Earlier today, someone on one of the clergy-based Facebook groups I belong to, posted a link to a project known as ‘McMass.’ (www.mcmass.com) I needed only to look at the advertising image to know I would not like this idea. McMass is the brainchild of several individuals from ‘Lux Dei Design’; which advertises itself as a Christian design-consulting company. According to the FAQ section of the McMass website, the project is an attempt to solve the ‘vacant church problem’. The founders are quoted as saying “We saw so many churches, grand old buildings, fallen into disuse or empty for significant portions of each week… We realized that a design approach—an entrepreneurial approach—had the potential to revolutionize how churches engage with the world.’ The logic involved in this idea is pretty strait-forward
1: Churches are empty. 2:McDonald’s is full. 3: Let’s jam a fast-food joint into the narthex.
McMass is centered around the idea that the Church needs to innovate in order to survive. The website is quite blatant about this fundamental fact. It boldly declares: “The Church needs innovation!’, and ‘It’s time for the church to innovate and PRAY DIFFERENT.” Why exactly the church is called to pray differently is never fully revealed. Will we choose the prayers via menu? Do we choose an order of Thanksgiving, with a side of Confession and a Blessing to wash it all down? Will hamburger buns be used for the Eucharist? Whatever is meant, it is clear that those behind this project believe that the church is being hampered by its current structure and nature, and thus can only move forward by being ‘reinvented’ (yes the website uses this word!)
I have to admit that I am not altogether sure if this is entirely legit. McMass could be a hoax. Yet while I do not know for sure if this campaign is true, I do know that these conversations are true. I have personally been part of many conversations that have centred around the church’s need for innovation. I imagine I am not alone in this. The idea that the church needs to be more innovative in this world seems to undergird some of the more popularized expressions of ministry. After all, what are “U2charists”, “Seussarists”, “Pubchurches”, or countless other ideas but mere permutations of this idea. McMass would simply be the latest attempt to build ministry upon the faulty and dangerous premise that the church needs to be innovative and new.
Is this really the case? Is ‘innovation’ the saving grace of the church? Do we ever pray ‘O Come, Innovation, Come’?
Frankly, I reject the premise that the church needs innovation. For one, all new ministries and programs are innovative in the sense that they are new. Furthermore, eventually, even the most successfully innovative programs or projects will eventually become familiar and ‘old’. If innovation is what it is all about, we simply condemn ourselves to an eternity of perpetual upheaval. Thus, innovation doesn’t actually solve anything except the vain attempt to create a popular craze. Herein lies the fundamental problem with the notion that churches need innovation; this idea is dangerous for the health of the church because it links the future of the church solely to the increase of numbers.
McMass is nothing but a numbers scheme, lacking any mention of the mission of the church or the presence of the Spirit. The idea behind McMass is merely an attempt to capitalize on the 70 million McDonald’s customers. ‘Innovation,’ as highlighted here, isn’t about ministry, but about merely placing people inside church buildings. What these individuals actually do in that building is of secondary importance.
Yet the church’s life and work has never been about vain attempts of number-gathering, or a desire to be ‘innovative’ or ‘forward thinking.’ In last Sunday’s epistle reading, we heard how Paul give thanks for the Corinthian church, yet he does not give thanks because they are innovative or because they ‘pray differently’. Paul writes:
“I thank my God always because of the grace of God that has been given you In Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind, just as the the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you – so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1st Corinthians 1:4-9)
I do not believe that Paul is trying to ‘butter up’ the Corinthians before pointing out the issues they need to face; I believe Paul is highlighting the spiritual nature which forms their entire identity and life. For Paul, it is only in understanding who they are, in Christ Jesus, that the Corinthians can then move forward and tackle the issues that face them.
What this world needs, and what we long to be as people of faith, is not a church based on innovation, but one which lives and breathes the grace of God in Jesus Christ. We are not called to strive to be a church merely filled with people, but one filled with the Spirit of Christ our Lord, a spirit that empowers and strengthens us for the ‘testimony of Christ’ in this world. The community which is at the heart of the church’s identity is about fellowship not mere familiarity. We are called to a radical type of togetherness, one that goes far beyond politeness and social nicety, because it is rooted in our immersion in the Holy Spirit and our joint worship of Christ our Lord.
Before we ask ourselves if we are innovative or not, we should take a cue from Paul and ask ourselves: Are we a body of grace-dependant and Spirit-filled people who gather together, in Christ’s presence, to worship Him and sing his praise?
This is what the church needs, and it is to this which we must be faithful.