The Gospel According to U2


In an effort to fill the sanctuary, some Episcopal churches are turning to the musical assistance of U2. Why pay hundreds of dollars to see them in concert when you can enjoy them from the comfort of your own cushioned pew? According to the AP’s article Episcopal Churches Turn to U2 to Pack Pews, churches all over the country are implementing this new strategy:

Ushers handed out earplugs and fluorescent glow sticks for the “U2 Eucharist,” a communion service punctuated by the Irish rock band’s music. Episcopal parishes from California to Maine have hosted similar events, weaving U2’s tunes _ laced with biblical references _ into the liturgy.

There is an evident desperation driving the decision makers who are implementing these services. Recognizing that their congregations are inching to a slow death, parishes are doing whatever it takes to draw a younger crowd. Consider this quote from Reverend Robert Brooks:

Brooks said the evening was designed to invigorate his once-aging congregation _ attracting young people and those interested in social activism. “We absolutely need to grow in order to survive,” he said.

The conflicted background of the band U2 is a model for the type of people the churches are seeking to attract through these services. Notice the contradiction in lifestyle reflected here:

Bono, meanwhile, has told interviewers that he worships God through music. He once belonged to an ascetic Christian community, and in February, he spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast. The band’s early tapes were sold in religious bookstores. Still, the band members are traditional rock ‘n’ rollers _ they swear, drink and sing about sex.The gravity of the situation escalates when you recognize that these churches are not just using U2 as a source of attraction for people but also as a source of wisdom that provides a foundation to the message. Notice how this quote implies that the speaker is using the Bible and Bono side by side as the source of authority for the message:In Providence, Blair delivered a homily to pitch the One Campaign, which the Episcopal Church supports. She ticked off statistics about poverty and infant mortality in Africa, underscoring her points with equal parts Bono and Bible.

So, what do we make of churches appealing to the culture through the use of U2? There is no question that they lyrical content of U2’s music is immersed in biblical imagery. There is also no question that incorporating their music into a worship service would be a significant upgrade for many churches across the country–both in musical excellence and appeal. But do these things merit the use of U2 in a service?

The simple answer is no. What we have on our hands is another manifestation of two powerful forces that are subverting American Christianity–pragmatism and seeker-sensitivism. These are really just two sides of the same coin resulting in churches doing whatever it takes to attract crowds and build numbers.

These churches accurately recognize that they are limping to a slow death, but they have prescribed the wrong cure for the disease. Instead of reviving evangelistic efforts in an effort to make disciples, they are simply catering to the culture’s lust for entertainment.

While it is important to be culturally relevant, this can never come at the cost of Biblical faithfulness. When the end goal is growing the church, you might pack the pews for awhile. But when the end goal shifts to growing the kingdom of God, you will finally be at a point to equip the saints instead of feed snackers.

When your church methodology is centered around doing whatever it takes to avoid the death of the church instead of doing whatever it takes to give people the message of life, it is time to reconsider your strategy. Who knows, U2 may soon be coming to a church near you.


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