Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Church as Walmart

My visit to the Colorado Springs megachurch this morning gave me some new insights on the nature of some of the evangelical churches of America today. The church seemed to have transformed the church from an institution of God for His worship into an institution of man for his entertainment. Of course, there was worship during the service, but it was all done in a way that assured that while man was worshipping, he was fully entertained.

From the moment one walks in on a Sunday morning, he is impacted by the commercial feel of the enterprise. Is this Walmart or is it church? he wonders to himself. A giant Visitors Desk akin to a Walmart Customer Service center greets churchgoers as they walk in. To the left, a giant bookstore offers all of the bestsellers of the Christian market. Across for the bookstore, leather sofas welcome guests who may choose not to enter the sanctuary, but just hang out outside and watch the service on the screens conveniently located in the entrance hall. A giant espresso bar allows guests any beverage, dessert, or snack to enjoy before, after, or even during the service. No signs warn parishioners about bringing fresh hot espressos into the sanctuary.

As I walked in, I was awed by the whole thing. Hundreds of people walked around the entrance hall, busily sugared their coffees, and gathered together on tables or on sofas, reading books or engaging each other in conversation. I asked myself—am I early? Has the service not started? I looked up at the screens in the reception area and saw what I believed to be a live recording of the sanctuary—a live band and thousands of worshippers with arms raised. As I pried open the door to the sanctuary, I saw that indeed—the service was happening, it was live. All of this bustling outside reflects an attitude of the contemporary church—it’s about you. If you want to come inside and worship God, that’s fine. But if you prefer to hang out outside, enjoy a warm coffee, catch up with some friends, or even engage in a solitary Bible study, that’s also fine. The important thing is that you come to church and have a good time.

As I walked into the sanctuary, I wasn’t sure if I was in a church or in a U2 concert. The spotlights, the screens, the green and pink lighting effects, the sound effects—church became a giant stereopticon. Squeezed into a free seat in the back of a church with perhaps seven thousand people (and this was only one of the three services), I tried to read the words on a screen as a green spotlight kept on shining on my face, saying to me that the service was about me, I was in the limelight.

Much of the service seemed intent on throwing away all of the received traditions of the past. It seemed that the attitude being promoted was, “if the historic church did it, but it was not in the Bible, then it can’t be good and we’re going to jettison it.” Perhaps that was the attitude behind the bare walls and exposed pipes all over the one hundred foot tall ceiling. One may argue that this was done for cost, but architects know that it costs just as much to provide higher-quality, visually appealing pipes that can remain naked to the eye than it would be to cover up unpainted, unaesthetically pleasing pipes behind a ceiling. Could it be that the church passed around a tuperware container, rather than a offering plate, because this 10,000 member megachurch could not muster up a few extra dollars for a traditional offering plate? Or was it simply trying to shock? And what of giving each other “high fives” instead of a traditional handshake at the interlude and of the extremely well put together, professional commercials after the worship encouraging members to join all kinds of new ministries and fellowships? The commercial feel of the entire event was only added to by the serial numbers that appeared on the upper left hand corners of each of the screens as a new theme was displayed during the worship songs and commercials.

Certainly, the church I visited this morning is important. It has given thousands of Christians a first step into the life of Christ by introducing them to the Gospel. The traditional high church denominations cannot brag about this success. Yet I hope that its many new members in Christ will long for something more than a commercial Christ and begin to long for a far deeper way of worshipping God that demands more than going to church and being entertained, but instead, for true sacrificial love towards God.

1 comment:

  1. After writing to New Life asking why so many people were apparently "hanging out" before the service, I received the following reply:

    Thank you for your email. We are glad that you were able to visit NLC! Many folks do come early and at different times during the course of a Sunday morning, and it’s possible that most of those people that you saw around 9:15am were people that were planning to attend the later 11:00am service. Also, because we do have a bookstore and café, we know that many folks like to meet with others before a particular service and this is when they have fellowship and are able to browse in the bookstore area or grab a bite to eat in the café. We certainly are hoping that they are also attending one of the morning services!!

    Again, thanks for your comments, and we pray that the Lord blesses you mightily. Please visit again!

    New Life Church Info.