The Church’s Identity Crisis: Why Authenticity Matters

Phil Cooke: “Stop trying to be a bad version of something else, and be an incredible version of who you are.”

A few years ago, I worked with a fantastic church that had a serious identity problem. They were a traditional church with great teaching, classic hymns, and a wonderful choir. The pastor was amazing and the music remarkable. They only had one problem:

A group of members felt they should become like the contemporary church across town. I knew the contemporary church well, and even did some consulting with them a few years before. That was a great church too, and I understood why the group in the traditional church felt like they should become more contemporary. After all, some of the younger members of the traditional church were moving to the contemporary church across town.

But my advice was:

Stop trying to be a bad version of something else, and be an incredible version of who you are.

Too often, we see something popular and growing and think we have to be like them. We want to be Hillsong, Lakewood, Prestonwood, Saddleback or Willow Creek. But those churches, and many more like them, were founded in a unique situation, in a particular city and in a distinctive time. They grew because they knew their strengths. They connected because they were real.

So the next time you see a church doing well, don’t automatically think you have to be like them. Stop looking outward and start looking inward.

Because being who you really are is much more effective that trying to be something else.

Phil Cooke is an internationally known writer and speaker. Through his company Cooke Pictures in Burbank, California, he’s helped some of the largest nonprofit organizations and leaders in the world use media to tell their story. This article was originally published on Cooke’s blog at

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