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The Cutting-Edge Traditional Church

Some forms of next century's church may be remarkably familiar.

On the Near North side of Chicago on Ontario Street is a McDonald's. It has a 1950s decor, including a classic 1954 white Corvette convertible inside. There are ads, posters, records, and juke boxes from the 1950s. The lines are long as customers come to step back in time. It appeals to the traditional, reflecting a time when life was supposed to be simpler and more stable.

And yet, that Mcdonald's has some very modern features and services: a drive-through window; home-delivery service (the delivery vehicle is a 1955 Chevy station wagon painted red); you can charge souvenirs on your Visa Card; there is an automatic teller machine for cash withdrawals before you order your food; and there is a larger variety on the menu than other McDonald's restaurants.

That Chicago McDonald's is a model for the traditional church in the twenty-first century--doing yesterday better than it has ever been done before. To the surprise of many, traditional churches will be one of the major growing segments of the twenty-first century.

We have heard so much about nontraditional churches with new music, contemporary styles, and iconoclastic attitudes that we have ignored America's growing interest in the traditional. The marketing analysts are keenly aware of what is happening--people are reacting to change, frightened by losing control, and worried about the future. The way it used to be is generating lots of interest.

As a result the divorce rate has dropped back to 1970s levels, the birth rate is the highest since the baby boom, and styles from the 1940s and 1950s are coming back into vogue. Nostalgia is in! Many Americans are trying to recapture yesterday. Faith Popcorn subtitles the first chapter of her bestselling The Popcorn Report, "The future bears a great resemblance to the past, only more so."

Do not underestimate the power of this phenomenon. Traditional churches with flavors and styles from the mid-twentieth century have a significant future.

However, two necessary ingredients must be added to the mix:

1. Successful traditional churches will need to incorporate many contemporary elements, including services to consumers and meeting modern needs.

2. Successful traditional churches will need to do the traditional with a high level of excellence. Many people remember the past better than it actually was; younger adults who weren't part of the past idealize it to be far better than reality.

Yesterday must be even better than today if it is to have a place for tomorrow.

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