This post was inspired partly by this article on Speculative Faith.
Have you noticed something about church signs lately? Not the funny ones that have really corny jokes on them using the old-style slidey letters.
How about the new ones, that look more like this:
The signs are inevitably in sans-serif font and everything is either upper or lowercase. Likely, one of the words is bolded and the designer left out one or more spaces.
Why the weird capitalization (or lack thereof)? And for crying out loud, why sans-serif fonts?
Wait, wait, wait, you say. My church sign doesn't look like that. I help to pick out the corny joke every week. My church is named after a saint. My church doesn't have a sign. My church sign is in cursive, or a serif font, or actually follows grammar rules.
Folks, I propose that we have a similar problem in Christian fiction.
Have you ever noticed that most Christians in Christian fiction feel like the same characters? This is especially a problem in "contemporary" settings. The Christians probably come from a non-denominational church (or church of unnamed denomination). If there are multiple congregations mentioned, no one seems to act like they're different. They're willing to commune together, to pray together, to attend service together.
"Grandma's" church, if mentioned, likely sings hymns on piano. Young or youth characters probably attend a church that has a praise band. It's unlikely you'll find a pipe organ or a church that forbids instrumentation. There's probably no liturgy or order of service followed.
The pastor is probably a kind young-to-middle-aged male. His wife is likely his adoring partner in ministry.
If there's a youth pastor in the story, he's likely to be young. I'd be willing to bet that he has tattoos, or colored hair, or some other "shocking" item. 90% of the time, he tries to be cool, but fails.
People who are unchurched just need some good apologetics thrown at them or else to have someone "relate to them"--unlike so-and-so at Grandma's church who wasn't understanding.
Churchgoers are most interested in finding a church that relates to them or where they feel connected. They aren't concerned about theology or anything else.
Sound familiar? It's almost like all our Christian characters and fictional churches are written in the same font.
Why don't we go for some more variety in our Christian characters? After all, I sing with an orchestra and a pipe organ following a liturgical pattern at my church. We have two pastors, both older gentlemen. One's wife is rather sassy and quite forward with her opinions. One serves a dual role as the youth pastor and doesn't have anything crazy going on. I can't imagine either of them wearing skinny jeans. During service, they wear their clerical collars and robes. Outside that, they typically wear dress slacks and button-down shirts. On retreat, I might see them wearing jeans and t-shirts, and it's odd to see them out of clerical attire. Neither tries to be very cool. They're just genuinely nice people. Have you read about a church like that in a book lately? And it's not even that different from the "typical" church you read about.
There's such variety in our faith; why don't we explore it more?
I've attended churches where they don't sing with instruments, because they think it detracts from the focus of worship. I've visited others where dance is encouraged. Some services include almost everyone raising their hands, while other congregations I've visited are quite stoic. Some congregations I've visited have prohibitions on clergy marrying while others promote a family life for their pastors. A church my friend attended for a while insisted on worshiping on Saturdays rather than Sundays.
Christianity has quite a bit of variety in it--and the above is just a sampling of style, not theology. Some congregations prohibit communing with others who don't have the same confession; others won't even pray with others outside their congregation. Some groups baptize infants while others will only baptize adults. We won't get into the theology behind those distinctions, but consider the variety we have in real life compared to our fictional stories.
Don't be afraid to vary your Christian characters in your stories. You don't have to prove them right or wrong. But if you're thinking about how to make your story more life-like, you should include some differences of opinion that really affect how your characters worship, interact, and live their lives.
And by all means, please don't make the church sign in calibri font. Liven things up a bit.