Waste, Clutter, and Inconvenience: Pressing Issues for the Responsive Church

April 01, 2010

By Dr. Steve Wilke

How does the church meet the expectations of the younger generation? When local congregations address this question, they usually discuss worship music or programming. I want to make a case for certain values held by our younger members and seekers that we, as their elders, would do well to recognize.
 
First, we should be asking: Are we producing unnecessary waste in the church?
 
More and more, young people are becoming sensitized to the wastefulness of our resources. Take music, for example. In our own lives, we've watched as it's moved from record album to tape to compact disk, each arriving wrapped in plastic that is quickly discarded. Even CD jewel cases have eventually become a bother, and these, too, get thrown away. In truth, few of us really want to own a record, tape, or CD – we just want to listen to music. 
 
Enter iTunes, the music destination of choice for young adults. Just purchase the song and download it. No trips to the store, no trash, nothing to put on a shelf. In other words, no waste.
 
How is your church wasteful? Waste can be found in poorly planned meetings and worship, poorly insulated buildings, too many trips to the dumpster with material that could be recycled. I believe we are entering a time when more folks have less tolerance for waste, and it's appropriate for us to respond.
 
In a world of automatic-information access, endless entertainment, and constant communication, we also should be mindful of the tools to help us handle the deluge of clutter. How can we manage 2,000 songs? Or look at three or four newspapers each day? Or watch two favorite TV show scheduled at the same time?
 
How can we keep up with all our friends around the world? Or keep track of all books, notes, files, and pictures?
 
Of course, young people now take advantage of technology in numerous ways. With just a laptop and a cell phone, they can easily do an assortment of activities and keep massive amounts of information in order.
 
Is your church cluttered? Do you hand out stacks of printouts at meetings? Are bulletin boards sloppy and resource materials hard to find? Do you store church supplies in junky closets? Is your congregation notable for its "busyness" without intentional planning and focus? The organizational tools of our culture often are just a click away, and our churches would do well to clear the information pathways.
 
Convenience: Young adults not only demand it, but they also expect it.
 
With the same ease their parents put a record on a turntable, they listen to a snippet of a song on iTunes, buy it, and then download it for life to their iPod. They browse for movies on their laptops, and then click to watch. They use their phones to talk, text, and share photos. That's convenience.
 
How has your church been intentional about incorporating convenience into its life? I encourage you to look around. Do you send meeting reminders by email, post church news on your website, and provide other easy ways to interact? In an increasingly complex world, we all benefit by saying "no" to disorder, and "yes" to ministry-enhancing convenience.
 
Dr. Steve Wilke is the executive director of The Institute for Discipleship at United Methodist Southwestern College, which is committed to bringing the educational online tools of our culture to churches. If you are interested in growing in your faith and ministry with others in a small group without 1) wasting time and money to get together, 2) cluttering up your life with paper, and 3) being bound to a certain time or meeting place, then check out www.BeADisciple.com.