On Sunday our family went to a more traditional church (by which I mean a church that meets in a building every Sunday morning, has programs, coffee, etc.) for the first time in a couple months. It’s amazing how much our perspective has changed since we started with Infuse (our mission-focused community of faith). There were a couple things that seemed to really stick out.
One is the extent to which everything seems commercialized. Every program, sermon series, or even service event has its own set of graphics, reasons why you should come for it, and tag line. I know that churches need to announce the things that are going on so people can plan on being at things they want to come to–but this seemed different. I really felt at times like I was at an infomercial. I’m still processing this, but I’m struggling with why it’s necessary to work so hard to get people to come to things. I mean, if people are really following Christ and that church is their community, then shouldn’t they be finding ways to stay connected to the community without having events sold to them? And I know that churches function on the assumption that Easter is one of two big chances a year to speak to people who aren’t in church very often, but even with that being the case, it seems like the plea for people to be a part of the church is based on coolness and what the church “can do for you” instead of on a committment to Christ.
(A quick aside here–I’m going to write about one more thing, but I think it’s important to note that I believe what I’ll write about comes from a slow drift in spite of the good motives of church leaders, not from insincere intentions. We have come to live in a time where churches often see themselves as one option competing for a market share of people’s time, resources, and energy–so over time they employ the same means as the rest of culture to try and stay relevant and viable. We live in a culture of strategy, and much of the time church leaders are schooled by the leading marketing and strategy gurus of our time, then translate what works in the business world to the church. Thus, churches become Christocentric organizations (which should inherently be sacrifical) running on business models (which are inherently focused on organizational success), which is an oxymoron. A church shouldn’t really have anything to market or sell, but that’s where they end up because they believe it’s the only way they can continue to grow. And growth should be a good thing, but if consumerism and marketing has corrupted the message the church is able to communicate then they’re growing for the wrong reasons and are in danger of communicating a different gospel than the gospel of Jesus. Because no matter what is preached from the pulpit, people learn as much from form as they do a sermon. (In communication lingo, the medium is the message.) So my next observation needs to be seen in light of churches and church leaders having great intentions, but also being significantly impacted by a culture that constantly markets to consumers to increase market share.)
So my observation is that there is a lot of clever strategy employed but little space left for the power of God. What if for Easter Sunday (or any other Sunday for that matter) someone read from Scripture, maybe explained it a little bit (or even led a discussion), people praised God (through music or something else), and there was at least half an hour left for prayer? But this doesn’t happen. I think we’re afraid that people would get bored, and I know this is true because in the past I’ve led prayer times where I didn’t want to have too much quiet because I was afraid of boredom. What if people didn’t come back? What if people didn’t think we were cool? Those thoughts mean I think my programming is more powerful than the Spirit of God. Do you see the issue here? We have to make sure something hooks people to bring them back. And that hook almost always ends up being something we produce. So what if some people did get bored? So what if some people never did come back? This certainly isn’t the goal, but Jesus usually said something that made people leave when the crowds got too big, we seem to go the opposite direction.
I know there’s a line to walk here, because God has given people gifts as teachers, singers, musicians, artists, video producers, and other things that should be used in the context of Christian community. The problem is NOT that churches use video, soloists, drama or whatever else. The problem is that we seem to think these things are necessary to hook people and make churches grow. So what are people drawn to? The image of a church or Jesus Christ?