Do Traditional Churches Still Have a Place?

A friend and I were exploring this topic yesterday. I was in a particularly negative mood yesterday and my friend was upbeat but realistic. He said something like this, "I'm not sure if 10 years from now if these places [referring to traditional churches] will still be around in the same way they are today."

I have pondered this question many times over the past decade. Two reasons exist for this: 1) The growing clarity that these churches are out of sync with a non-Christian culture; 2) I'm completely in love with the worship in many of these churches. I took my youth group to Grace Cathedral in San Francisco two weeks ago... wow! Such a beautiful building that hosts many prayer services each day, spiritual seekers walking the labyrinths, and pilgrims interested in a church that loves all types of people. Last spring, I took my group to Chicago. While there, we visited Fourth Presbyterian (right across from the water tower on the magnificent mile). It's an old building with amazing art, sculptures, windows, pipe organ, and vast architecture. While there, the choir was practicing for their Easter worship services.... I thought I was in heaven or at least in Boondock Saints (you know the scene at the beginning where they receive their "call").

Thus, I return to my question about these churches having a place. I find their worship to be so very inspirational, yet they are so out of touch with wider society. Not that I see all that they do as grand either. Traditional churches often waste tons of money on their traditional trappings. They have an amazing tradition and liturgical resources, yet lack the creativity to improvise on it. They tend to put the majority of their resources into corporate worship services rather than seeing worship as a broader idea encompassing all of life (this is often very true of contemporary mega-churches as well). So ask, "Do traditional churches still have a [significant] place? Do they have a role to play?"


  1. i'd say yes they do for multiple reasons. 1) they will never be "dead," as in non-existent, gone, and as you stated they do have vast amounts of resources at there disposal, so they will play some role. 2) I've read a few things(Diana Butler Bass and James Moorehead) that lead me to think that while the is some truth in the idea that the mainline protestant churches are fading or waning in their stature, it is a caricature that is not entirely accurate. And currently the catholic church is one of the fastest growing churches, and not just worldwide.
    Personally I think that the mainline protestant churches would do well to head in some the directions you've hinted at, i.e being creative, improvising on they liturgical structures. so on and so forth.
    I think that the problems that are present for the traditional/mainline churches are just as relevant for those that are of the mega-church style or more contemporary non-denominational type. I think that the same crisis faces both. I not sure if you posted about it or maybe cleave did, but one of the willow creekesque churches came out and admitted sometime this past fall that the way they were operating was not working and anyway i can't find the reference on that one. So I think that there is still hope for traditional churches, I am interpreting that to mean mainline protestant and catholics. But they do need to come about on several things, but I think that this is the case for all churches.
    Reinhold Hutter would argue that the church has lost its self-constituted public character because it has lost binding doctrine and theology as a discursive church practice. He sees pneumatically recovering them as the way forward and they are things more associated with the more traditional churches. So their is one avenue.
    We could look to Barth, Lindbeck, others, or wild idea maybe even the bible for other ideas. but nonetheless I do see hope for the traditional church.

  2. It'll be around and kicking. How much more can society really change at this point? How innovative have people REALLY been with their churches? I think we've come to an end of innovation. Lots of shifting roles, but little real innovation if you think about it. Maybe it's my lack of imagination, but I can't think of anything more strikingly innovative than Folgers opening a chain of coffee shops or American Express giving Paypal competition to send and receive money online.

    I don't mean this as a dig at all, but I see church services being out of touch because the pastoral staff tries wearing the art director hat far too much. It's a know your gift issue. They discover what U2 did in 2001 and show the clip at the next Willow Creek convention.

    Or string a set of awkward elements together that usually won't seem anything more than awkward unless you know the underlying concepts behind them.

    It's kind of like the curse of the seminary intern (sorry Eric): you get guys way too far inside their head trying to tell us what should communicate.

    Put a team together as a staff with equal voice and duty. Have an art director, spiritual director, tech director, communication specialist, counselor, whomever.

    Or, we can have these conferences---new ministry conferences is what they'll be called---where guys come together, explain that what they ripped off last time "didn't work" and that they're eager for the next thing to try. We can bring in speakers who've written the same book three or four times under different titles. They'll communicate to make sure they're also saying the same thing the other guy's books said. (That's not a church thing, just publishing in general).

    Sorry, I'm not very eloquent tonight. I don't think churches would give you guys the needed resources even if they were asked for. Although I was at an meeting for special ed. teachers today at Valley Christian center. That in itself is an idea.

    But what struck me was the landscape. With my mom dragging me on Master Gardener tours all the time, I know what $20,000 can look like when planted in the earth. VC's campus was inspiringly beautiful. So evidently they ok'd a small release of funds for beauty. There's another beautiful campus in town, Van Ness and Floradora down between Fresno City and Tower.

    Not sure where I'm going, just riffing out loud.

  3. What if we led in AIDS research?

  4. Pneumatically recovering doctrine and theology as a discursive church practice due to the loss of self constituted public character.. I think the fact that you can say that and I understand it puts both of us in James' category of "you get guys way too far inside their head trying to tell us what should communicate."
    But I do think you are right on with that. We have lost authority precisely because we have chosen not to speak with authority in a way that brings reality to light.

    James, I think your right. Most of the "innovation" we see going on in churches is the equivalent of Folgers opening coffee shops. However, some of the most innovative things I have seen are coming out of the Catholic circles... improvising on their traditions and theological practices. Your comment on AIDS research is even better though. Grace Cathedral in San Fran has an entire wall in their church dedicated to those who die due to AIDS (they of course have many ministries and programs in this area as well). The wall struck me more than their programs though. Here is a church that is as old and ancient as they come in their work and practice and yet more innovative, daring, and relevant than just about any I've seen. They have so much stained glass, art, sculptures, etc. One of their stained glass pieces is for Einstein and the Milky Way galaxy. And it looks great not cheesy. Its usually really hard to find a place that can do both-- have great programs and ministries to AIDS victims (as an example) and can find ways to incorporate this into the worship process and environment. To me, that is what is required for innovation.