A news story highlights an aspect of evangelism we often forget and that is that evangelism is more than just selling your denomination.
The news story comes from Charlotte, NC, where 20 churches have banded together to form Charlotte ONE, an ecumenical ministry aimed at twenty to thirty year olds.
Young people were streaming into a beautifully adorned United Methodist Church, and by the time the lights dimmed for the Christian rock band Gungor (and their opening act, The Brilliance), the capacity crowd numbered more than 600. The audience was not, by and large, made up of members of United Methodist.
Rather, the mostly single professionals and students were brought here by Charlotte ONE, a collaboration of 40 or so area churches trying to reach this demographic. Such regular and extensive cooperation of mainline and evangelical Protestant churches from every major denomination is not a typical feature of American religious life. They are more likely to be competing for each other’s members. But desperate times call for desperate measures.
Many of the more than 700 churches in this area (and all over the country, for that matter) have tried to run so-called young-adult ministries—but with little success. James Michael Smith, a co-founder of Charlotte ONE, tells me that a common problem is the return on investment: “Young adults are the least reliable, the most mobile and they don’t give financially either.” In order even to get them in the door, he adds, churches have to offer “the wow factor.”
But the wow factor—expensive bands, charismatic preachers, elaborate social events—doesn’t come cheap. What’s more, many religious leaders worry that offering that kind of experience only encourages young people to think about “the attractional church,” the kind of place you go for entertainment but not for any long-term commitment.
The organizers say they are happy to see the free market at work in other arenas, but they worry that “shopping for God,” as one book title recently had it, is not an appropriate way to view faith.
Unfortunately, no Episcopalians are listed as “partner churches”, but one of our Cafe editors, Nick Knisely, reports that Trinity Cathedral is apart of a similar project in Phoenix, so we figure that “participation” does not equal “partnership” for the purposes of getting your churches name listed.