I’m a proud child of the City of Gloucester. It’s a small city with a fantastic history. Originally the Roman town of Glevum, we have a king buried in the Cathedral, which was also the filming location for the Harry Potter movies. Home to Robert Raikes, the pioneer of Sunday Schools, birthplace of George Whitefield, and Bishop Hooper, who died at the stake defending the faith. It has a celebrated Rugby Club and is close to the countryside as well as the major cities of Bristol, Cardiff & Birmingham, and not too far from London. It even has a new hipster service station. What more could you want?
It took me by surprise back in 2005 when I read that Gloucester was labelled one of the “Clone Towns” of the U.K. This is where the town’s high street loses unique shops and becomes full of global and national chains. Suddenly I noticed the high street was full of H&M, Debenhams, Costa Coffee, Starbucks, Caffe Nero, BHS (may she rest in peace), Marks & Spencer, to name but a few. Suddenly this town with a rich history felt a little, well, less unique. Then in 2009, Gloucester became even less unique as the city opened its Outlet Shopping Centre, bringing even more big brands like Nike, Adidas and even more Costa Coffee to the City. I was truly living in a clone city.
Everyone says that all churches are unique, but in today’s world, churches can feel a bit cloney. We all sing the same songs (Mostly a Hillsong-Bethel concoction), with the same wooden palette stage design, the worship leaders all wear skinny jeans with Hebrew Tattoos on their biceps (guilty as charged), and the preachers are all delivering the same three point sermons with alliteration to make it memorable. We all do small groups in homes during the midweek and Youth on a Friday. There’s usually a parent and toddler group on a weekday morning too.
In reality, our churches are more cloned that we like to think.
This all stems from the “church model” craze of the 1980s and 1990s. Everyone was looking for a formula of the “right way” to do church. Into this stepped the Cell Group Model, the Seeker-Sensitive Model, the Four W’s Model (Welcome, Worship, Word & Works), then more latterly, the Australian Model. None of these models were bad per se, but they all started to make the church homogenised. As we chased model after model, we were pushing our churches through a sausage machine of sameness.
There are some advantages to this. Firstly, it connects us to a more global-feel for church. The fact that most churches are singing the same worship songs around the world nowadays is very beneficial in making it feel like we’re part of something bigger. Secondly, it’s very helpful in helping existing Christians settle into a new church quickly, as they know what to expect.
However, as good as these advantages are, I think there is some way we can go to start making our churches feel more unique. There are two ways that you can bring uniqueness to your church: uniqueness in who you are and uniqueness in who you’re called to reach.
There’s something wonderful about gathering a group of people together into a congregation. The different backgrounds and experience, but all with one thing in common, Jesus. By leaning into who you’ve already got, you can start to bring out the unique flavours in your church.
A great start is with your worship team. Instead of making them play the arrangement of the songs exactly like the album version, look at who you have on your team. There’s often a variance in age and musical styles. By working together, you can create a new sound that reflects the people you have. This is how great bands form, they all bring who they are to the table, they’re not cover-bands. If your band comprises of a Saxophonist, a Violinist and a pianist, don’t try to make it sound like soft-rock, create a unique sound.
To take this further in your worship team, start writing original songs. When you start writing, you’ll inevitably get a dip in quality, but that dip gets filled in by a congregation who are championing their own. When your team write their own songs, it starts to reflect your church’s journey and culture much more than a global hit will.
With your speakers, don’t try to make them sound like the latest global preacher. Help them to be themselves better. I’ve heard recently that people have been knocking the gift of the teacher in Sunday Services. But if your speakers are more teachers than preachers, lean into that. Teaching doesn’t just mean all head knowledge and lectures. They can be exciting and paradigm-shifting. Why does it even have to be just one person speaking at one time at all? If you don’t have great preachers, but do have great thinkers, why not change from preaching to conversations. Today’s Podcasts are all conversations, not monologues. A great, deep conversation can have you engrossed for over an hour (at this point, It would be remiss of me to not plug the thinking.church podcast).
The main point is, use who you’ve got, don’t be swayed by what you think church “should be” and the uniqueness will start to flow.
There is also a uniqueness that starts to emerge when you focus on who you’re called to reach. When you think about the type of music your target market listens to, it will shape the songs you chose and the style you play. Maybe it’s time to have your worship hip-hop, or classical, or funk?
When you think about the TV shows your target market watch, it will change how you present on a Sunday. Maybe you need to start wearing a suit, jeans or a tracksuit? Maybe your church décor needs to look more like a nightclub, or an airport, or a café?
When you think about how your target market socialise, it will change how you think about small groups. Maybe you need to make your groups bigger, smaller, in cafés, in homes, in the pub?
Don’t push ministry to people, design ministry for people.
So in a roundabout way, we come back to the fact that every church actually is unique, if you chose to see it, if you chose to celebrate it, if you chose to lean into it. There is no single church in the world that has cracked it. There’s no formula.
At thinking.church, we are committed to not making cookie-cutter churches. That’s why we’re facilitators, not consultants. We provide a framework for key elements of your church, but we never mandate how you should look, feel or act. We don’t want you to look like the newest megachurch (even though we love megachurches too).
Even in things like your programming, we don’t tell you to do what programmes to run, we provide the conditions for you to design the programme that will best reach and disciple your target market, however that looks.
If you’re at a place where you’re looking to re-design your church and want to make it more unique, we can help. Book a free call with us, we’d love to talk.