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Dan Kimball analyzes the characteristics of the current American culture and the emerging generation. He proposes specific practical approaches in communication and worship style that will help the churches bridge the worldview gap that exists between the church culture and the general society.
I was a bit surprised to find his comments and proposals at a somewhat tentative stage, as if these cross-cultural dynamics and concept of worldview were just coming to light. Since I have been working overseas most of my life, it was a good insight to learn how insulated the American church is from the reality of the culture and society around it.
Out of Touch
In the early 2000s, after living in other countries for about 28 years, I had observed that a great segment of America's churches appeared to exist as their own separate culture, not in touch with the expectations and goals of the world around them. Most churches seem not to be communicating to the community in which they are located. They exist as little pockets of alien culture.
Their interests seem more oriented around maintaining an organization and lamenting the declining interest in their programs. While some creative churches are growing and creatively engaging their communities, many churches seem to be bypassed as a back-water of out-of-touch islands of irrelevancy.
I was surprised at this book's indications that apparently few church leaders are aware of the problem. This author lays out an analysis of the cultural communication gap that portrays the problems as more serious than I had thought. I had been aware of such a problem the 1960s, when I was in college in Arkansas.
Some of the experiences Kimball relates and the situations he reports look what I was experiencing 40 years ago! How can a group become so irrelevant? Why would they want to be so irrelevant? Don't the churches want to communicate?
Some of us were working back then to bring about a change and enhance the communication between church and community culture. I thought progress was being made at that time. Frankly, I thought we were past that – it is two generations later! Of course, each generation continues to change, so the cutting edge of one generation may become the establishment in the next, if creativity is stifled. And in some quarters it is encouraging to see a more engaged, aware and active church.
Back to the Future
However, I myself, while in the US for about 4 years, saw several churches rushing headlong into the 1950s! Rip van Winkle has awakened, but is still in a time warp. While in college in the 1960s I led a contemporary Christian music group. Some exciting things were being done in Arkansas then and in the 1970s.
Some of the same kind of things Kimball suggests here – even some of the same specific suggestions he makes – we were already doing in the 1960s! I would not have thought Arkansas was more advanced in cultural change than the rest of the US. Is Arkansas more progressive that the rest of the US? Or maybe Arkansas, along with other areas, has regressed since the 1960s?
The point of all this is that Kimball's primary audience is not the church, except to the degree that he is calling for a re-evaluation of our communication formats to the non-Christian public. Kimball is focusing on the society at large, the "unchurched," in the institutional terms so popular in the 1970s and 1980s.
He is not talking to those inside the church; he is talking to those outside the church, not within the circles of "in-language" and "in-group" connections. Hmmnnn! That sounds a lot like Jesus. He spent more time out in the community, the markets and the countryside than in the Temple and synagogue.
Kimball is trying to learn how to communicate with those outside the church – those who have dismissed the church as irrelevant, who have rejected the church but have never heard the Good News of God's love. Kimball is exploring ways to open up communication again with the surrounding communities. If the American church cannot do this, it will become ever more insular, isolated and disconnected from the world around, and farther and farther out of touch.
Kimball is focusing on communication. You can't communicate if you are not even talking! If you are talking a foreign language (how the church is usually perceived) or nonsense (unconnected with perceptions and needs of the people themselves) or condescending (the normal way most "evangelism" is done), there is no way anyone will hear any Good News in what you say!
You will enjoy the engaging style and insights of Kimball's book. You will learn a lot about American contemporary culture. You will learn specific ways to communicate with the new generation.
See related reviews and articles on this site:
Dialogue Church to Non-Church - Let's Listen
Dialogue on Emergence
Experiencing the Future of Faith
Liberal Protestantism: History and Personality
Postmodern Challenges to a Rising Evangelicalism
Postmodernism – The Church's Challenge and Opportunity
Postmodernism and the Emerging Church: Some Thoughts
Practicing the Presence of God
Progressive Foundations for Postmodern Christianity
Resources for Diversity
The Rich, Persistent Centre
Uncovering the Hidden Kingdom
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First written and Posted on Thoughts and Resources 8 November 2007
Revised 10 November 2008 and 3 March 2009
Reviewed on Amazon 4 February 2009
Reviewed on Barnes and Noble 29 May 2009
Last edited 24 January 2012
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Please give credit and link back. Other rights reserved.