In education we developed the practice of “mainstreaming” (integrating special needs students into the regular classroom). The mainstream is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as “the prevailing current of thought, influence, or activity.” With this in mind, the verb form of this word applies not only to the classroom, but to society in general when we “incorporate (something or someone) into a prevailing group.”

Throughout my ministry I have heard and used the term “mainstream church” to refer to the classical, traditional idea of what is church. In the south it has to do with red-brick or white frame buildings, columns, and tall spires pointing to the sky. It is the red or blue carpet with hardwood pews, a choir (with robes), pulpit and ministerial staff, pipe organ & stained glass optional (unless you can place dedication plaques prominently as a memorial to some dead saint).

Today, however, we have started a practice of “mainstreaming” the church. We have begun to look for ways to make church a part of the prevailing thought. No longer is the church seen as the Body and Bride of Christ. Instead, church is another activity to plug into. With this prevailing attitude, local churches have inadvertently jumped on the mainstreaming bandwagon. We search for ways to compete in the world market. We create slick advertising, off-off-Broadway productions, and titillating sermons. We program programs and schedule events with one goal in mind: get more people here. Under the premise of getting people in to hear the gospel, we neglect to follow through when they do indeed accept the message we bear.

I believe this is due to our concentration on the first part—get them here to hear—with a lesser degree of emphasis on the “have something for them to hear when they get here” part. Left out in the cold is the “help them learn how to apply what they hear” portion altogether.

The result is a mainstreamed church that looks a lot like the entertainment business, or the world around it.

With the understanding that it is important to be heard because the message we bring is the most important to be heard, my question is this: Have we watered down our witness to the point that it is ineffective? Are there ways to use the tools of mainstreaming for the benefit of the Kingdom of God and not simply to boast of great crowds at the last/next giant event?