Reaching the Lost At Any Cost?
I received an email during the week. It was an
article written by BBC correspondent Jon Leyne. The
article concerned a certain: Southeast Christian
Says Leyne, "Known as a "Mega Church", gone are all those trappings that seem to scare people off conventional religion - the vestments, the dreary hymns sung by an out of tune choir, all that standing or kneeling, the long silences and the incomprehensible language". "Instead", he writes, "It's like sitting through a very well produced, but rather middle-of-the-road, pop concert. The orchestra and singing is highly professional. Everything is relayed on a series of huge video monitors clearly visible, even from the top row of the gods. They even display the words for the religious songs so you don't need to read from an order of service or a hymn book".
The congregation has only been in this massive building for just over four years - but already is threatening to outgrow it. A total of 18,000 people attend the three services every weekend. Many thousands more spend a good chunk of their week in the smart new gymnasium, food court, day-care centre and classrooms. According to Leyne this is not just a church, it is the "shopping mall of modern religion" - a new medieval city, clustered round the sanctuary. One of the other Mega-Churches is actually introducing a McDonalds. Some of them have housing developments on campus, one is building a religious theme park based on the story of Jonah and the whale.
Tithing time is no small affair either, $500,000 hits the offering trays each week and there's even a police escort for the collection. Says Jon Leyne, "It's the place to meet the leading local politicians, to make business contacts - it's the country club of religion". Leyne was obviously taking some cheap shots. Bob Russell, the pastor of Southeast Christian, talks of a world that is getting worse. Christians feel a need for a greater strength he explains - "and there is strength in numbers". One religious affairs expert described it as "a form of Christian cocooning - as the faithful withdraw from what they see as an increasingly threatening world". And that's where I have a problem with it.
My daughter Kyrie thinks I'm being a little too negative here but it's the way I see it. I don't believe in "Christian Communes" - little cloistered, Christian, catechistic cocoons, because the church's commission is to "GO into all the world and preach the gospel" not to hide away in its own little exclusive world. Not to surround itself with all the comforts of a home that is NOT its home, and with trappings that are not its belongings.
NEWS FLASH > > > Jesus hung out with SINNERS!
If the Southeast Christian Church's intention is, as I suspect it is, like the Apostle Paul's, namely to become all things to all men that they might win them for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then I applaud the concept of the Mega Church. But it seems to me there's a fine line between that, and a modern day moneychangers coup d'e-tat that echoing tones of the ilk. . "My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have turned it into a fast food outlet. . . ."
I guess the challenge to all big churches - and I don't have any particular ones in mind, is this: "Hey, while you're building your buildings, don't forget the people who sit in them eh Ė let alone those who donít, you know . .† the oneís youíre meant to reach? - or even what we're meant to be doing here"?
†Let's keep our eye on the ball shall we, a ball that isn't meant to be bouncing in the courts of our own religious comfort.
Whatever happened to preachers on push bikes eh?