24 July 2006

Marketing Church

I had a disturbing church experience yesterday. Chris and I decided to visit a satellite church out of curiosity. How does this work? What is all the fuss about? I left with tears, not touched, meaningful, poignant message tears, but tears of disgust.
The service began with a concert. I loved the type of music, and I believe all music can and should be used to praise and glorify God, as long as the Church participates. But the church did not participate. They watched the light show and the dry ice effects and listened to the concert. This was followed by a motivational speaker piped in on what appeared to be an HD screen. The message itself was not terrible. The speaker made good points. The leader/announcer/emcee (?) for the service asked us to fill out the guest cards, which Chris dutifully did (and which I would never have done). We walked out of the auditorium/sanctuary, in and out in exactly one hour. All of the congregation made straight for the exit. No hi’s to one another. No gathering groups in the lobby. Odd. It appeared that no one knew another in the building.
Chris and I walked to the information booth, looking for the guest card drop-off and seeking more information on this Sunday conference. The only community service and other such activities were linked to and done in and around the home church, a good hour, perhaps hour and a half away. Nothing in this community. Were they planning on becoming a local church in our town? Chris posed this question to the volunteer behind the booth.
“I don’t know.” Brilliant.
I was ready to leave, but Chris wanted to make one more stop, the store. Now, I do not have a problem with churches having a shop in the church, supplying the congregation with books, materials, resources, music, etc. But something seemed wrong here. It felt off beam. The first display as you walk through the opening is that of T-shirts and purses. Then we found exhibited on table after table material by the pastor of the main church, books that state how to have a great and happy life. Chris flipped through.
“How is this not prosperity theology?” he asked. We moved on. We came to a magazine rack. The cover announced 10 tips for healthy living, 5 steps toward financial security.
“Do you know what this is?” Chris probed.
“A magazine.”
“The Bible.” And that, my friends, was the proverbial straw. I don’t care if the Bible is printed on magazine paper, if you carry it in a convenient, small package, a large print or thick study bible, on your blackberry, or read it online. But to market Christianity in 10 tips and 5 steps and denigrate the message to being happy with success rather than the true hope of redemption in the midst of this evil and corrupt world… What have we done?
I have spent years studying intercultural communication and cultural anthropology both in general theories and specifics with the postmodern world. I have studied epistemology and ecclesiology, looking at different ways we can know God and reflect God. I am excited about the possibilities of seeing a different aspect of God in different cultures. But I also believe that each culture is corrupt. I hate the materialism and consumerism and convenience-driven life of the United States that takes advantage of poorer nations and overlooks the poor. And yesterday, I tasted this corruptness in the marketing of the church. I wanted to overturn tables. I left and cried. Please, help me understand, am I misunderstanding? Is this only an attempt to make God “relevant” that I should appreciate? Should we address this issue as a problem?


tranthegirl said...

Ug. I am sorry for your experience with all that. Sounds like the epitome of "relevant" churchology gone awry. But in this encounter with such blatant off-target Christianity, we learn. We sharpen what we know and what we hope.

Beyond Words said...

Heather, I started to write how sorry I am that you experienced this. But then I think the Spirit prompted me thus--who better than Heather to document this journey of ecclesiology? Maybe that's why God wants you to be "visiting" churches right now. I almost envy you. No, I DO envy you. Please keep us abreast every Sunday as you visit different churches.

I didn't go to church yesterday. I am struggling so hard--instead, I walked several miles and prayed and read Psalms.

I'm a member of three small study groups that keep me plugged in on an intimate level (so I'm not neglecting to "meet together, but I feel excluded from corporate worship--long story about some things I know about the worship (read music) leaders, not to mention the male hierarchy of our teaching leaders and the fact that the pastors are monitoring my blog.

There's a lot of things my church does right, and I'm trusting God to get me through this. In fact, he's moving in some areas due to some issues I've raised--so I covet your prayers as I will pray for you.

Heather said...

I understand those frustrations you mentioned regarding church. As we visit different churches, I'm beginning to wonder if I'm looking for a castle in the sky, or lucy with diamonds. I'm trying to find that balance of serving God in a recognizably corrupt church (made of corrupt people, like myself) but also trying to find a place where I can use my gifts. I will pray for you with that as well.
But yes, visiting different types of churches to see what God is doing in various ways has been interesting. My husband has been encouraging me to document the experience.

San said...

Yuck...yeah, yuck. More yuck. I'm not surprised, but I feel the nausea with you. Celebrity-driven, community-less Christianity. Ugh. I think you know you're not misunderstanding. You know your ecclesiology. And it says Jesus is the only star, but he likes for his members to at least work together rather than being isolated.

Jennifer said...

I think of that "overturning tables" a lot. In my old church (in a different state), the pastor began agressively selling his sermon series after church. I don't mind a slight charge, because it is a lot of work to make the copies and there is expense involved. With a church of 6000 people, if they were free, many people would take them, whether they listened or not. But the CDs were $5. And if you wanted the series of 6, it was $30. That seemed excessive, so I emailed (referencing that passage) and never received a response.

I looked for an email address for you (re the discussion in the comments on my blog), but couldn't find one. If you'd like, you can email me, because I would be interested in your take. I did respond to your comment on my site.

Kristy Dykes said...

I'm sorry for your disappointing experiences. I hope when you finish visiting churches, you will settle in one. It's very important. My dear saint of a mother said, "When God saved me, He wrote G - O on the bottom of my shoe--go to church." She also said you need to be involved in church. It's the way to grow spiritually. Third, she said, "Never look for the perfect church. Because when you find it and join it, it won't be perfect anymore. YOU'LL be in it." What she meant was, THERE ARE NO PERFECT CHURCHES. JUST FIND ONE, STICK WITH IT, AND GET INVOLVED. Forget about what it means to YOU. By being faithful to one group of believers, you will make a difference in their lives. We aren't here on earth to make ourselves happy; we're here on earth to serve others. God bless you. I'm glad I found your blog.