Six words that are defining the modern church

Updated 8:00AM, Sunday May 6th, 2012 , Guest post by Gerard Kelly for 4 comments seperator

What words might we use to encourage the young adults of our century to join the movement known as Christianity? What kind of church might the new generation want to be part of?

The Museum on Modern Art in New York - Moma - recently ran a campaign to persuade visitors to become members. Called ‘Belong’, the campaign suggested the kind of movement or organisation art-lovers might want to be part of: using words like ‘breathtaking’, ‘poignant’, ‘engaging’, ‘nourishing’ and ‘unruly’. You can see images from the campaign here.

Here are six words that are emerging as the parameters of any such belonging in the 21st century Church:


Time was we thought of sustainability as an environmental issue. It is now emerging as something much more than this. So central is the environmental crisis to the current generation that ‘sustainability’ has become a core paradigm of life itself. Expect to be asked for sustainable models of church and mission; of lifestyle and faith. Expect to be questioned on the the sustainability of your spiritual practices. What does a sustainable Christian commitment look like?


Relationships matter in our age. Connection define us, and friendship is more valuable to us than fragmentation. We connect not on the basis of shared beliefs but of common humanity. Expect to be asked to respect the friendships of believers with non-believers. Expect to be judged where you refuse to engage with fellow human beings. Expect to see ‘evangelism’ re-defined not as a public event but as a socially networked, relational process.


A choir needs two assets to sound truly great. The first is harmony. Discordant voices stand out a mile. But the second is diversity: the very difference that makes harmony miraculous. 200 people singing the same part is not a choir, it’s just volume. 200 people with different voices singing the same song is beautiful. Homogeneity is bad for choirs, and is bad for churches. Expect to be asked to respect diversity in your community of faith; honouring a range of views; recognising that God sometimes shouts and sometimes whispers and that different ones of us relate differently to him. Expect to engage in a Gospel that brings unity not through uniformity but through the joyful celebration of difference.


Truth, in the Christian version of the world, is revealed. But it is also mediated, and its mediation comes through human agency. It is to people and through people that God reveals himself, in creation as in salvation. Humans bear collectively the image of God, and individually some fragment of it. Thus every human story matters, and human interaction, guided by the creator’s Spirit, moves us towards truth. Expect to find truth hiding in the threads of a thousand stories. Expect to be asked to listen as much as speak, and to find in every story some fragment pointing towards God. Expect collaboration and conversation to play a greater part than you thought possible in your own journey into truth. Expect to discover that the fragmentation and distribution of experience across the human family is the friend, not the enemy, of revealed truth.


A generation brought up with endless screens and beautifully-designed products and knowing more than any generation before them what a font is, has a sensibility to the aesthetic that is changing their perception of faith. We have been used to speaking of God as true or holy; powerful and loving. But we have had less to say about God’s beauty. And yet our own creation narrative tells us that beauty is one of the primary dimensions in which God’s being is expressed. Expect to have ugly projects that move in ugly ways towards an ugly God rejected. Expect to be asked to respect and give time to the need for fine design. Expect to be asked to express your faith as deeply in image as in word, and to recover the richness of architectural and artful expression that the Christian faith once revelled in.


Young adults schooled in the innovative ways of the post-industrial revolution are drawn to those who take action. Do something. Make something. Start something that matters. Our heroes in a diversity of fields are linked by a single-term: start-up. They are the innovators and the change makers; those motivated to make a dent in the universe. Expect to see direct action valued over pontification. Expect long and drawn-out processes to be questioned. Expect to see a desire in the young of your congregation to do; make; start. Expect to be ask to be a permission-giver, allowing those you lead to try and, where necessary, to fail gloriously. Expect to see, in the coming years, some of your most-loved and seemingly unchangeable institutions implode, while new institutions and movements grow up around you at lightning speed.

What, then, does a sustainable, social, choral, conversational, aesthetic, entrepreneurial church look like - and is it one that you might want to join?

Gerard Kelly is a respected speaker and writer. He is on the leadership team of Spring Harvest, lives in missional community in France and leads the Bless Network, who seek to engage young people in mission on the European mainland. His most recent books include Twitturgies and Church Actually: God's Brilliant Idea.


Guest writer


This article was written and published by Gerard Kelly for


Six words that are defining the modern church Discussion

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Jonathan Bush
Jonathan Bush said...
May 3rd, 2012 at 10:46AM • Reply

Sorry Sam, but this leaves me cold. It feels like the questions being asked is what kind of church are we humans building, when actually, it is Christ who builds HIS church! Sustainability? Nn. We are, of course, expected to be good stewards of the world. That is biblical. But that is a million miles from the current, worldly, "Green" agenda. We are supposed to be in the world, but not of it. We are not supposed to be joining in with the new world religion of "AGW" or "climate change". We should not be spending time, effort and heartache on wasteful and ugly windmills, when we should be investing all of the above into furthering His Kingdom. Entrepreneurial? really? Where is that a major plank of scriptural direction to the body of Christ?
Maybe I'm just being a grumpy old man, but the whole tenor of the article feels humanistic, not heavenly.

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Helen Lloyd
Helen Lloyd said...
May 4th, 2012 at 9:51AM • Reply

Its amazing how people can read the same article and come up with different views - That's the CHORAL bit - I thought this was a great piece - he's not saying that Christ is not in control of building His Church it just that we need to look at out society and what it needs and how we can meet it in its needs - thats being Incarnational - which is the foundation of Jesus Ministry afterall. Remeber God uses us to build His church - we aren't made just to sit back and let things happen around us. Society changes - we must adapt to the changes - without compromising the message. What he is challenging is not the biblical principles but the bad habits and traditions we have accumulated over the centuries (without losing the good ones!) It will be interesting deciding what is ugly - things that distort the gospel and destroy God's image in us - that is an internal challenge as well as an Church body one.

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DMB said...
June 29th, 2012 at 11:33PM • Reply

I read in this article that society and cultural norms are changing and evolving faster than ever while the church has always been a bit of an ocean liner; moving slowly and even slower when turning in new directions. However - in agreement with J. Bush's comment - the most important thing that people go to church for is Jesus and his name wasn't mentioned in the article except in 'Christian'. If God's son is lifted up as head and heart of his church again, the church will grow. Preach about Jesus and the church will fill up because its all that is needed, deep down in every individual, and it is the only name that overcomes all barriers of any kind. There are many religions talking about 'God' but only Christianity has Jesus Christ.

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Heather Wilson
Heather Wilson said...
June 30th, 2012 at 9:28AM • Reply

Thanks for this. We need to rediscover the art of story telling using creative ways to tell God's story and our own. We are living embodied story of what following Christ is all about. Leaders need to model and teach spiritual sustainability. Jesus is the supreme model of being in the world but not of it. He engaged with the people and the issues and was not afraid to speak God's love and truth into those places. We are in the world, and we need to speak out not only about human rights injustices but the injustice of a wounded creation and our abuse of nature's resources. Redemption isn't just about humanity it's about the redemption of creation as well.

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