The Lowest Common Denominator Seduction, a post for ethics class

The title of this post sounds a lot like a Big Bang Theory episode: The Lowest Common Denominator Seduction. The show always uses some math/science terms in combination with a pun or attention grabber to name episodes. What I aim to describe is both mathematical and religious, easy to jump on and difficult to avoid. It’s the phenomena of Lowest Common Denominator church. Or, as Dr. Melanie Ross described it, the “youth-ification” of the American church in her review of the “five shifts in terrain” of worship.

In her exploration of North American protestant worship, there were 5 shifts: liturgical renewal, evangelical youth ministry, Pentecostal/praise and worship, church growth and emergent. I was most caught by the connection between evangelical youth ministry in the 1940’s-70’s and it’s connection to the church growth movement. Over and over again, in my personal/professional life, I’ve heard a call to go basic, assume no knowledge of the faith, become seeker oriented if you want to grow. I hadn’t thought about this as a youth-ification of the adult church. Her framing helped me see that while the math might look good (as in growth from seekers) the depth of development needed to sustain congregational life can get lost. The goal of the congregation becomes width rather than depth. Both are needed for a thriving experience of the gospel.

In my own church, I am often taken by the seduction to go lowest-common-denominator in worship and preaching. There is nothing wrong with it’s inclusion, but I cannot stay there. In staying there, we run the risk of jumping into the most-common-denominator of the church growth movement where homogeneity was lifted up as the basis for growth. If the gospel is for everyone, then the post-colonial practice of “dynamic diversity” across all expressions of what the church does when together is necessary. (Combing two of Emmanuel Lartey’s principles from Postcolonializing God, dynamism and hybrid.)

If anything I am doing is one-dimensional it is death-dealing. If I am focused on worship, it must engage the variety of people who come in the doors. If I am dreaming for children’s ministry, it must create strategic opportunities for adults to learn too. If I am considering one voice about a given topic, I must seek out several more. Anything less leads to isolation from one another, which is, in my take, an isolation from God who is known most fully in the interactional and intersubjective work of being human in community. Is there anything less than that –interactional and intersubjective experience with humanity- that we see in the life of Jesus?

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