Church Methods Don’t Matter – Until We Do Them Wrong

typewriterThe church won’t change the world by adopting new methods. We won’t even save the church that way.

What will change the world is a praying church. A loving church. A worshiping church. An outward-reaching church. A Jesus-centric church.

The Great Commandment and the Great Commission are all that matter. They haven’t changed in 2,000 years because they don’t need to.

But.

I’m going to use new methods anyway.

I’ll tell you why in a moment. But first, a lesson in the history of typesetting. (No, I’m not crazy. My mother had me tested).

 

Double-Spacing – A Real-Life Parable

If you’re my age (born in 1959) or older, you were probably taught to double-space between sentences when typing. Why? Because our teachers had been raised in an era when most typewriters used monospace font, with every letter taking up the same amount of width on the page.

Those old typewriters left huge gaps of white space on either side of thin letters (like i), while wide letters (like m) were squeezed together. Double-spacing was needed after each period to made sentence breaks clear, aiding in readability.

That all changed in the 1950s and ’60s, when typewriters with proportional spacing became popular. Thin letters took up less page space, while wide letters used more, with uniform gaps between them. Those new typewriters also provided just the right width between sentences with just one touch of the space bar. Suddenly, double-spacing was not only unnecessary, but the big out-of-proportion gap they created made documents harder to read, not easier.

But old habits die hard. 

Since most people were never taught why double-spacing was needed on the old typewriters, they didn’t understand the need to switch to single-spacing. Double-spacing was what they’d been taught and that’s what they would teach their students. So an entire generation learned to do it wrong.

Computers use proportional spacing. Double-spacing not only isn’t needed, it actually causes too much space between sentences, getting in the way of smooth reading and comprehension. The method that many of us were taught to help make our writing more readable then actually makes us less readable now.

Today, when I see the occasional email or a blog post with double-spacing, I know two things. 1) It will be a little harder to read, and 2) the author is my age or older.

If you’re still using double-spacing between sentences, here’s a very blunt message from Farhad Monjoo, technology columnist for the NY Times. “Can I let you in on a secret? Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.” (Emphasis his).

It doesn’t matter that is used to work, or that it used to be right. Today’s reality is that it doesn’t work any more, so it’s not right any more.

Thus endeth the typesetting history lesson.

Now, back to today’s church methods. (But you’ve already gone there in your head, haven’t you?)

 

Don’t Let the Method Hurt the Message

If I wrote my blog posts using two spaces between sentences, it wouldn’t change my content one bit. And the content is all that matters. But it would change something very important. How people read my content.

Double-spacing would draw attention to itself and away from the content, putting an unnecessary gap (literally) between my content and people’s ability to read it. Why would I use a method that does that? Why would anyone?

But we do that in church all the time. We insist on using methods that have long outlived their usefulness, often while loudly insisting that methods don’t matter.

OK. If methods don’t matter, let the old ones go!

We agree that the content is all that matters. After all, no one has ever read a book and exclaimed “That story moved me so deeply! The way the author single-spaced between sentences was profoundly touching!”

But, if the author used double-spacing, someone might say “I didn’t like the book. I don’t know why, but it just seemed hard to read.” I know that’s true because I’ve heard people say that after reading blog posts and emails with double-spacing. They may not even know what’s wrong, but something feels off.

The methods we use in the church need to adapt. Not to compromise our message – never to to do that! But so that the unchanging, uncompromised Gospel message won’t be hamstrung by outmoded, hard-to-comprehend methods.

 

The Best Method Is…

As I wrote in a previous post, Wanted – New Church Methods for New Church People, I regularly change the methods I use to communicate the Gospel. Not because those methods will save anyone. Only the Gospel of Jesus will do that. I change methods for the same reason I wrote this post using single-spacing – because bad methods get in the way of the message.

So no, methods don’t matter. Until they stop working. Or when the new methods become more important than the Gospel. When that happens, the methods really do matter – for all the wrong reasons.

Any method that hinders people’s ability to receive the truth of the Gospel needs to be changed or abandoned. No matter how well it worked in the past, how new and cool we think it is, or how much it means to us.

If my content has errors, those errors don’t get fixed by promoting it with new methods or going back to old ones. The content needs to be fixed first. Until then, the methods don’t matter. But if the content is good, yet the methods get in the way – then the methods matter.

That’s why any method that adds anything to people’s ability to hear and accept the simple message of the Gospel needs to be learned and used as quickly as we can implement it.

I don’t want people “oohing” and “aahing” over new methods. And I will not fight to keep the old methods. I want to use the best method available for any given situation.

A good method shouldn’t stand out. It should disappear like the single spaces between my sentences, so the message can come through more clearly than ever.

 

So what do you think? Have methods (new or old) become too important in your life or ministry?

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(Doormat photo from Kyle Van Horn • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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3 thoughts on “Church Methods Don’t Matter – Until We Do Them Wrong”

  1. I think this is spot on.Even in music in the church we are finding since we are going after the worse of the worse in our community that the gospel needs to be presented in our music but with a edgy sound that reaches the street folk.I came to Christ in 1975 and saw worship/Christian music go through tons of changes……

  2. The problem with which I wrestle is that the message delivery and the message itself are inextricably linked. I’m not saying this as a critique, but as a problem I’ve yet to figure out. I recently heard a sermon from a pastor of a newer church running around 600. The only scripture references he used were irrelevant to his point, which was, “do more, faster, better, harder;” sort of a New Year’s pep talk. The methods were entirely up-to-date, informal, cheery, many-storied, etc., with a “set” behind him which reinforces the sermon series.

    Sadly, however, there was no content, just message. I’m kind of a fan of the late Neil Postman on this. In his Amusing Ourselves to Death, he (not a Christian), chides Christians for making their message so relevant that it means nothing; and this was before the internet.

    Just rambling.

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