>Burnt out on politics? Want us seminarians, et al. to get back to theology, church, and culture? OK, OK. Let’s switch gears.
I was making the rounds through what I’ve missed from the GodBlogs the past couple weeks and became intrigued with two posts: C. Michael Patton’s The Entertainment Driven Church and Michael Spencer’s (iMonk) This is the End…of Evangelicalism, My Friend. Go ahead and take the next five minutes or so to read those two posts…I’ll wait. Reading those two pieces was a melancholy experience for me. First, let me say that I’m not a mega-church basher. I’m not. But my wife and I both reached a point a couple years where we had to get out. We had a final-straw moment one Sunday and never went back. I’ve actually avoided discussing it online very much in order to avoid unfair generalizations in the wake of our departure. It’s sort of like the incubation period that baby Calvinists need to go through before they start discussing Calvinism. Reading these posts by Patton and Spencer took me back to our eight years in Mega Church Land.
The entertainment-driven aspect discussed in these two pieces was a big part of our decision to move on. “Fun” was the dominating concern within the children’s ministry, for instance. Week after week we would ask our kids what they learned about in church during the drive home and time after time they would struggle to come up with much of an answer. They knew what games they played, what songs they sung, and what prizes they came home with but what they learned about the Christian faith was often fuzzy. Don’t get me wrong, we take full responsibility for the moral and spiritual upbringing of our children and have no desire to delegate that responsibility to the church. But they do spend a couple hours a week at church each Sunday and those couple hours need to be spent on more than fun.
As Patton and Spencer mention, everything is geared toward the visitor or seeker. The church we were a part of or attended (still don’t know how to properly refer to the non-membership member status) denied this but there really is no other way to put it. From designated parking spaces to greeters to music to sermon and more, the seeker takes prominence. I remember one campaign where everyone was encouraged to park as far away from the building as possible in order to make space for Grace, the representative seeker who must be allowed to have the prime parking spots. Every sermon series was married to a popular cultural theme from movies to sports and more. Pop songs were performed to keep everyone entertained while the offering was taken. I could go on with many more examples but there’s really no point in going on with a blow by blow account. While it’s worth discussing, critiquing experiences such as mine has been done over and over again. I’ll just state that I can agree with many of the critiques offered in Patton’s and Spencer’s posts. Rather highlighting the negatives, let’s transition to hopeful developments for the future.
So where did we go after Mega Church World? Here’s an excerpt from the December 24, 2007 issue of US News & World Report:
“In Richardson, Texas, the congregation of Trinity Fellowship Church participates in something that would have been considered almost heretical in most evangelical Protestant churches five or 10 years ago: a weekly Communion service. An independent, nondenominational church of some 600 members, Trinity Fellowship is not the only evangelical congregation that is offering a weekly Eucharist, saying the Nicene or Apostles’ creeds, reading the early Church Fathers, or doing other things that seem downright Roman Catholic or at least high Episcopalian. Daniel Wallace, a professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, which trains pastors for interdenominational or nondenominational churches, says there is a growing appetite for something more than ‘worship that is a glorified Bible class in some ways.’
Something curious is happening in the wide world of faith, something that defies easy explanation or quantification. More substantial than a trend but less organized than a movement, it has to do more with how people practice their religion than with what they believe, though people caught up in this change often find that their beliefs are influenced, if not subtly altered, by the changes in their practice.
Put simply, the development is a return to tradition and orthodoxy, to past practices, observances, and customary ways of worshiping. But it is not simply a return to the past—at least not in all cases. Even while drawing on deep traditional resources, many participants are creating something new within the old forms. They are engaging in what Penn State sociologist of religion Roger Finke calls ‘innovative returns to tradition.'”
I’ll discuss what drove us from megachurchism (of the seeker church variety) and drew us to a church such as Trinity in another post.