Cool Church Isn’t What It Used to Be

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In a rapidly changing culture, churches cannot stay relevant by simply adopting the latest trend, says Carey Nieuwhof, especially as indifference to church grows. The keys to rebirth include deep authenticity, a true sense of mission, healthy relationships, an innovative spirit, and perhaps most of all, a sense of hope that goes beyond the mundane.


For the last few decades, simply being a cooler church than the church down the road helped churches grow. Trade in the choir for a band. Add some lights, some sound, some haze, and you had a growing church. That time has recently come to a close. I’m not against churches having bands, lights, and creating a great environment. Not at all. In fact, the church I lead has all of the above; if you are going to gather people, gather well. My point is not that you shouldn’t, but that it’s no longer enough. So what’s changing?

We ignore the reality that what’s making growing churches grow is significantly deeper than the cool factor.

Cutting-edge keeps changing…fast. Constant connectivity online has sped up trends. What’s novel isn’t novel for long anymore. You used to have to hire experts, be in a certain circle, or do some travelling or sleuthing to find cool things. Now you just download an app, watch a video, stream a song, or follow whatever trend you’re passionate about in the moment. Trends are shorter, less interesting, and we’re all growing oh-so-bored with what’s novel. It’s harder than ever for churches to be cutting-edge because cutting-edge keeps changing.

Indifference to church has grown. As the percentage of unchurched adults in the U.S. has risen, indifference to the church has grown. Church leaders in places like Canada and other countries have felt the indifference for much longer. As churches changed their worship style and even architecture in recent times, having a cool church got you more traction than it does today. Here’s why: if people aren’t into church, it doesn’t matter how cool, hip, or trendy your church is; people won’t be that interested.

Imitation killed innovation. Because we live in a digital age when church leaders easily keep their fingers on the pulse of what other leading churches are doing, we also find ourselves living in an age of imitation. I’m not against borrowing great practices, but when churches imitate each other, we rarely borrow all the best practices. We just borrow the ones that have caught our imagination. We ignore the reality that what’s making growing churches grow is significantly deeper than the cool factor. And in the process of all that imitation, something even more important is lost: innovation.

Five Keys to Rebirth (The New Cool)

All around us is a rapidly changing culture, and when we ignore that culture, we do so at our peril. It is still a great idea to use the culture to reach the culture, but you definitely go beyond that. Here are five keys I see to a future of greater impact with Millennials.

I. Authentic Leadership and Connection

Sometimes the reason cool doesn’t connect is because underneath all that “cool” is an inauthenticity: people who have fallen for the lie that style trumps substance. Unchurched people and younger adults and teens are looking for authentic leadership and authentic connection. And, my goodness, if the church is anything, it should be a place of deep authenticity.

2. An Elevated Sense of Mission

The church has always been about something bigger than itself. At the center of our mission is Christ. While most organizations naturally drift toward an insider focus, church leaders must resist this at all costs. Not only is it antithetical to the true mission of the church, but a self-obsessed community is a turnoff to a young generation that is well aware of the needs in the world the church often ignores. You lose your narcissism when you lose yourself in a bigger mission. And a bigger mission is something Millennials are longing to give their lives to.

3. Hope

Christianity provides more hope than anything. I’m 100 percent behind making messages practical, applicable, and helpful. But sometimes the practical can tip too far. We recently heard from an unchurched woman in her mid-20s who had listened to a few of our messages and said, “Well, it’s great to know how to balance my personal finances … but I don’t really need God for that, do I?” To some extent, she’s right. As Millennials and young adults explore the Christian faith, there has to be practical theology, but there also has to be much more.

4. Elevated Community

I’m all for video walls if they help the mission, but no church will ever have the resources to entertain better than Hollywood. But even if the church did, what would be the point? God is in the people business. And the heart of Christianity is relationship — a right relationship with God, each other, and ourselves. It’s also fairly clear that younger adults and teens hunger for community perhaps more deeply than previous generations did. Moving forward, churches that elevate community and prioritize healthy relationships will fare much better in accomplishing their mission than those who don’t.

5. Experimentation

Experimentation is the key to innovation. In an age of imitation, innovation has to make a comeback. So how does a church experiment, particularly a church that has had success in the recent past or even in the present? The best approach is to do what you do now, but begin experimenting on the side to see what has the potential to make a significant impact in the future. Truthfully, I’m not sure anyone really knows what that is right now, which is why experimentation is even more important than we might initially think.


This article is adapted from his latest book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, available from Amazon. Used by permission.

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About Author

Photo of Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is founding and teaching pastor of Connexus Community Church in Barrie, Ontario, Canada; a popular blogger and podcaster; and author of bestselling books. Visit his website at CareyNieuwhof.com.


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