Christianity, In 21st Century Clothes

Some Christian services are taking on a new look.

Walk right in and you might see people knitting, drawing, cooking – maybe even enjoying a massage, as part of what is called the "Emergent Church," a new approach to preaching and living the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It's not a denomination. What it is, reports CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan in Part III of the series New Faces of Faith, is a loose network of churches nationwide, whose size and influence is on the rise.

Some are tempted to point to the Emergent Church as an example of Christianity Lite, but those who choose this path of worship say it is Christianity updated: taking the suit and tie off Sunday services, replacing pews with couches, taking out kneelers and bringing in easels, and interpreting the Gospel for a frustrated generation of faithful.

America is a country in which an overwhelming majority profess a belief in God. A CBS News poll found that 82 percent of Americans surveyed said that they do. But that same poll also found that nearly a third of those surveyed believe traditional religions are out of date.

"If you're dealing with people in their teens and 20s and 30s, being relevant to them and their world and the future that they face, is going to mean, I think, some changes," says Brian McLaren, author of "Church in Emerging Culture," who describes himself as a theologian and Christian activist.

A former English professor turned Christian scholar, McLaren says the Emergent Church is a grassroots effort to make the church respond better to pop culture, social issues and science.

"It's not like we have our church life over here and a social and political life over here," he explains. "We're saying, no, these things are integrated and we want to live this out in an integrated way."

The philosophy is more than a theory – it's a call to action.

At one church in Denver, the integration of life plays out at the dinner table.

Congregants cook meals for the homeless as part of the church service.
The church's youth minister, Eric John Branch, explains why that is not the same as cooking meals at some other time, for instance, after services.

"You can't just come and listen to a message and say, 'Oh hey, I'm a Christian, I'm a follower of Christ,'" says Branch. "It's gotta be in every aspect of your life."

The church's name - "Scum of the Earth" – is startling.

The name is a reference to both the church's mission of reaching out to those who have not been reached by traditional churches – and who may be, or feel, cast out by society – and a Bible passage about man's lowly status and need for God:
"To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world." (1 Corinthians 4:11-13)
"Scum of the earth" was used long ago as a term to describe the first Christians, whose beliefs put them on the fringes of society.

"We were looking to build a place where folks who didn't fit in other church settings would actually feel welcome," says Mike Sares, the pastor.

Scum of the Earth uses many tools to accomplish that goal, including podcasts of sermons, creative writing classes, cooking and sewing classes, comic book clubs, bible study groups, exhibitions of poetry and art by church members, and a photo gallery of snapshots showing congregants enjoying the company of family and friends.

The pastor says that while the approach is new, the message is not.

"It's just church," says Sares. "It's not nearly as radical as you think it is - I mean there's no moshing during worship."

Even the older members feel comfortable.

"The worship for us," says Janice Horsley, "is something that you're a part of, and we're all in that."

It's filling every seat, every Sunday.

"They come here because they want to," says Marian Brinkman. "It's not that they're coming because it's Sunday and they're supposed to go to church."

Enthusiasm for expressing an ancient faith - in a more modern way.
  • John Kreiser

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