I just got invited to church.
On August 2, I counted down some of the biggest gimmicks in church history, designed to get visitors in the seats. You can check it out here, if you missed it. Included in the list were fire engine baptisms, church fight clubs, and Nashville’s Cornerstone Church (self described as “Nashville’s most ‘dynamic’ church,”) putting on a three day rodeo, fireworks, and patriotic music festival.
From the fifty or so comments and Twitter shares, it seemed a lot of people found the list to be entertaining. Then, something happened, a first here at The Church of No People. A couple of days ago, I recieved one last straggling comment on the list, from someone who actually attends Cornerstone, Nashville’s most dynamic church. Here’s what he had to say:
“[…] Isn’t the bottom line about salvations? In the end, if a church has a budget to spend to reach people who may not be reached otherwise, and just one of those people commits to Christ, isn’t that really the most important thing?
I understand frustration, but when a church has 200 or so people sign commitment cards of salvation or rededication then an event is worth all it costs. FYI, Billy Graham, when asked about all he had led to Christ, said they had signed cards. We never really know how many have a life changing moment if they live in other communities and attend other churches.
I cannot speak for other churches, but I personally attend Nashville’s most dynamic church and see lives changed on a daily basis […] Why don’t you try us out, Sat. 14th at 5:00 pm then come to the Christian Education class after church called God Seekers?”
At first, I first thought I might respond in a somewhat sarcastic way to the comment. For example, I might point out that I’m in Kansas City, not Nashville, so that’s kind of a drive. Or I might point out that I’m a pastor, not a “God seeker,” but that didn’t sound right.
The comment was made by what you can see is a nice guy who loves his church, and I’m not here to rip on him. In fact, looking at the church’s website, I can tell they do a lot of good things, so I’m not even here to rip on the church. But I am here to call it like I see it, and this comment brings up a couple of points I’ve got to talk about.
Three Reasons Matt Politely Declines Your Invitation to Church
If just one of those people gets saved, wasn’t it worth it?
Short answer: I don’t think so. That feels wrong even writing that, but I get the feeling it’s true. We’ve become so obsessed with growth, and we’re willing to grow our churches at all costs, we’re willing to stay “relevant” at all costs. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to grow. But we’re so afraid that people won’t like Jesus, that we’re willing to make him into a sideshow. Growth by any means necessary just isn’t growth. Is it just me, or is American Christianity looking less and less like a religion?
If you have something you really really want, and you feel you have good intentions, you can make the same argument that “it was worth it.” Hey, my church is going to break a world record by dropping a hundred thousand baloney sandwiches into Lake Michigan from a military aircraft bomber. What? That doesn’t make any sense? You think that’s a waste of baloney? Doesn’t matter because just one person got saved.
The irony of this whole thing is we can make ourselves out to be really cool martyrs for the cause. We pour all kinds of money into huge events, and why? Just so one person will get saved. Wow, that makes us look amazingly unselfish.
What does “Dynamic” mean?
Churches like to invent lots of words to describe themselves in appealing, delicious ways. Cornerstone’s rodeo promo called it “Nashville’s most dynamic church.”
What does “dynamic” mean? I think I know.
When you go to the store, you have lots of choices. Here’s the cheap ice cream. Hmm…but I feel like spoiling myself. There’s some “premium” ice cream for three bucks more. That’s good. Oooh, this one is “new and improved.” I’m getting that one.
The problem is, “premium” and “new and improved” don’t mean anything. They’re just made up marketing dreck. Words like “low fat” or “light” have to mean something by government standards. But not “premium.” “Premium” is a word with no technical meaning. And it’s the same with “dynamic,” and every other word churches slap on their labels to get visitors excited.
Besides that, for many churches it’s not enough to be a “dynamic” church. They have to be the most dynamic church. Which of course implies that, sure, any other church will do…if you’re cool with a totally un-dynamic, un-radical, cheap-o crap church. It’s kind of a passive aggressive criticism of every other church. So go ahead and flash your made up words, but don’t imply that my church is any less splendiferous just because yours is totally scrumptrulescent.
We never really know the effects of what we do…
I think this was the guy’s point in the second paragraph. We can never know how much impact we have.
That of course, is the rub. How can anyone say something is worth the cost when we really don’t know the benefits? Why don’t we spend our efforts on something we do know the benefits of? Besides that, I don’t think most churches really count the total cost of what they do.
It’s not just money that’s spent on advertising and gimmicks, but opportunities. When a church spends thousands of dollars to get a few Americans to sign cards, they also spend the opportunity to send that money to people in Africa who live in fear of evil spirits and don’t have clean water. I’m not saying we should send all of our money to Africa while we live in grass huts, but we need to count the real cost before we say “it’s all worth it.” I wonder if those Africans would say they don’t need water, because it’s worth it to see one more American feel good about himself in church.
What do you say? Am I way off, or has our obsession with growth made us lose our way?