some friends and i were talking today about the stereotypical contemporary church pastor. the summary of our statements was:


now please know, we say this in total jest. you have to admit…it’s pretty close to truth!

anyway, this got me thinking how easy it was to come up with this stereotype and it made me want to take it a step further. i wonder now, how would we stereotype the contemporary church?

so, based on the culture we live in today, the cards from churches you get in the mail, the signs you see, the stuff you might watch flipping through TV or see on the shelves at a bookstore…if you were to walk into a modern, American church today…

what would you expect? what kind of stereotypes have been created, and how true are they? good? bad? ugly? who cares?

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30 thoughts on “stereotype

  1. they have a band
    they play both secular and worship music
    They use a projector for song lyrics and bible verses
    They have a “cool” web site with flash media content
    they have a name that doesnt include their denomination in it.
    they preach sermons in series that have titles taken from pop culture
    they have something called “small groups” instead of Sunday School
    the pastor has a blog

    Crap – I am living the stereotype.

  2. I know a youth pastor when I see him sipping a latte carrying a bag with all of his “important information” with a cell phone (or if you’re more hip: a bluetooth headset) tied to his ear while talking loudly about their most important Wednesday night program/service.

    I’ll have to admit, I called one the other day and hit the nail on the head.

    Kind of sad that we are that predictable, huh? (Youth pastors, that is…)

  3. there’s coffee everywhere
    they talk and laugh loudly
    they linger in little groups in the foyer
    they clog the aisles
    they eagerly hand out bulletins

    … and I love every minute of it!

  4. I’m bummed you didn’t get to the shoes! — I need to know what kind of shoes to buy so I can start a postmodern church…

    What’s really funny is the phrase I hear alot in the “hip” churches right now: “This ain’t your mama’s/grandma’s church…”

    It’s exactly the same, just new clothes, music, language, and style!

    Who are we kidding – our kids are going to think we’re just as totally old and lame too (just like we think our mamas were in their 80’s contemporary church, and our grandmas were in their old-time gospel church)!!

    Every generation thinks they’re the “coolest” one — but if the stereotype you noticed says anything about us – it’s that we’re (gulp) contemporary… ahhhhhhhhh

  5. I would love nothing more to be a young adult or youth pastor. However if I become a stereotypical young adult/youth pastor, feel free to kick me in the nads.

    The last thing I want to do is to insult the intelligence of the very people I want to serve.

  6. Ok….if you’re really asking about how churches represent themselves, what we see in bookstores, etc…. this is what I think they’re saying…. :

    – we’re really earnestly all about people. Especially people who look like they’re a bit worse off than us but not so much so that they live in that BAD part of town. Because we prefer them thin, rich, and pretty.
    – we’re really earnestly all about your family. Because we have families, too. If you drive by our campus, you’ll see this is true because we’re currently spending 50 gazillion dollars on our building so that when your family walks in, we can whisk all of you to your own specific wing.
    – we’re really earnestly all about truth. Except when it flies in the face of the ‘cooler’ parts of culture, so at that point we’re going to cave.

    (It’s possible that church cynicism is my shadow mission….and I work at one.)

  7. I have the best “stereotypical” pastor!!!

    His vision is addicting and expects nothing more than excellance.
    His heart for God is absolutely amazing.

    Today he Simpsonsized himself ~~ see it at

    I told you he was stereotypical!!!!
    :) all the pastors are doing it.

  8. You did forget that the shirt must be untucked, no shoes, either flip flops or sandals. I think that everything else that comes to mind has been mentioned other than doing the latest popular sermon series.

  9. i got a kick out of the pastor i saw recently at red robin while having our blt (blog leadership team) meeting…said in jest.

    he had a chain wallet…kind of cracked me up…was a few years ahead of him in high school…his dad is a tbn type pastor here in the city.

  10. Hey, don’t knock the un-tucked shirt and sandals. That’s part of our uniform.

    I can’t believe no one brought up the one thing that irritates the crap out of me. If I hear one more of my fellow pastors say the phrase “off the chain,” I might just freak out.

    I’m ok with everything else (or should I be “down” with it to be cool?). The sandals. The spiky hair. The borderline (sometimes crossing the line) addiction to Starbucks. But for the love of all that is holy, please stop pretending that you’re not the whitest person on Earth, because you are.

    And your blog (because you have to have one) probably butchers the English language on a regular basis too.

  11. Cynical Todd: Along with the “ain’t yo’ Grandma’s church,” the tagline “Church for people who don’t like church” should be mentioned. Amazingly, when walking through the doors of said “church for those that don’t like church,” the only difference from previous church experiences is a Starbucks dispenser, U2 music and possibly a fancy-schmancy countdown on the screen (all of which I do like, by the way). The church still sings quasi-cheesy worship songs and prominently features a sermon as the “climax” of the service.

  12. Haha what a great post…that is so true!

    they don’t have pews, they have chairs or round tables
    they have candles
    they have a cafe where they sell drinks that eerily taste and look like Starbucks
    they don’t have hymnals
    people don’t bring their Bibles
    there’s rarely an “invitation”

    what everyone else said is great, too!

  13. How about…

    • No deep doctrinal teachings.
    • A limp wristed, hippie-like Jesus being portrayed. (thanks Mark Driscoll for that great description)
    • Half of the great commission being filled – bringing people to the Lord, but not making disciples.
    • Good stories, good video, good music, good sets – all of it outshining the message.

    ….and coffee.

    These are all stereotypes – don’t you think?

    I’m a proponent of the contemporary church. I love it when it is done right, but I hate it when the focus for Jesus is lost.

  14. i think u will stereotypically find whatever was cool or hip about a year ago in churches today. Generally speaking the church is about one year behind culture. There is already a, soon i am sure we will see a christian version of facebook and twitter. Maybe… and For the Christian version of twitter, spiritr, the key line good be what is the spirit doing in you?

  15. Ya i think I am going to write a post on that. I never understand why first of all we have to label things “christian” and second of all why that label is most accurately defined as subpar. Most “Christian” music on the radio that is, is a “secular” artist style with “christian” lyrics all about a few levels below in quality.
    You say you almost spit your tea out, I had that same feeling when I read an email from a friend who posted a video on Really godtube? Must christians always trying to enlarge their christian ghetto, and isolate themselves from the horrendous “secular” world.

  16. These comments are cracking me up!

    I honestly believe that church (even the cool ones – did I just say that?) send only a message that say, “if you’re exactly like us, we totally want you on board.”

    It’s human nature. We surround ourselves with people like us for a reason. The problem is that we (me and whoever else agrees … not all followers of Christ) single-handedly create environments where we expect people to learn our songs, our Christianese and our way of life without ever really authentically connecting them with God through our lives. It’s unfortunate that we have to “set the stage” on Sundays for people to experience God when they should be experiencing Him through the lives of those claiming to be the Body of Christ. Easier said than done when you find yourself actually belonging to a group of world changers and revered Christian leaders. When you’re not on the outside anymore, you forget how devastating it was to want more than anything to belong to this movement, but you just couldn’t figure out how to speak the language as well as everyone else. So you end up like me. Speaking the language, starting the conversations and looking out into the crowd, now just as desperate as before, wishing I could connect others to something more real than what we’ve convinced ourselves is necessary on Sundays.

    I’m sure there’s a book about that in some Christian book store that would make me feel better about myself knowing that it’s totally normal to feel this way. In fact … it would probably tell me that I’m ahead of the game for being a part of a post-modern, gen Y, emerging church in the heart of one of the world’s most influential city. I should go get it … I’ll feel so much more justified in my lack of relational intelligence. :)

  17. If there really is a in existence I might seriously consider leaving the church…..

    …oh …my …God…

    …I’m now comnpletely ashamed of my religious affiliation.

    This would be on my top ten list for my WHY GOD, WHY? blog that I now must certainly start.

  18. So, as far as the stereo typical church……….it’s a little painful actually.

    their color configurations came from the set of Friends, they all have the slick cards to mail/pass around, they have those signs that hang down from the ceiling with like one word on them that are really supposed to move you….and if you’re a really hip church you have another room separate from your main sancutary where you video feed the message. (it’s for those who don’t like all that ‘loud’ music…or just for those who are really late and can’t get a seat)

    I have been playing drums outside of my home church at a staunch traditional church that is trying to bring their church into the 20th (yes, I know we’re in the 21st) century. Watching the pastor whoh is well into his 40’s lead contemporary worship is interesting to say the least. He’s a great guy and loves the Lord. The bad part is that he is trying SO HARD to be hip, but he’s just not. He has all of the kids from Cal Baptist playing other instruments, his high school aged son playing guitar, but there’s just something missing.


    Hey, he’s still a great guitar player and just a heckuva guy…….

    Oh…and isn’t it “off the hook” anyway?

    Tim, you’re very right about the culture being so far behind secular culture. it’s been like that in music for years…..Petra, Stryper now it’s Skillet, Switchfoot (don’t get me wrong, I like those last two bands, but….c’mon)

  19. OK … so yes, right on w/ the stereotypes. but really from one generation to the next we just transition from one stereotype to another. and really keeping up w/ the culture or trying to is the cause/justification/purpose behind these “church” formations.

    But to try and bring some redemption to all this “cool” cynicism. Numbers are drawn to these contemporary churches. It is working for at least this season in our culture. the bigger cities of course have even more dynamic, culturally attractive churches and smaller cities have kind of less hip, substandard (sorry I live in a small city and we aren’t even to substandard yet) churches. But the truth is that God is moving and working and changing lives. so while we try to stay ahead of the changes and the times… God is in the midst and really you can’t knock that, even when it becomes a bit stereotypical.

  20. I loved Tim’s comments above about, etc. I’m not on staff at a church but I do consulting on outreach and overall engagement. I actually had a pastor ask me the other day if I thought it was okay if we posted a church video on YouTube. My response was, “Why not?” To which he replied, “Well, what about those other video links that come up along side ours on YouTube? What if one of them is something we don’t approve of and someone get offended?”

    Blew me away.

    Anywho… back to the post question at hand…

    I think the funniest things about the responses to this post, while all are good and fairly accurate, is that most are coming from those who work in the church in some capacity. Many of the readers of this blog “appear” to be in ministry so isn’t that a little weighted? Is it possible to fully see a stereotype when you / we are the stereotype?

    I wonder what someone outside the church sees as our stereotype and I guess if I was better at knowing the answer then I could probably do better job at getting them to come to church.

  21. Actually I think we recognize the stereotype better because we are around it so much. Your average non-church-goers’ views of a stereotypical Christian are probably still rooted in the “wears a suit every Sunday, sings the hymns, judgmental hypocrite” style.

    If you aren’t plugged into the church world the contemporary church might be a huge shock.

  22. My wife and I joke about this often at ministry conferences or church planting gatherings…. we refer to the type as “church planter guy(s)”… the gals are a whole different story.

    I joke.

  23. I just happen to be an atypical contemporary church pastor, when we are talking about look. I think it contributes to welcoming an atypical group of weekend attenders. That’s my story “Mr. Atypical.”