"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18)
I am often asked by global Christian leaders, how was 180 Church able to lead 400 agnostics and atheists to Christ in a four year time span?; how was all this possible in perhaps the most cynical city in the world? One word: Failure. Now, don't get me wrong, we succeeded in being relevant and engaging. We did everything post-modern from lighting candles to choreography to art students in their cool square glasses painting interpretive pictures during worship. People were drawn to church through all the cool ideas, but they tragically failed to meet Jesus.
This became alarmingly apparent one day when one of my staff members quickly stopped by my office. He told me about a conversation he had with a friend that was a medical school student that had recently started to attend 180. The news at first seemed really positive. She told my staff member that she really liked the Pastor (me) and understands why people are drawn to our community. However, she was confused about one thing. I then asked him what was confusing. He paused and replied, "She just doesn't know how our church helps her to get to know Jesus better." Quite honestly and painfully, that's when the "penny dropped". I finished my conversation with my staff member and as he shut the door to exit, I literally almost jumped out of my chair and wept. I realized with absolute clarity that I had become ashamed of the gospel. In the name of contextualization and relevance, I spoke about "god" and spiritual things, but completely euphemized Jesus. As a result I sabotaged its power.
Humiliated and utterly broken, I just sat there for hours, repenting for my failure to preach the gospel. From that moment, I vowed to never be abashed as a verse popped into mind: "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel." (Gal 1:6)
The very next day, I called an emergency staff meeting where was eliminated every single program that had nothing to do with helping people get to know Jesus better. In one week, we made a drastic shift in the way we did church. We stopped complicating things and focused solely on the simplicity of the gospel.
The results of the change were immediate. As we declared and worshipped Jesus in our services and talked about Jesus in our small groups, people started to come to faith in droves. An average of two people joined God's family in one of our small groups weekly and eventually culminated to four hundred people in four years! Honestly, it is all still surreal at times, but this is a true testament to the power of the gospel even in the most cynical city in the world when we unabashedly proclaim the unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ!
Sam Kim is the Founding Pastor 180 Church in New York City, and serves as the Chief Communicator and Vision at 180. Subscription to his weekly HD Sermons can be found HERE. Formerly, he served as an Adjunct Professor of Preaching & Communications at Nyack College in Nyack, New York and still frequently lectures on Culture, Media, and Communications at Alliance Theological Seminary. He was recently selected as one of the 120+ Change-agents and thought Practitioners under 40 in North America by the Lausanne movement, and was also recently privileged to be invited to the White House to join a subcommittee surrounding the Dream Act (A bill about Immigration Reform) involving Latino's & Asians and 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. You can connect with him on facebook here, and 180 church on facebook here.