It might not be as impactful as July 4th, but July 1st might end up being a benchmark date for the future of the evangelical church in the United States. Last Saturday night Gene Appel, a glorious son of the Restoration Movement and lead pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, announced that Willow is eliminating Axis, their "Generation X" worship service. Why is this important? Because no matter how hard we want to deny it, as goes Willow Creek so goes the majority of cutting edge/hip churches in the country.
Willow Creek started their Axis service in 1995 with the intention of attracting an ever-dwindling group of twenty-somethings. It originally proved to be a successful model and was emulated at churches around the country. The two main reasons cited for pulling the plug was 1) the change that Axis had on the church as a whole, blurring the worship differences thus eliminating the need for Axis and 2) the desire for the church to reclaim an intergenerational focus.
Dan Kimball, author of Emerging Worship, is surprised this didn't happen long ago. He cited the difference between generational and worldview differences as to why Axis met its demise: "But when these new worship gatherings within a church are only generational and not considering the worldview changes - what mainly happens is that they then cater to those who grew up in that church or another church. People come to where they have better music, cooler environment and be around people their age and can do the healthy single flirt with others. Because of the power structure, they report to the senior pastor or Executive Pastor at a church. To some degree, and I say this with respect, it is somewhat of a glorified youth ministry in most cases. So these are generational changes and catering ministry to a generational change. However, if the changes in culture are bigger than that though - then it is absurd to think that creating a different aesthetic environment and changing the music is really being missional."
A few of my thoughts about all this. First, I would say that one thing I really appreciate about Willow is their willingness to admit when something needs to change. Instead of holding onto to something for the sake of "being right," they have no qualms about questioning everything they do in order to accomplish their mission. If more churches were honest about their mistakes, I imagine the Kingdom as a whole would benefit. But I'm not holding my breath waiting for this to happen.
Second, I think this reinforces the idea that we need many different churches [new churches at that] in order to reach people of different worldviews. Cincinnati is a great example of this as different neighborhoods have different worldviews. Instead of churches that meet everyone's needs, we need to improve at being missional. Sure, I'd love for Echo to be a place that could reach out to every kind of person, but it's just not going to happen. I have to be willing to be honest about our church and not fear when people don't click with the way we do ministry.
Finally, I really believe that intergenerational ministry is where it's at. I know there are young guys like me out there starting churches because they're ticked-off at the old ways of doing things. Because of this, our churches are beginning to be social clubs for people of like backgrounds. I recently heard one church planting "expert" who asserted that the church planter can best reach out to people who are just like him. If this is true, then the power of the gospel is neutered. A Biblical church should have people of various backgrounds that are drawn to gather together because of Jesus. I'd love to have older people be a part of Echo.
All this might not seem like much to you but, trust me, it's more significant than you realize.