connecting with current culture. It’s not about surrendering truth; it’s about meeting people where they are at.

How’s your church doing with that?

5) Embrace innovation and change.

You don’t have to do what other churches do, but you can’t do what you’ve always done.

The message remains the same, but our methods must change. Technology alone insists that you change your approach to ministry.

Technology changed positions we hire on staff, how we broadcast and share messages, and how we communicate with volunteers.

People used to carry their Bibles to church; now Bibles are in their smartphones.

When I started in ministry, no church had a website. Today, if your website is outdated, not user-friendly, or untended to, your church appears irrelevant.

Relevance matters.

What are you doing really well?

What is working?

What’s not working, and you need to change?

10 thoughts on “The Relevant Church”

  1. Great questions to bring into a team meeting and assess relevancy. Will be adding these to the tool box! Thanks Dan.

  2. How many times I have confused “style and preference” with “relevancy”. Thanks for the clarification. I will be utilizing this principle in discussion with my staff.

  3. Chasing The Son

    Relevance is also contagious. I know that when God sends us to provide “flash mob” style help, we now notice immediately if they are intent on offering a free copy of the Bible to those without. We also notice if they are serious about their slogans and statements. We cannot even say how grateful we are that we were mentored in this way. If they (the church or ministry) are committed and “all in” with a focus on prayer, the results are difficult to contain.

  4. So the largest group leaving the church now is women ages 40-65-and that is across all denominations and structures. Why? The church is completely irrelevant to their lives and has been for a long long time. It is not selfishness or all about “me” mentality-it is a deep desire to grow, minister, and be a force for God which is neither welcomed or pastored in the American church.

    1. Hi Trisha. Candidly, I don’t know the answer to that question. I am curious, however, about your source for that statistic. (The largest group leaving the church now is women ages 40-65, across all denominations and structures) Would you mind sharing that with me? Thank you for your comment.

  5. Good thoughts! As a pastor in a rural church that is in serious decline I wonder what your thoughts are on mass mailing, on-line surveys, and such as effective tools for understanding the needs of a community?

    1. Hi Byron,

      Mass mailings and on-line surveys can be very helpful but it’s important to know exactly what information you want and what you’ll do with it before you send anything. I also recommend professional help when it comes to surveys, it’s quite a science. From the big picture down to the specific questions. For example, when you say understanding the needs of the community, what does that actually mean and would you plan to “go out” in to the community to meet those needs design programs within your church to meet those needs? There is a huge difference in how you would write those questions.

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