When I first met Pete, he shared with me that he was on a
spiritual search for god — which god, we wasn’t sure. He informed me that he is indeed a very spiritual person.
He talked about how his father had passed away a few years ago
and how he prays to him every night. Pete
struggles with people who claim to have all the answers.
He rejects the notion that one religion is the only one, yet
prefers to think of each religion as a stepping stone to God.
Not if you are a postmodernist. You
see, for Pete, truth is relative. While
Pete’s parents try to scientifically prove or disprove Christianity,
Pete believes there are no absolutes. He is open to understanding
everyone’s truths. Truth
is based on experience and emotion. My
truth could possibly intersect with Pete’s truth, and may even become
his truth, but that will not happen without some significant communion
happening between us.
Pete’s parents were happy to read a book like “Evidence
that Demands a Verdict” by Josh McDowell, and accept the validity of
the Christian faith based on hard evidence.
Pete, however, is looking for a living, breathing argument for
God. Pete does not care if I can
prove what I believe; He wants to know if I can live what I believe.
Pete’s question is: “Are
you the real thing? Because
if you are not, than surely your God is not either.”
For Pete, relationships are more important than truth.
Pete attended a small group at Gateway before he ever came to a
larger celebration gathering on Sunday mornings.
Although Pete may only attend the celebrations once or twice a
month, he never misses his group. He
describe the group as his “new family” and talks about how the group
helps him get though another difficult week amidst struggles of life.
You see, Pete’s group looks different than a group that his
parents might attend.
Pete’s group meets at a local college campus at 9:30 p.m. Often the room is dim and the scent of incense fills the room. The group facilitator begins the meeting with a prayer and a time
of silence. He makes it
clear that the group is meeting in the name of Jesus although not
everyone at the group calls themselves a believer. Each week the facilitator brings an object to the group,
week the object was brought in by Pete. The
object is a stuffed tiger that was given to him by his parents many
years ago. As the group
progresses, the facilitator invites anyone who wishes to share to take
hold of the tiger. The
object gives the person who is talking the right to be heard without
being interrupted. Many
take hold of the tiger when they are ready. Some share their pains; others share their joys. All feelings are welcomed at the group. One group member takes hold of the tiger and shares how she does
not have the ability to trust anyone. After sharing a bit, the facilitator initiates a trust fall. He is hoping to symbolically show her that trust can be found
within this group of people. The girl is asked to stand on a tabletop and fall backwards
into the arms of the other group members. While she is standing on the table she begins to shake and cry,
expressing her fear and lack of trust. She is unable to take the
free-fall and sits down on the table.
Pete understands her fear - for her fear is also his fear. Pete then puts the tiger in her lap. The girl begins to weep saying, “I am so afraid of the
tiger!” The group
facilitator thanks her for her courage to be real with the group and
many in the group express that her story is also their story and
together they will take the journey.
All groups at Gateway look a little different, but one
thing they all have in common: they are all about relationships and
community. You will not
find people hiding behind workbooks at any of our small groups. A majority of postmoderns have been wounded. Many take longer to build trusting relationships, but will cling
to those relationships which they have with fierce loyalty. Postmoderns crave a safe environment
where they have permission to be real and honest about their feelings. Small groups at Gateway function as spiritual families rather
than Sunday school classes or Bible study groups.
Relationships are not only the big deal within the context
of small groups, but also during the worship gatherings. We do not meet in rows or pews, but rather at round tables. On each table is a candle and usually something visual, which
coincides with the message. From
time to time I will throw out a light discussion question which is to be
discussed among the people at their table. The setup is conducive for relationship building right within the
As the people come into the worship gathering, they stop to
get a cup of their favorite java drink before finding a table. The lights are dimmed as the worship team begins to play some
Darrell Evans worship or other upbeat tunes.
Every service looks a little different - depending upon the topic
at hand. A typical message
you might hear while visiting Gateway might be: “I’d like to believe in God, but why isn’t life fair?” “More Intimacy
- Taking off the Mask and Going to Deeper Levels
with Others.” Or “Jesus on Trial: A Skeptic’s
Investigation Into the Life of Jesus.” The
messages all tend to convey a message of a loving God who offers grace
and unconditional acceptance. What
we have found is that the core message of the Bible is so attractive to
the postmoderns. A message of redemption and reconciliation, a message of
unconditional love and acceptance, is exactly what people are looking
I stray away from the preaching style which spoon-feeds
theological viewpoints to people and demands that they convert
are not likely to respond with a single-moment-in-time decision for
Christ. They are much more
likely to respond over a long period of time through a process of
Often I confront the audience with the truth of the
Scripture, but I encourage them to investigate Christianity on their own
and find truth for themselves. The
messages are usually followed up with a time of silent prayer, personal
investigation and intimate reflective worship.
At Gateway everyone is accepted right where they are in
their spiritual journey. We
welcome people’s doubts and questions.
The messages are not self-help talks, but rather
self-investigation talks. I
do not appear to the group as one who has “arrived” but rather as
one who is on the same journey they are on.
Postmoderns do not buy into the “holy man” idea.
They process truth based on intimate relationships with people
who appear to be “normal” like them.
Although postmoderns are not resistant to spiritual matters
or the idea of God, they are resistant to the Christian Church.
They view the church as being separatist, segregated,
institutional, irrelevant, judgmental, controlling, authoritarian and
do not trust institutions. Why
should they? They have
witnessed the Watergate scandal, the Iran-Contra scandal, the BCCI
scandal and the moral scandals of politicians, judges and religious
leaders of the time. The
truth is that postmodern Pete views the church as just another
institution waiting to fail him. This
has been a major obstacle for us as a new church.
We have had to spend much of our time just breaking down the
negative stereotypes within the minds of the postmodern Petes living in
our area. Growth has been
very slow for us because the average Pete will not respond to a clever
direct mail piece or a high quality TV ad.
Our church has grown from a small group of five people to an
average of seventy all through word of mouth.
None of our growth has been through advertisement but rather
completely through personal relationships.
Not only is growth slower within our, church but leadership
development is much slower as it requires a lot of one-on-one time.
Postmodern Pete is skeptical of anyone trying to lead him and may
be turned off by the term “leader.”
This is why we choose to call our small group leaders
Pete can smell a fake a mile away. He is turned off
by leaders who display an image of perfection. Pete also senses when he is being used as a means to an end. He will not give of his time unless he knows he is valued as a
person by his leader or fellow teammates.
Once Pete knows the value he brings to the group, he is the first
to volunteer his time and resources for the cause. A majority of our ministry teams are made up of college students
who value being part of a team with others who care about them.
Although our crowd is very intergenerational, with the age
range stretching from eighteen to sixty-five, we have a hard time
keeping the typical churched person who is over thirty-five in our
church. The atmosphere is more
conducive for an unchurched twenty-something.
For example: one twenty-year-old, who works at Wal-Mart on Sunday
mornings, attends the church during her lunch break just so she
doesn’t miss the messages. This
same new believer, who had never before darkened the door of a church,
attends two small groups and is part of a ministry team. She calls the
church her "family."
There is a major shift in
mindsets. Where the typical
boomer asks us, “What’s in it for me?," we have found that the typical postmodernist asks, “Are you
sure you really want me?” Where
the boomers look for the church with the best programs, postmodern Pete
looks for the church with the best cause.
One young couple who lives in Boston contributes financially to
Gateway every month. They do not
of what they gain from the church personally, but because they believe
so strongly in the cause.
I have learned a lot about my generation and my culture
while attempting to create a relevant postmodern church. I have learned a lot of things the hard way. Postmodern church looks very different than what I had been used
to. It’s messy, it’s
exhausting at times, but I have found my own rewards. For once I am on a team with people who would go to the ditch for
me and I for them. It is
true communion with others that we all crave - even I! Thank God for the courage to go there.
is what some of our members had to say about Gateway:
love the truth that is communicated through
the sermons and the laid-back
I ever find out that the message of God’s grace and love for me that
communicated at Gateway isn’t true—I will be devastated!”
was struck by the acceptance of the people. Gateway
is based on the love of God, not the fear of God.”
rarely attended church growing up so I have many questions about God.
When I visited Gateway, I really understood what the messages
were about, and
helped answer my questions more that any other church."
love the freedom of expression and the acceptance that is found at
Church has been just that; a gateway to the life I have always wanted
but didn’t know existed. The
only thing I am afraid of now is where my life would have been today had
I not found my gateway to God.”
a church that addresses the needs of the younger generation and seeks to
attract people who have been turned off by traditional church.”
image of God before attending Gateway was of a harsh and judgmental God
waiting to punish me. Gateway
has shown me the fatherly love that God has for me
has totally changed!”
have been looking for a way to God, and through Gateway I have found that
is a church that has helped my entire family understand God.
Finally the Bible makes sense to me and I am beginning to read it
for myself. My family
actually looks forward to going to church now—even my teenage kids
“The worship and
the messages are so powerful. I
know this church is for real!”
“I love being part
of a team that is making a difference and I love the people I’m doing
“Church is all about change
change is in the air at Gateway
we are not just playing church here.”
We are not a church for everyone, but I believe we are the
church that God has called us to be.
We are the church of the future.
Photographs used courtesy of Josh Cordle.
Contact Damian Williams: firstname.lastname@example.org