The cover of the August 1996 Atlantic Monthly announced a Christian cultural revolution: “Giant ‘full-service’ churches are winning millions of ‘customers’ with [their] pop-culture packaging. They may also be building an important new form of community.” Author Charles Trueheart described what he calls the “Next Church”: No spires. No crosses. No robes. No clerical collars. No hard pews. No kneelers. No biblical gobbledygook. No prayer rote. No fire, no brimstone. No pipe organs. No dreary 18th-century hymns. No forced solemnity. No Sunday finery. No collection plates.
The list has asterisks and exceptions, but its meaning is clear. Centuries of European tradition and Christian habit are deliberately being abandoned to clear the way for new, contemporary forms of worship and belonging. The Next Church and its many smaller, typically suburban relatives are held up as models of the options available to Christians who want to “catch the next wave.”