I think I've adequately described the atmosphere at Charity. It is a church built on love, encouragement, and friendliness... and tradition. Tradition is not a bad thing. Some of my greatest memories and practices at home with family, especially around Christmastime, revolve around tradition. There is, however, a time when you have to ask, "Is tradition interfering with the movement of God," and, "Are we basing decisions on tradition or scripture?"
Generally, we can be biblically sound and traditional. We can also be biblically sound and contemporary.
Unfortunately, we can't always be traditional and relevant.
Let me clarify my point before moving on. First, you can be traditional and relevant, but being traditional and relevant to today's culture is a different thing. I'm married at 20 and it's already made it more difficult to relate to people my age. However, we still have similar life experiences, similar tastes, and we try to keep up with what's new.
Charity has a few characteristics that don't necessarily lean towards the contemporary. Like I said before, 50% of the congregation is over the age of 50. The church is quite relevant by being traditional; it is geared towards that generation. Unfortunately, most people under the age of 50 are unchurched, and reaching them is more difficult. Starting and ending a service with all 4 verses of "Majesty" and "Have Thine Own Way" is not too appealing to the younger crowd. As a matter of fact, I hate to say it, but I try to busy myself with last-minute missions and/or teaching preparations at the beginning of the service to avoid having to hear the song "Majesty." For me, the song is like what Jesus warned us about in prayer: vain repetition. It looses the significance to me when it is sung every Sunday.
I've noticed a great emphasis at Charity on the children, namely those in the preK to 6th grade range. I link this to what I call, the Grandma Effect. In the Grandma Effect, elderly people find a certain fondness for the young. Youth (middle and high school), they find, tend to be more adult-like in behaviors, appearance, and attitude, the last of which is probably the biggest turnoff to the elderly. Younger children are full of vigor and innocence, two qualities that the elderly envy and adore. As a result, the Grandma Effect kicks in. When my sister had her child, my parents ceased being "mom" and "dad" and quickly became "grandma" and "grandpa." They were very proud of their new granddaughter and began buying toys, clothes, and all sorts of things for the newborn. They felt younger just being with Katelynne (my niece). The Grandma Effect causes similar reactions at Charity. The elderly find the kids to be cute, adorable, and worthy of attention. Much focus is put on the annual VBS and Christmas plays. Unfortunately, that excitement and focus wanes a little (although they are supportive of the youth) and by the time those "kids" begin attending college, they must fend for themselves: either attend the couples class, the senior class, or maintain that awkward feeling by staying in the youth class until they're married (which occurs, on average, around the age of 28 in the U.S.). Nothing is more awkward than being 29 and in the same class as a freshman in high school (except, of course, being 20 in a class of people aged 65 and older).
This post is getting long, but I have a few more things to mention: sermons, teaching, and music (yes, again). First, sermons. You should avoid criticizing a pastor's sermons, especially when you attend the church of the pastor you are criticizing. I am not criticizing Pastor Bob (yes, his name is Bob. Did I mention this was a Baptist church?). Pastor Bob likes to make references to experiences with people in the church. He usually mentions a child's name, a couple of people in the congregation, and asks specific questions of individuals with whom he has rapport. Although I find it to be a little distracting for me personally, it shows the connection between them and re-emphasizes the Grandma Effect. But it also does something else. It contributes to the "feel good" atmosphere, and I fear that most of the traditional sentiment and practice in churches today is based off of that concept; that the church, including sermons, classes, and other activities, are for the ultimate benefit of the congregation in making them "feel good." We should definitely promote things that edify the body, and the primary reason for spiritual gifts in the church is for building up the body, but too often the idea of making a "feel good" environment isn't biblical. God also wants us to learn more about Him: His nature, His plan for us. God also wants us to practice biblical discipleship and to approach Him in reverence, awe, and worship. When I go to church to "feel good" because I am reminded of yesteryear when I was young (Grandma Effect), God's purposes for the church are neglected.
Second, the teaching. Christ has called us to "Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them..., and teaching them to obey all things I have commanded you..." Much of the church's education program and Sunday School teaches great biblical concepts, but does it make disciples? Secondly, does it make disciple-making disciples. Whatever the answer to question one, the answer to question two appears to be "no." This is a trend in churches everywhere. How many new entrants into the congregation come from different churches? Sadly, the number of people joining coming to Christ through the ministry of Charity is low. Indeed, if we excluded all the children of church attendees, I think we'd have to go back over a year to find the last conversion. I believe it is a poor allocation of resources when Sunday School classes are teaching about prophecy when believers aren't trained to share their faith and are not actively engaging others with the gospel.
Third, music. I've grown to love fully-contemporary worship services, but I also appreciate the mix of hymns and modern songs. Charity does have a modern worship team, but it is comprised solely of family members and is only performing half to a third of all Sunday services. Also, there is hardly ever a PowerPoint with the lyrics. Most Sundays consist of hymns, and when the praise team is there, the number of hymns is not shortened, making the praise team seem more like an "extra" instead of an integral part of the worship. This has virtually no appeal to the youth, and it is difficult to get into a God-focus when the music leaves me bored. The use of a clavichord only compounds it and sometimes makes me wonder if I am in a bingo hall or a church service. I love those who dedicate the time and effort to provide music to the church, but I feel their skills are untapped, especially those of the clavichord player.
Although I should end, I have one more thing on my mind. I consider it the most important of all: prayer. A lot can be determined about a church based on the prayer list it maintains. This is the saddest part of the church. What the church prays about shows its priorities. Churches praying for ministries and opportunities to reach out tend to be more evangelistic. Churches that pray for missionaries tend to be more mission-minded and support missions. Charity's prayer list contains about 20 items from week to week. One item is for a soldier in Iraq. Another is an unspoken. The other 18 items are all labeled the same thing (or have a brief explanation): health. The focus would appear to be on preserving the congregation instead of growing it.
Please pray for me, for Charity, and all those who lead it. We are having a revival starting on Sunday, September 28. Pray that the Spirit would move us all towards God's vision of the church. Not mine. Not anyone else's. Just God's. Whether we are traditional and reach out to the older generation or if we become more contemporary to reach out to the unchurched, may God be glorified.