Don’t give me relevancy

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For a long season, churches focused on relevancy. They wanted to look cooler, sleeker, hipper, and funner than the options that the world had to offer. Take this world and give me Jesus…the cool one with gel in his hair, a tat on his left arm, and when he speaks, LED lights shine through the thick fog that billows around his feet. The one that speaks in catchy phrases, never offends anyone, and focuses on being slick rather than worshiping the King.


image credit: Flickr user

I wonder if that trend is over.

I hope that trend is over.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being slick. Or using LED lights (we use them at Grace). Or having gel in your hair. Please, Lord Jesus, tell me there’s nothing wrong with gel in my hair.

The problem isn’t those things at all. In fact, the Church should be the most creative, mind-and-heart-stretching gathering on the planet. The problem is when make our aim and end-goal “relevancy.” The problem is when those things become our crutch, and substitute for what my generation is really looking for.

If you aim for relevancy, you’ll be frustrated every time. As soon as you find the coolest lights, you’ll realize that the touring Broadway company that comes through town just smoked you. As soon as you shoot the best video, you’ll realize that Hollywood just released a blockbuster with a budget of $250 million. As soon as you print off the best-looking bulletins that the church world has ever seen, you’ll realize that the start-up A/C company down the road sent out 15,000 mailers that make your bulletin look like the preschoolers colored it.

Maybe relevancy shouldn’t be our goal. Maybe we shouldn’t rely on the “cool” and “wow” factor to draw my generation in. (and I’m thrilled that my church doesn’t rely on these things to be the hook)

My generation wants counter-cultural. Not relevancy.

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The Gospel is relevant. It always has been. And as long as there is pain, frustration, disappointments, failed expectations, failed families, abuse, neglect, and a desire for a more beautiful reality, the Gospel will continue to be. But it’ll never be relevant because of the lights, sounds, and hipster tight jeans.

If we want to reach my generation, counter-cultural should be our aim. Not anti-culture. Not oblivious-to-culture. Not naive-to-culture. And not enmeshed with the culture. Jesus seemed to do this pretty well, living in culture among us (John 1:14), but he stood out because of his love and radical grace.

Lights, videos, and billowing fog are great. But don’t forget the weightier matters: justice, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23). That’s what’s going to hook my generation.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12:2



Christ follower, husband, father, writer, small groups pastor at Saddleback Community Church. Communications director for the Small Group Network.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Jordan English

    I love the line, “My generation wants counter-cultural. Not relevancy.” I also think our generation NEEDS counter-cultural (and all the things listed in the chart) not relevancy.

    I really enjoyed this post, thanks for continuing to write and producing content.

    • Ben Reed

      Thanks Jordan. I agree that it’s a NEED, not just a want.

      Relevancy is such a fleeting, unattainable goal.

  • Tyler Hess

    unfortunately…Relevant magazine…isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. too many people thinking counter-cultural means going against the culture of purity of their grandparent’s church

    • Ben Reed

      Flesh that out a bit, Tyler. How have you seen this generation go against the “purity” found in other churches?

      • Tyler Hess

        I realize that was kind of vague…probably because I have several different ways I can answer that. here’s a few that come to mind off the top of my head

        1) by relying on marketing over the dependence on the Holy Spirit
        2) by allowing and approving of heretics on our best selling “Christian” book’s lists
        3) the divorce rate of Christians
        4) Christian websites that do nothing but mock other Christians
        5) Pastors who won’t preach against sin

        I could go on, but, nah, that’s a good start

  • Rob T


  • Jason Vana

    I really hope that relevancy trend is over, too. People want to belong before they believe, which means our churches need to be a place where people feel the can belong whether or not they believe yet – where they are genuinely loved, cared for and wanted.

    • Ben Reed

      That’s very true, Jason. They want to belong before they believe. Well said.

  • JR. Forasteros

    I 100% agree. I’d love to see you unpack the differences between being counter-cultural and being critical. I think many in the Church err on the “critical” side.

    Embodying a truly counter-cultural Gospel in a way that’s inviting rather than condemning is a tough thing to do well.

    Have you read Andy Crouch’s “Culture-Making” or encountered his postures toward culture? Really cool and helpful for me.

    • Ben Reed

      No, I haven’t read it. I’ll have to pick it up. Thanks for the suggestion on a new read!

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  • danielle

    If we want to reach my generation, counter-cultural should be our aim….Radical abandon to Jesus Christ should be our aim yes?

  • danielle

    I think the lights, smoke, music, trendy clothes and coffee bars are offensive. Jesus Christ came in on a donkey renouncing His own royalty. He purposely refused to conform or compete with the fads and trends of His world. He had no comliness, when he could of made himself very comely. He went around healing, serving and preaching. His disciples were mostly stinky poor fishermen. John the Baptist was vile. Paul didnt come with enticements. Power and a demonstration of the spirit is what our preachers need, not rectangle glasses, sneakers and a goatee. Serve, love, preach. Lose the competition with Hollywood, we will NEVER compare with the shininess, yet we have something MUCH better, dont insult Christ by bringing Him down to their level. The contrast and difference between us and the world is beautiful, something to be celebrated.