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Gospel Roundup at the Cowboy Church

We have, in a real sense, always been a divided church, segregated by race, class and ideology. The current trends further balkanize the Christian movement. They teach us, indirectly and unintentionally, to insist on our own way in dress, music, doctrine.

So goes the philosophy of a new church in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />East Texas.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Put more properly, this outreach to the cowboy culture is driven by the principle of homogeneity. The word means “of the same kind” and is used to describe many churches, new and old, east and west, that minister to people who share something important: age, language, interest, taste, doctrine.
 
Such churches are gatherings where you can sing the music you like, talk the vernacular of your flavor, wear the attire you wish and spend quality time with just your kind of people.
 
We feel at home with people most like ourselves; so out on the range, dress is casual, hats stay on and conversation stays tuned to the wide-open ways of life in the West.
 
It is a philosophy of church growth articulated a generation ago by the Rev. Win Arn, founder of what is now called Church Growth, Inc. He was on the cutting edge of what became known as the “church growth movement.”
 
Arn’s first book was How to Grow a Church and sold 200,000 copies, exerting influence on church leaders throughout the country. This ideology of cultural preference has shaped thousands of ministers.
 
Resort, ethnic, language, even collegiate are some of the many adjectives that preface the word “ministry” these days. These strategies have grown out of the homogeneity model of evangelism.
 
Arn’s most recent target group is senior adults; his book is entitled Catch the Age Wave.
Sport and recreation are growth industries in America and have therefore been fertile fields for niche ministry: football, baseball and basketball lead the way, of course, with regular chapels. Many NASCAR tracks now have chaplains, following the lead of the horse-racing industry.
 
A friend of mine volunteers on weekends to host recreational trail riders. Somewhere this year, I am sure there will be a conference on how to lead a church of skateboarders.
 
This search for markets has led many congregations to offer separate worship services that cater to personal preferences in music: traditional, classical, contemporary, liturgical and, more recently, Celtic.
 
What appears to be a wonderful new mall of American religion, offering a wide array of specialty shops for the spirit, is, in fact, the old familiar strip mall refurbished and enlarged to meet the growing demands of a market-driven church.
 
We have, in a real sense, always been a divided church, segregated by race, class and ideology. The current trends further balkanize the Christian movement. They teach us, indirectly and unintentionally, to insist on our own way in dress, music, doctrine. 
 
We no longer (even if we ever did) expect people to lay aside preferences, to face personal prejudices and limitations, to welcome and accept the stranger, and to forego our own desires and needs in order to create genuine community of the Spirit.
 
C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful essay on this matter, simply entitled “On Church Music.” Apostle Paul gave us inspiration when he described Jesus (using the words of an early Christian hymn) as one who did not grasp or hold on to his prerogatives as the eternal son of God, but gave them up, taking the form of a servant. 
 
It is right, I suppose, to pray for the success and growth of all the cowboy churches of East Texas, as well as the black churches of Atlanta, the retiree churches of Florida, the contemporary churches of Denver and the ethnic churches of Los Angeles.
 
But I will also pray for those congregations whose vocation transcends these human and earthly distinctions. In such a place, each turns to neighbor and says, in the words of Jesus, “Not my will, but yours.”
 
Dwight Moody is dean of the chapel at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky.