Friday, February 01, 2008

The Entertainment-Driven Church

C. Michael Patton visited a glitzy megachurch and wrote about church growth techniques that focus on seducing people with consumer products and entertainment:

The biggest fear that I have is that this is representative of so many well meaning people who start churches. I imagine the person who started this particular church grew up in a very boring church and set it as his primary goal to someday have a church that was fun. That is nice, but, more often than not, totally destructive. The pews are filled with people who are weak and totally unestablished in the faith. Most really don’t know what the Christian message is outside of “Jesus loves you and wants you to have a wonderful life.” Many claim Jesus, serve Him, and lift up their hands in praise, but what happens when someone or something challenges their faith? Where are they going to turn? To the shallowness of the entertaining commercials or out of context self-help lessons? Where will they go when the foundations are destroyed?

A faith that prepares us only to receive good things in life and not the cross is not even contemplating spiritual maturity. Michael Spencer reflected on Patton's post and fortold:

The is “the end” of evangelicalism, and it’s not dying with a whimper. Oh no. It’s going out with party hats and noise-makers. And Bratz dolls. And Barbie. And video games. And an elf. And the Word-faith message. And Starbucks.

The end of evangelicalism isn’t the deep vacuum of space. It’s the Borg ship. With pizza, a band and great commercials.

Is this Christianity? If you realize you answer no longer has any basis in reality, consider just being honest: No, it’s not.

Are the living dead in a George Romero movie “people?”

HT: Thinklings


truevyne said...

This is the trend I see in children's ministry too, and it breaks my heart.
I nearly fell over one Sunday dropping my six year daughter off into a room one Sunday with low flashing lighting, no furniture, and thumping music, "Let's get this party started!" She came out saying, "I don't want to go there anymore. It's so loud and wild." Remember she has three wild and loud brothers.

Mark said...

On the other hand, there are those churches where people sit dead in their pews, the children's wings haven't been updated since LBJ was President and spirituality is equated with being a
good------(insert denominational label here).

Yes, I suppose there are glitzy, hyperactive megachurches out there that push an entertainment-based message. But in the words of Rev. John Ed Matheson of Frazer UMC, I'd rather contain a fanatic than resurrect a corpse.

Brian Vinson said...

I was going to comment, but Mark Winter said what I wanted to say. I've seen plenty of "sour grapes" attacks on "glitzy megachurches" -- simply because they do things differently.

The comment about " the pews being filled with people who are weak and unestablished in the faith" is sensationalism at its finest.

What about those whose lives have been changed through these "glitzy megachurches?" Who were fed up with churchianity and found a vital, vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ through these churches? Who started serving the Lord because of these churches.

Sure, there's entertainment involved. And sure there are some good communicators who are poor preachers in some of them.

Does that mean that we should throw out every megachurch because some are bad? I pose that they just get more attention than the bad small churches (of which there are multitudes).

Unfriendly, unwelcoming, inwardly focused, and just existing because (in my particular denomination) they still can afford a pastor...

bob said...

Balance is the key a little fun in the church never hurt as long as the message isn't distorted.

The problem I see with the mega-churches is the too close association to the pastor.
Rick Warren's Saddleback church or Joel Osteen's church would be better named Christ's Church.

Anonymous said...

I think the criticisms of some of the glitz used by churches in the original post certainly could be valid, but there is an insane logical leap from churches being excessive in their glitz to evangelicalism is dead.

If you read Luke chapter 5 starting at verse 29, similar type of complaints were leveled at Jesus and his disciples for eating and drinking with tax collectors and other publicans of the time while the pharisees and even John the Baptist's disciples were fasting and praying.

It reminds me of Henri Nouwen's book about the prodigal son where he recounts how our journey through Christianity often takes us through all three of the main characters in the book. Sometimes we are the prodigal son returning home, sometimes we are the older brother looking disapprovingly at those returning home, and sometimes we are the father loving both those just returning and those who have been with us all along.

Michael said...

Although the jury is still out for me with this "entertainment" segment of worship, I have to say to Larry B: well stated. You've given me something more to think about. Thank you.

John said...

I agree that one should not smear all megachurches as shallow. There's a reason why small churches are small and large churches are large, and it's primarily because small churches have chosen to handicap themselves.

But that's not the situation that Patton is describing. There's a difference between a fanatic and a junkie and between a church which feeds and a church which dopes.

LarryB correctly points out that feasting is a Christian principle. I agree. But Patton seems to be distinguishing between a church which feasts in celebration and a church which bribes in order to gain attenders.

John said...

Oh, and Brian is correct. A lot of critiques of very large churches and their pastors are based on pulpit envy.

Michael said...

Pulpit envy ... that's funny.

Mark said...

But Patton seems to be distinguishing between a church which feasts in celebration and a church which bribes in order to gain attenders.

John, how do you distinguish between those two?

John said...

Mark, I would distinguish it between whether or not the gift or act of courtesy distracts from discipleship.