Saturday, May 05, 2007

Grass-Root Elites

Who are today’s most influential people? The wealthy? The politicians? The athletes? Several weeks ago I listened to a talk by Tim Keller that was given at the most recent Resurgence conference. In the talk he was sharing his thoughts regarding how the church can effectively win today's culture. One of his points was that we must win those he called the “grass root elites.” Who are these people? According to Keller they are the young creative types. Many of these people are working for companies that are shaping today’s youth culture. A few examples of these companies would be MTV and Facebook.

In the recent issue of Fast Company Mark Zuckerberg, the 22-year-old CEO and founder of Facebook is featured for his gutsy decision to turn down a buy-out deal for $1 billion dollars from Yahoo and Viacom. Facebook, a website that connects people in social networks, was started by he and his roommate several years ago while they were students at Harvard. Things were going so well that they dropped out of school in order to divert more attention to their growing business. What I found most interesting about this article was how these guys ran their business.

As you see in these few pics, their office is more like a dormitory than a corporate office, they wear jeans and sandals, their hours are abundant but flexible, their meals are catered, their dirty clothes are laundered for free (company benefit), and they appear to have a lot of fun.

So, how do we reach these young innovators who are shaping todays culture? This is a great question and one that we should ask. One thing for sure, they appear to be the kind of people who resist formal institutionalism in favor of casual creative environments. They also appear to be hard-working people who will pour out their lives for a cause they believe in.

The question I have for the church is, “why are young people like this doing all they can to stay away from the church?” After all, we are the ones with the greatest cause, aren’t we? My challenge for church leaders is to consider people like Zuckerberg (and young innovators like him) when they are examining how to strategically reach our culture and commit themselves to contextualizing the gospel in order to bring Christ to this generation that is both highly influential and also the least churched in American history.


Jim Coates said...


Interesting comments.

I've been pretty frustrated by what seems to be a tug of war argument between the camps that say "we need to contextualize" versus the ones that say "since the Gospel doesn't change, we don't need to either.. good enough is good enough".

Honestly, its been a real struggle because a lot of people I respect fall on the opposite side of the fence from me on the issue.

Thanks for posting this.


Scott Sterner said...


I'm glad you liked this post. I found the article in Fast Co very interesting and it got me thinking...

After taking the Perspectives course in World Missions at Parkview, I can honestly say I have a hard time seeing anything but an intentionally contextualized gospel in the scriptures. The pivitol moment in the early church was in Acts 15 when the Jerusalem council needed to decide if they would force Gentiles to adhere to their Jewish traditions. Their decision upheld the principle that the gospel is what matters, not our culture. I.E. get cultural barriers out of the way so that the gospel is made clear!!! This is not an issue of compromised truth, it is an issue of clarified truth!

Anyway, a much longer discussion than I will comment now. I'm just very passionate about it.

j lassen said...

though i'm not really versed in the contexualization debate, my initial thoughts after this post are this: the gospel doesn't change, but language (to me this includes technology like facebook - a form of communication) and culture are constantly changing. if Christians refuse to learn how to "speak" to nonbelievers (in this case, potentially influential ones) by sticking to their known/preferred brand of religion, it's essentially the same as abandoning the lost as just that, "lost." i agree with Scott that clarification of the gospel is key, even if it means contexualizing it in a way that seems unorthodox. that said, i don't think the gospel should be presented in ways that necessarily exclude some groups while trying to reach just one.

Scott Sterner said...

JLassen, The idea of excluding some to reach some is an interesting point. I think Keller’s “strategy” is to reach the ones that will reach many more. It’s not much different than the idea of the “man of peace” in the Bible where Cornelius (Acts 10:22) a righteous and God-fearing man… respected by all the Jewish people became a believer after welcoming Peter into his home. Cornelius was a man of influence. Consequently his family and many others believed and were baptized.

Interestingly, the first three groups Keller noted as a priority for reaching our culture are those in the cities (large urban areas), the grass-root elites, and the poor. We would assume the wealthy corporate and political powerful people would be strategic, however, in the words of Keller it is often too late and too difficult for these people to really change their ways. It is much like the rich young ruler who walked away from Jesus after being told to sell all his things and follow Him (Mk 10:17-30).