They appear in my mail box at home with startling frequency, sometimes just a card, occasionally an elaborate expensively produced glossy brochure. But they all share in common the bold promise of something, shiny, new, and exciting.

In current church-speak, they are called “church plants”.

Someone has decided that what our community needs is a new church. This does not usually mean a new building. Everyone knows that the last thing in the world almost any community in the western hemisphere needs is a new church building. So, these church plants are taking root in a gymnasium, theatre, community centre, or established church facility.

The advertisements generally promise something different than is currently being offered in the usual church scene. They promise a chance to experience “the real thing” in relationship to God, an authentic expression of Christian community and intense engaging worship. The church planters behind these campaigns suggest that in their midst you will experience a warm welcome, vibrant spiritual life, and real powerful teaching for living in faith.

Presumably, the old standard church offerings are no longer up to the job of servicing the current religious needs of the average person, so it is time for something shiny, new and exciting to replace the drab, old and dull traditional church.

Does this passion for starting new churches reflect an unavoidable reality that it is impossible to polish up the old version to make it appealing in the current day? Or are these initiatives simply a reflection of the fact that we live in a culture where anything “new” is always better and more marketable than the familiar version?

There seem to be four predictable qualities that characterize most church plants. They all emphasize:

1. a focus on relationship building, usually related to sharing a meal

2. vibrant contemporary music

3. intense fairly uniform conviction

4. niche marketing – they generally seem to aim at a fairly homogeneous demographic

Perhaps it is easier to draw new people together in worship when a community is not burdened with the baggage of tradition and the need to accommodate a variety of sensibilities and levels of commitment and different understandings of faith.

And perhaps those of us who labour in the established patterns of traditional church should simply rejoice that there are Christian leaders coming to town who do not carry the weight of tradition and the demand of diversity. It may do no harm for us to affirm these shiny, new and exciting expressions of Christian life. Perhaps we should relax and resist the temptation to follow their lead.

There may still be a place for churches where it is acceptable to drop in, worship faithfully whenever works in your life, and then return refreshed in your faith to your primary engagements in the world. Perhaps, even in a culture that worships so often at the altar of the shiny, new and exciting, there remains a place for traditional music and ancient forms worship.

It may not be a weakness for believers to continue to struggle together in the messy business of trying to form church communities that embrace a diversity of understanding in the formulations of faith and resist the need for too much conformity of expression in doctrine. And, it is at least possible that, the awkwardness and sometimes pain of being together in a community that crosses barriers of age, culture, socio-economic status, and physical and intellectual capacity may be deeply enriching for those who persevere over the long haul in such a community.

Church plants may be an energetic new phenomenon at the moment. Those of us who have been around for a while should not feel threatened by these vibrant fresh expressions of church life. God can work in the world in a variety of ways some that are constant, steady and reliable, others that are shiny, new and exciting.