Wal*Mart, Grocery Store, Worship Center

April 20, 2009

I detest shopping at Wal*Mart.

It’s not that I have any beef with the company. I just dislike having to be inside one of their stores. I feel like a piece of processed cheese when I’m done. I got spoiled by living in the city for a couple of years, several inconvenient miles away from the nearest Wal*Mart. I was gradually ‘detoxed’ from my need to go to that store. That sounded funny as I wrote it. I got spoiled by living far away from a Wal*Mart.

It was different in our small college town, where the only thing to do was go to Wal*Mart. It was a big deal when they did a trial 24 hour schedule. A bunch of us purposefully saved our shopping needs for midnight, to prove to them they needed to keep the store open all the time. I needs my animal crackers and cans of frosting right now! I don’t care if it’s 3 am! And now a bunch of people are working the graveyard shift at a small town store, years after I left that place. I like to think I helped them out, and that makes me feel good.

But now I hate Wal*Mart. Our local store is particularly bad. It’s just poorly laid out to try to get in and out of. It’s on a busy corner, the parking lot is too small, the store is a mess, and I usually cannot find what I need if it is an emergency. That makes me sound like an old man: ‘This gat dang store is too gat dang big! I can’t find any gat dang thing I need!’

Plus, have you ever noticed how people behave in Wal*Mart? It is the bottom of the barrel of family outings. People don’t bother to bathe or dress in something other than sweatpants. They act like rabid heynas at the $5 DVD bin. People definately are not on their ‘best behavior’ in this theater of uncensored human nature. Why bother? It’s Wal*Mart. I treat it the same way you probably do.

You may have noticed that I’m being sure to call it Wal*Mart, and not Wal-Mart. That’s an important distinction. Wal-Mart evolved into a Wal*Mart: a small town open all the time that can provide you with every concievable need at a reasonable price. They added the word SuperCenter to the Wal*Mart. It’s no longer merely a ‘store,’ it’s a ‘Center,’ a SuperCenter. I tease my friend because he lives near the last Wal-Mart left in America. It just says something about your neighborhood when even Wal-Mart doesn’t care anymore.

It’s probably my feelings about my local Wal*Mart SuperCenter which have contributed to the thoughts I have when I pass by a local “Worship Center.” That just means ‘Church,’ but it’s not just a church, it’s so much more! It’s a Worship Center!

Maybe you go to a Worship Center and find it all very appealing and fulfilling. That’s fine, I’m not trying to make you feel bad about your church, er ‘Worship Center.’ My impression of these places by and large is this:

Worship Centers are very large places, like Wal*Mart.
Worhsip Centers have many many ministries to meet everyone’s needs, like Wal*Mart.
Worship Centers are a pain to get in and out of, like Wal*Mart.

Calling your church something other than ‘church’ is very popular. Like calling a church building a facility, or a campus. or the sanctuary an auditorium, or Sunday School somthing like a life impact group. I went to a church for a year that had actually thought of an awesomely cool and confusing name for bulletins. They called them kairos. Don’t ask me how they came up with that or what it means. Anything to make it sound like something other than church, please!

And yeah, we named our church Levi’s House, because it’s a conversation piece. No hint of ‘church’ at all in the name. I’ll tell you about it if you ask nicely. So I’m guilty too. But we didn’t call it Levi’s*Super*24 hour*Worship*Center*North Campus.

It’s not that Worship Centers are inherently bad as churches. You’ll see of my three impressions above, only one of those is a definately bad thing! My thought here is that ‘church,’ which used to be the centerpiece of Sunday, is starting to sound more like one item on a crowded weekend list of things to do.

Wal*Mart, Grocery Store, Worship Center.
Check. Check. And Check. Got everything on my list done! Let’s go to Jamba Juice.

Furthermore, a huge Worship Center on the street corner gives off the same vibe to all us small church pastors as a Wal*Mart gives to that struggling ‘Mom and Pop’ store.

Wal*Mart: ‘Well well, if it isn’t a small local retail store! I didn’t see you there. How’s business working out for you?’

Worship Center: ‘And look at this, why it’s a small local ‘Church!’ You still call it that? That’s quaint; it goes with your adorable little steeple and stained glass windows. But where is your parking garage? Oh, your congregation is only in the double digits. That’s cute. Don’t mind me, I’m just looking around. I’m new in town.’

Wal*Mart: ‘Hey, Worship Center, this ‘Church’ doesn’t even have a McDonald’s on his campus! Reminds me of that little family owned Hardware Store I met last Christmas. Does he expect people to bring their own food or something?’

Worship Center: ‘You call it what? A potluck? Hmmm…I guess I just believe in providing something for people, rather than asking them to do all the work for themselves. Like this new granite ball fountain I just got last month. All the biggest corporate offices are getting one. Visitors are absolutely enthralled and enchanted by it!’

Wal*Mart: ‘That’s pretty sweet. I’m selling a mini version of those for $7.99.’

Is ‘church’ changing from a sacred place and time to an ordinary place and time? As it goes from ‘Church’ to ‘Worship*Super*Center,’ will people start to treat ‘church’ differently? If we make it sound like all the other places people go on a weekend, will they eventually start to treat it that way, like just another stop between Wal*Mart and the Grocery Store?

Or are churches better off trying to be more appealing by dropping ‘church’ from the name?