The sign caught my eye. After the church name was the slogan “where it’s never church as usual.”
I found myself feeling defensive. The message was meant to be positive, but it seemed to be wrapped around a negative: We’re not boring like all those other churches. Or even: We’re more entertaining than your church.
Of course if “church as usual” means stuck and stagnant, the leaders of that church are right to avoid it. But they might simply be saying that they’re not traditional—that they don’t have pews or hymnals, the preacher wears jeans, or the coffee is exceptionally good.
Maybe I felt defensive because I like a few traditions. I can still remember the thrill of a sanctuary filled with Sine Nomine on a thundering pipe organ. Traditional organ music was church as usual for the large congregation of my childhood.
Maybe I felt defensive for all the tiny congregations for whom church as usual is their dearest desire, as they struggle to maintain regular services with dwindling numbers.
It’s true, though, that the church should not be about either nostalgia or maintenance. What does it mean to live into the future with hope and imagination?
There are many ways to answer that question, and those gathered for the recent church planting conference engaged it seriously. (You can read a news report at www.brethren.org/news.) Among participants were a number of people leading innovative church plants that are featured in this issue of Messenger. I guess you could say these congregations are not church as usual, but that’s not the language they use. Their identities seem more about who they are and less about who they are not.
These fledgling communities are living in hope and imagination. Hope isn’t wishful thinking, and imagination isn’t just creativity. Hope is seeing beyond the cultural trappings of all our churches—traditional or contemporary, large or small—and recognizing the body of Christ. Imagination is living into new possibilities as if they were already real.
Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and Communications for the Church of the Brethren.