One of my not-so-guilty pleasures is the TLC show, What Not to Wear. For those of you who haven’t enjoyed this show, here’s how it works: Family members and/or friends nominate an unsuspecting loved one (mostly women) for a What Not to Wear style makeover. The show’s hosts, Stacy London and Clinton Kelly, along with the nominators, surprise the unwitting nominee at some manufactured event. The hosts tell this nominee that they were chosen because of their horrible wardrobe and are offered a $5,000 shopping spree in New York City and a full style makeover … on the one condition that they follow new “style rules” set forth by the hosts. They reluctantly agree and the journey begins. What almost every participant says (often tearfully) by the end is that the makeover is about much more than clothes, makeup and hair style; it’s about your own sense of confidence and self-image.
When I watch this and other makeover shows, I always wonder what it would be like to do this with the Mainline Church. Clearly the church has an image problem. Research has revealed that fewer and fewer people are identifying as Christian and many Christian young people are leaving the church. According to research done by The Barna Group, there are six main reasons young people are leaving church as young adults. These reasons (outlined in the book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church … and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman) include the perceptions that church is overprotective, disconnected and antagonistic toward the outside world, is out of touch with reality when it comes to teachings about sexuality and science, and unfriendly to those who doubt.
For people in the mainline Church, especially in my own denomination, the United Church of Christ where we say, “God is Still Speaking, we may feel this criticism is undeserved. Maybe it is. But, I’ve visited countless churches and worship often does not reflect this more open and creative approach to theology. Our outside image doesn’t match our inward values and convictions, much like the unwitting nominees on What Not to Wear. Worship can reflect a creative God who is always speaking to us in new ways. Worship can carry us out into the world through connections to service and mission. Worship can connect to faith in our everyday lives by giving us resources to live faith each day, not just for an hour on Sunday morning.
Perception IS reality. Like those What Not to Wear nominees, we may need an image makeover that helps the way we dress really express who we ARE, with a little flair thrown in. What would the new “style rules” be for worship? How could we express that we believe in an open, welcoming God that welcomes everyone, doubts and all? How can worship connect us to everyday life rather than shelter and protect us from it? How can our worship boost the self-image of the church so that we proudly say that we are followers of a creative and still speaking God?