In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a trend in professional sports stadium construction that saw the rise of multi-purpose stadiums. Among them were Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Busch Stadium in St Louis and Veteran's Stadium in Philadelphia. They were cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all stadiums meant to host both professional baseball and football games. Their playing surface was that epitome of modernism; AstroTurf.
But by 1990's, these seemingly cutting-edge complexes were quickly becoming dinosaurs. The turf destroyed many knees and ligaments, even ending careers in an instant. Their cookie-cutter field layouts in no way reflected the unique character and culture of their home city. With the construction of Camden Yards in Baltimore and the subsuquent old-charm parks that followed, the cookie cutter stadium's simultaneous lack of historical feel and contemporary relevance left them weeded out and left behind.
In his article 'The Church: Imitate or Innovate?' Jordan Davis raises a point about something quite similar that has always seemed to rub me the wrong way in the American Church. I like to call it the franchising of the church, or "McChurchianity." As a recovering evangelical, I have seen more than my fair share of churches attempting to franchise programs or trends in a top-down manner.
"When the church attempts to imitate culture, it usually falls short. The result is that they wind up excelling in mediocrity. Granted, I'm sure that's not the goal, but sadly mediocrity is what seems to be offered.From my experience, this difference between a top-down, franchise approach to church and locally-flavored, grassroots innovation is hard to overstate. It's as a stark a contrast as the one between injury-causing, artificial AstroTurf that is trucked in and rolled out and actual living grass, which must take root in the very soil of each city.
We all realize that a copy is never as good as the original. Unfortunately, we have a difficult time grasping this truth in the church. We have ceased innovating and settled for imitating.
Here is the bottom line: chasing passing trends in pop culture or commodified churchianity doesn't make us excellent. It makes us redundant!
I think it's time we free ourselves from the bondage of imitation by pursuing innovation. What I am suggesting is that we innovate our current models while incorporating Biblical methods. We need the revolutionary truth we posses to reshape everything we do — from our marketing, our music, our message to our evangelism."
AstroTurf and its installation were antiseptic, sterile and top-down. It was an infinitely faster process with seemingly flawless results and a uniform surface.
Grass and its growth are organic. It requires soil preparation before you can even put a single seed down. Then there is planting the seeds, rolling them into the soil to ensure that they can take root, shading the seeds from scorching sunlight, and watering the seeds adequately. Once the lawn begins ro grow, the work has only just begun. It needs to be fed so that the soil's pH balance is correct. Weeds need to be removed to prevent their broad leafs from stealing nutrients and water from the grass and preventing sunlight from getting in. Each of these stages necessitates the rolling up of sleeves and the dirtying of hands.