Axis Denied – Christianity Today Magazine

An Axis Service
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The Generation X church, at Willow Creek is officially dead. Is anyone surprised by this? The “Axis” service at Willow Creek was originally designed for 20-somethings to have a church within a church. Before receiving the executive axe, Axis grew to around 2000 in attendance just five years ago. Within the past five years, it has plummeted to 350 in attendance: marks of a religious fad.

Why was it so unsuccessful? Consider the quote:

Integration will better fulfill Willow’s multigenerational vision, said interim pastor Steve Gillen. He said Axis didn’t connect young adults with the rest of the congregation. Once they outgrew the service, Axis members found it hard to transition into the rest of the Chicago-area megachurch. Young adults also struggled to meet and develop relationships with mentors in the larger congregation.

In my estimation, when you divide the church and isolate it around age groups you have just secured the death warrant for the church. I’m not talking about a youth Sunday School class or an AWANA program. But when you create a church climate where a certain segment is designed to have no involvement with the greater congregation and larger ministry of the church, you have just consigned the concept of community and the image of the body of Christ to the spiritual waste basket.

But really, Axis was not segmented purely around 20-somethings, was it? The very definition of who they were trying to reach defies its make-up. 20-somethings? Does this refer to those who are in their 20’s or does it include 40 year olds you hate growing older? In reality, Axis and a number of other alternative churches are not dividing according to age, but rather personal preferences. Music, dress, colloquial language, mimimalistic approaches to preaching are the key motives for such a church within a church. In other words, they did not merely try to be missionaries within the culture, they attempted to define the church by one segment of the culture, and it failed. That is, it appears to me that worship, preaching, discipleship and the corporate life of the church have been redefined, not in biblical terms, but in terms of cultural preference.

Another quote:

In addition, churches-within-churches share a shortcoming endemic to the entire seeker-church movement, Wilhoit said. By marketing to niche groups, such churches “institutionalize fragmentation.” Young people are actually yearning for a holistic community, he said, “rather than something that looks like a club”one of the things Willow discovered.

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Church for youth is nothing new under our fad-defying sun. This kind of thing is done all over the place, outside of emergent groups like Axis. It has been common to design buildings and worship services for children and youth that do not in fact teach them about the biblical concepts of worship, preaching, prayer and the corporate community of the body of Christ. Instead, such tend to cater to the selfish immaturity of such groups under the mantra of “church should be fun” – meaning, fun as you and your friends define fun. The problem: the segmented groups tend to never outgrow their immature definitions and expectations of “Church.” They have been taught to define church-life by personal preference. Consequently, they have been taught that Philippians 2:1-11 is irrelevant, because it isn’t founded upon self-centered fun.

Are we beginning to see cracks forming in the aging seeker-sensitive movement? Is the fad wearing off? Are the changes that such seeker-saturated churches are trying to make in order to “reach” the next generation producing fatal wedges in these formative ecclesiological fissures?

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