Bigger! Better! Flashier!


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Originally uploaded by smh00a.

A Church of Christ I know about is leaving its current location (a diverse, densely populated area where it’s been since its first Sunday decades ago) and moving “east,” where it can build a mega-church building on a sprawling piece of land.

We’re talking like 30 miles east, where the nearest neighbors might be a tractor and a few cows.

To many — I dare say most — this idea makes all the sense in the world. If you “outgrow” your current building, the prospect of a much larger, newer building is kind of a no-brainer.

The associate minister wrote the following in a church bulletin I found online:

During my five-week sabbatical, God granted the opportunity for my family and me to worship at two of the largest and fastest growing churches in the country (according to one national study). Most churches in the U.S. are declining. These two are growing and minister to tens of thousands of people. I’ve prayerfully reflected upon my experience in these two congregations. And I believe God may want to use that experience to urge ________ to consider four matters [the last two will be in this Sunday’s bulletin…I’ll post an update when they are “released”]:

1. God is already conducting much of the kind of ministry at ______ that leads to noteworthy growth, and will lead to even greater growth — once we relocate to a larger facility. …But one issue that significantly sets these churches apart from ____ is facility. Simply put, God has more physical room to minister to people in those churches than he does at _______. It is my conviction that once God leads us to increased land and more spacious facilities, we will experience growth similar to these two large churches…

2. God may be calling _______ to become more focused on corporate worship. Compared to _______, both churches devoted a greater percentage of staff to, allotted more time for, poured more funds into, dedicated greater facilities for, and encouraged more creativity within their corporate worship than we normally do. …The more we increasingly join God in creating a Sunday morning experience where people from all walks can truly encounter him, the more we’ll experience the kind of growth he’s granted these other two churches. (to be continued)

Because of space, I could only print excerpts from the bulletin column. I think the assumptions represented here, however, are fairly common among Evangelical circles in North America. Assumptions like “God needs lots of room to work.” Last time I checked, God’s work surpassed the limits of time and space. Assumptions like “if we just begin to do church better, more people will come.” Well, maybe. But will they experience the life transformation and become a radical disciple of Jesus? This should be our concern. (for the record, the “seeker service/worship” movement was in full swing for about ten years, and only in recent years has been waning in popularity — despite all our best efforts in this movement, the number of people walking away from church or refusing to come in increases dramatically every year).

What’s more, this particular church has a reputation for caring deeply for the poor of the inner city, which it has done well for many years. What does it say to the church’s neighbors and those it has impacted for it to be moving out to the comfy suburbs? Will it still try to remain an “inner city” church from afar, mailing checks to folks doing the work closer to the urban center? Time will tell.

This is just one example of many in North America. I believe time is up on the “bigger” and “better” mentality. This simply hasn’t worked, and frankly, it is just way too reminiscent of our secular culture for my comfort. We must begin to call people out of an old way to a new way. A way not concerned with “bigness” or “flashy worship,” but with the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God among all people. A community that is mobile, flexible, and participatory, living a “sent” life among those who have not believed in Jesus. We are this people, but it remains to be seen whether or not we’ll live fully into our commission on this continent and earth.

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