Monday, April 6, 2009


The Church of the Church-Ditchers

A church in Indiana has a marketing campaign (I suppose they'd call it an outreach) themed "Ditch Church". The short version is that they're attempting to reach the lost and disillusioned by hosting an "Easter Party" in place of a service. I have mixed feelings about this, but on balance you can mark me down as "against".

On one hand, believe their intentions to be honorable. I think they believe this is a way to reach the unchurched, and I suspect they will enjoy some measure of success in doing so. Reading through their pastor's defense of this tactic, I understand their desire is to communicate that "church isn't a building." Well and good.

Their chosen tactic is ultimately destructive, however, insofar as it attempts to communicate to the unchurched by tearing down the visible church. Moreover, it does so based upon a lie. To quote the pastor: "For too long the church has been the object of scorn and Christians have been the biggest single reason people turn away from Christianity." Good grief. Jesus said we're supposed to be objects of scorn! People turn away from Christianity because "although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened."

This appears to be a growing trend--it's almost like we're trying to win the cool kids over by trying to get accepted into their club and making fun of our old nerdy friends. In the end, do we win them to Christ, or do we just become like them?

Look, believe it or not, I don't consider myself a defender of the Western church. We are corporately in need of a spiritual overhaul, and I think we can break some eggs to do it. I'm a fan of the Jailbreaker's attempts to release the church from its cultural traps so as to return to the essence of the gospel. But this is not helping.

As I read the New Testament, we're not the first church to struggle with serious issues. Paul railed against the divisive, self-absorbed, glory-seeking, sexually immoral Corinthian church (not to mention the "bewitched" Galatians)! But that was rebuking the "family", not attacking the "enemy".

Can you imagine Paul then turning his attention outward and saying to the people of Corinth, "Forget these clowns--they're objects of scorn, and it's their own fault!" On the contrary, despite his stinging rebukes, he spoke to them tenderly and encouragingly as well: "I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful." They were frustratingly sinful, but they were still the church!

You will say, perhaps, that Jesus rejected the religious class of his day and was found among the sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors. Fair enough. But I would not classify the sin of today's lukewarm and lazy church as being that of the bloodthirsty, autocratic, terrorizing "brood of vipers" Jesus encountered. Let's get some perspective.

So what will a "Ditch Church" campaign yield? Will some be saved? Probably, and for that we can rejoice. Paul also rejoiced when some were saved by dishonorable means. But let's look longer term--where does the tactic lead? And when we declare it all worthless, how much of the wheat do we burn with the tares?

Update--a church member writes in to defend their tactic:
Really? Wow. Our Easter service is the party. The word will be preached and communion offered. What is it about the word party that offends so many. I serve the only living God, and he loves me above all else. How can you not get excited about that? If you are unchurched that means you have already been a part of a church. These people already know what the "visible church" is. They have dealt with judgmental, self righteous, Holier than thou types, that you run into more often that not. They may have plugged in and tried to follow Christ, just to be knocked down, or ridiculed the first time they fell short. My bible says that we have all fallen short a time or two. The defeat isn't in getting knocked down, it's in not getting back up. At Cross Roads, we offer a helping hand when you fall, not ridicule. We show the love of Jesus to all, not just the perfect.(lol, there are no perfect people.)

Now there are different levels of sin. The "church" today is as much a pit of vipers as the church of Jesus' time. Plus the church of today has a far greater, and faster bite. Look at this blog. It could in theory impact the entire world! The church of old didn't have that power. Jesus would not say anything different about today's church then He did about the one of His time, unless He condemned it even more. The lukewarm and lazy church! Wow what a statement that is in itself. What does the bible say about being lukewarm? You saying that and not being upset enough to fight against it, to me says a lot! We at Cross Roads will not sit back and let the religious spirits rule any more, not where we can help it. We are real people, serving a real God, and trying to reach real people, where they are! If that's not something you can get behind, I'm sorry.
Again, I doubt not that they are "real people, serving a real God, and trying to reach real people," nor do I question the need for new approaches to evangelism. As I said at the beginning, it is not their motive I question, it is the tactic of attacking the church to reach the lost, and the categorization of the entire church as Pharisees. I have seen far too much of the good, godly, compassionate, humble church as I have literally traveled the world over the past couple of decades to let that stand.


  1. I would say I mostly agree with the Cross Roads pastor. We Christians have all to often been taken captive by the institutional church -- and then Stockholm Syndrome sets in.

    That, you may recall, is when hostages begin to look fondly on their terrorist captors and even battle against the police and others who try to liberate them.

    I think most pastors fall into the category of unwitting hostages, along with the rest of us.

  2. I think that is a great idea.

    It is so unfortunate that so many "churches" have lost their vision and passion. To often they have become social clubs that "worship" the pastor.

    I often wonder how different a service would be if everyone could really "see" the Lord. I think we forget that it is Him that we come to worship. It is Him that we come to sing our praises to. He is the reason we gather together.

    Would we know Him if He was there?

    Ever wonder why we are admonished to "work out our own plan of salvation with fear and trembling before God." Phil 2:12b

    Think about it ... Easter is not hunting for eggs and rabbits... How great a price He paid for us.....

  3. Look, I'm all about awakening and outreach. But I don't see where it becomes an effective outreach technique to publicly castigate the church for its faults in front of those we are attempting to reach. Why is this profitable?

    (Al - "Terrorist captors"?)

  4. Jailer,

    I don't believe the attack is on the church as represented in the Bride of Christ. The church is referring to the religious society that has has become overly dogmatic and traditional. The motives are to strengthen Christs church. It is possible regardless of what other blogs are posting to effectively seek and save the lost through modern means. While we some arguments about this subject stating that 'seeker sensitive' churches water down the Word, that is a broad stroke that is far to general in its use. We also see assemblies of believers that have become so inward looking that there is no focus on the Great Commission.

    It is given as I stated in other blogs that not all 'churches' are bogged down in tradition and dogma, and not all seeking churches are watering down the Word. However, there are problems that ALL assemblies of believers face, unfortunately we are human and posses a sin nature. We are working at finding a place where we can celebrate the sacrifice that was made by our Savior on the cross, and to teach biblical relevance in the lives of those we touch. But it is quite obvious that you can lead someone to the Living Water and they still not drink of it.

    Much of what is focused on in these blogs is the outrage over what is perceived to be an attack on church, which many believe is an attack on the Bride of Christ. Lets not be so self righteous that we make that assumption. I don't care what faith, denomination or assembly you are from, you have issues within. Those issues are the focus on the change that is needed. There is a focus that we need on the 'church' in that regard. What would be a true testimony to Christ is if, we could stop politicking about our own denominations and faiths to possibly turn off seekers? Instead, why not embrace our differences as different parts with different purposes in the Body of Christ for the advancement of His Kingdom? Why not do a little self evaluation and see if we have become too traditional, too dogmatic, too seeker friendly? Then maybe, just maybe, we might find we have more in common then we act like, sure, we may still have some different theology and practice, but that will only strengthen us and not divide us.

    We are not divided, we are part of the same Body.

    I do not understand what you mean in your last question "why is this profitable?".


  5. Sean,

    First, to answer your question, by "profitable" I mean "beneficial".

    Second, you might spend a few minutes reading over this blog. I think you'll find we're not afraid to challenge the traditions and the dogma of the church, or to confess to our own sinfulness and limitations.

    However, it seems to me that Cross Roads either misunderstands or mischaractarizes the nature of the criticisms that have surfaced about its "Ditch Church" campaign. I have not seen a great outcry against your "modern means", for example. This seems to me to be a straw man.

    You state above that the term "seeker-sensitive" is too broad-brushed in its application. I'm sure it probably is. But the essence of the criticism over "Ditch Church" is exactly that, insofar as it goes out of its way to paint the "church institution" with its own "broad brush" as being, in your words, "dogmatic" and "a religious society".

    Now it is entirely fair game and proper within the family to rebuke and correct bad behavior. But as a means of outreach to the lost is more like gratuitous public vilification.

    I agree that we are part of the same Body. That's why this "pit of vipers" talk frustrates me.

  6. First comments threw the local body of believers who own common property with a building upon it under the bus!

    Subsequent comments have attempted to unsay what was said... can't be done.

    Please reread the entire book of James, especially chapter 1, verses 26 & 27.

  7. My hat is off to this church for clever marketing. Why is it okay for your pastor to go to seminary to learn speaking skills (among others) but it's not okay to use proven marketing techniques in the church.

    In corporate sales, we call this a "pattern interrupt". American churches fail miserably at reaching out (see Prodigal Web) so why not find common ground with your audience. Didn't Jesus' do that when he spoke?

    Why keep doing things the same way when they fail? Churches fail at evangelism.

  8. Have you looked at their invite? I aplaud CrossRoads for a great marketing idea. I used to ditch church, and this says to me that I don't have to be afraid to come celebrate the joys of Easter in a welcoming environment, with like-minded folks who are looking for a better way to glorify God than the traditional, institutional, man-made rules-based church.

  9. I agree with the Jailer, especially the comment about wanting to win over the cool kids by making fun of the friends who have always been there for us. When kids do that, they often lose both. At the time, they think is is being funny. But it isn't.

    I personally wonder about how much of this is based in 'your-not-the-boss-of-me' rebelliousness.


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