The Next Big Church Thing

next-restaurant-chicagoOne of the hottest restaurants in my hometown of Chicago is Next. Chef Grant Achatz’s first restaurant, Alinea, has three Michelin stars and is regarded as one of the best restaurants in the world. Achatz wanted his second restaurant, Next, to be unlike anything before it. Rather than a set menu and permanent decor, Next becomes a completely different restaurant every few months. It represents a specific era and location in each entity. Next began as “Paris: 1906,” then became “Thailand.” Later, it was “Chicago Steakhouse,” followed by “Chinese: Modern.” The staff remains the same, but everything around them changes to reflect the current theme. They cannot become complacent with their jobs or burned out because something new is always on the horizon. The almost constant state of flux keeps the restaurant in high demand with customers never knowing what will come next. It is impossible for patrons to grow bored with the food or decor before a new theme arrives. Next is the perfect restaurant for the Post-Modern/ADHD Generation. There is no there there, but whatever is there will not be there for long.

Here’s an uninspired prediction: A church will copy Next’s approach of constant identity shifting. Imagine, a church operates as a typical seeker-sensitive mega-church for three months. The next week, instead of exposed ductwork and video screens, the congregation finds a high-church sanctuary, complete with an altar, vestments, candles, incense, liturgy, and choir. Three months later, the church becomes Anabaptist, with house churches replacing the corporate gathering and the temporary suspension of church offices (the staff still gets paid, we aren’t that Anabaptist). Each individual shares how God speaks to him or her, rather than the pastor proclaiming, “Thus saith the Lord.” This theme could be followed by a season of Fundamentalist America. Men come to church in suits and starched collars; women wear dresses and hats. They sing hymns such as “Onward, Christian Soldiers” and “Rescue the Perishing.” The pastor preaches like Billy Graham and stalks the stage like Billy Sunday. Every year or so, the church returns to its seeker-sensitive roots for a reset before it launches a new theme. Next church could move its location with each new theme, similar to a pop-up store. Rent the building of a dying mainline church for a Protestant Liberal identity, then move to a fair-trade coffee shop for a Hipster theme.

Next church could become the model for the Post-Modern era of ecclesiastical vacuousness. Those like Rob Bell who refuse to recognize any boundary of orthodoxy, even the Nicene Creed, can change their church’s theology as often as they change their water filter. Why have no confession when you can have all the confessions? Brian McLaren and other po-mo Christians who deny the exclusivity of Christianity could adopt a temporary theme of Buddhism or New Age. Rather than merely professing tolerance for other Christian traditions or non-Christian faiths, Next church actually becomes them. Post-moderns could maintain their doctrinal skepticism shrouded in faux humility as they walk in the shoes, or sandals, or purple Nikes of other traditions and religions.

I hope that I am as successful in uninspired prophecy as Harold Camping. Do not be surprised, though, if you see a billboard for Next church coming soon to a cathedral, converted warehouse, or biker bar near you.

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  1. Hopefully, all Next’s vicissitudes will be both edible and non-toxic (though some are not for couch potatoes). This sort of thing cannot by any means be said about the “church” you describe, and I’m sure you realized this limitation in your analogy before you posted!

  2. I would guess that the one “style” that would not be covered would be the underground/persecuted church

  3. Some enterprising seminary grad could offer to do the Protestant Reformation theme for Next church.

    The pastors and co-pastors (pastor’s wives) could take a three-month vacation. The remodel would be completely minimalist. The seminary grad could preach the Gospel for three months. The praise team could take a break, and the congregation could sing Psalms. Home groups would spend three months learning the Westminster Confession and the Three Forms of Unity. And at the end, some Next churchers may even be snatched from the fire, as it were.

  4. Thankfully, I don’t think that most Christians have as much energy or imagination that would be needed for such a project! I predict such a phenomenon will never be seen.

    • O never doubt the pastorpreneur’s abillity to manipulate a niche market class looking for a “worship experience”.

    • It will probably be done and on the backs of unpaid volunteers who “buy” into the “vision” put forth by the paid staff.

  5. I had an interesting conversation with a pastor of a “NRR” “church” already doing this. They have communion each week (good, right?) but they serve it differently each time to avoid “vain repetition”. It’s in a corner with lit candles; then presented by different congregants in the front; different musical highlights; different element foods (crackers vs. bread; different wines, juices) – all taken from John Piper and Mark Driscoll teachings. And yes, governed by the pastor’s vision, etc.

    I asked the pastor if he taught the 3 Forms – he said “no, the people wouldn’t get it . . .he didn’t want them to feel dumb . . . but desired to offer them nuance not doctrine.” He is a young man, formerly Calvary Chapel youth pastor, only trained at their school; then now being taught by the “Acts 29” curriculum.

    Get ready . . . .

  6. Unfortunately you’re already right…maybe not so much in churches putting the time,money,etc. into changing outward themes and decorations,but in the chameleon like way they will adapt doctrines and/or practices to appeal to the prevailing tastes of it’s so-called members and seekers…wait maybe this isn’t such a new tactic after all.

  7. Sorry, we’re already there except that it is from service to service. In Atlanta there are marketing companies that set up your sanctuary so that with the push of a button between services the worship center is transformed from “traditional” church to “contemporary”. Automatic decorative visqueen covers the church windows, stage lighting that was hidden in the first service is exposed. So you can have Chinese for lunch and Mexican for dinner!
    Next changing every 3 months is nothing.

  8. To the contemporary evangelical the style of worship is entirely inconsequential…merely a matter of personal choice, like the color of car you want or the flavor of ice cream you prefer. I have heard of “cowboy” churches where people actually go to the worship service mounted on their horses, and the whole service takes place in a big area like a rodeo arena. The thing I wonder about is the altar call. What if you want to go forward but your horse has doubts?

  9. Nah…I don’t think this will ever happen. Not with all the competition in the form of false gospel preached on every other corner, store front, and podcast, for those with itching ears to hear!! The cool trendy “changing church” model just wouldn’t make it imo.

    I would like to add, if churches would follow the biblical, early church’s example of using evangelism to preach the gospel to the lost in the streets, and teaching Christocentirc doctrine (which is EVERYWHERE in the Bible), along with preaching gospel, gospel, and gospel, maybe true believers would STAY in church while the “disciples” looking for a magic show and free meal sneak out the back door (John 6). Now days, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the doctrines of grace and election are on the back burner for the sake of keeping the church service and message entertaining to nonbelievers. Pastors are using the bearded-cool-guy approach to “hook” the people and reel em in.. Crank up the music, so these heathens have a great experience. Put the words on a screen above to keep their heads up, and maybe they’ll put their hands up. We can look like we’re really worshipping here. Take down crosses and anything that has to do with sin and repentance, because those things are buzkills. Nobody wants to see that stuff or hear those archaic words anymore. Nobody wants to hear those old hymns that sing about imputed righteousness of the Power In The Blood or Rock Of Ages. ..They’d rather hear loud synergistic music about how “their god” gives them the power to choose and breathe and rise above.
    It’s no secret that the past 10 to 15 years and continuing thru tomorrow, the not-so-new church model is simply to make a church for the unchurched…but keep in mind friends, church for the unchurched, is unchurch.

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