I’d like to coin a new term.
Last week, I went to the Catalyst conference for the third time. And while I’m always inspired and challenged, I’m always a little bit uneasy. Catalyst is just so huge.
I go there to hear from people who are way more experienced and accomplished than I am. And I’m not trying to be the one lame guy who’s gotta be negative about everything. But the halls of the arena are filled to the brim with Christian entrepreneurs, and despite all the positivity and free Chik-Fil-A, I wondered what Jesus would’ve said about it…or would he just let his whip do the talking?
Not like a church that’s large. I mean like “Big Oil,” capital ‘B,’ capital ‘C’ – Big Church, a bloated corporate enterprise that people protest and picket, but in the end, they can’t live without it. Big churches aren’t necessarily a part of Big Church.
I’ve got lots of examples of “Big Church.” Let me name a few for you.
Last week, I talked about Ministries that aren’t ministries at all, but empires. The example that comes to my mind today is the Crystal Cathedral. It’s a fat, bloated corporation that churns out all kinds of commercial Christian crap. Literally, every week, it’s some new precious piece of junk that you can buy to support their television ministry. It’s a massive machine that seems too big to fail.
Oh, and wouldn’t you know, this example of Big Church even needs a massive bailout! The Cathedral is broke, after years of the church being too damn big for the faithful to support, much less have any leftover money for actual ministry. Pleas to sympathetic Christians to help the corporation…er, church pay off its debt fell short. It raised less than $5000 of the necessary $50 million. Looks like tithers as well as tax payers are sick of bailouts.
And Now a Message from Our Messiah
If you haven’t noticed, our culture is full of advertisements. And if you haven’t noticed, I envy you.
And it seems like Big Church thinks the only way to get Jesus’ message out to a culture that is saturated with ads and gimmicks is…ads and gimmicks. In the old days, God didn’t have to work so hard to get people to notice Him. A dusty Bible, a couple of gospel songs, and bam! God had a tent revival. But with the advent of modern entertainment, God has fallen behind. We practically have to parade poor Jesus around like a circus chimp to get anyone to notice anymore.
The problem with advertising is that it has diminishing returns. People learn to tune out ads. We insulate ourselves from them so we don’t go crazy and fill our ear holes with cheese just to shut out the noise.
And Big Church just does what the world does, but in a crappier way. Big Church tries to shout over all the noise, and come up with flashier gimmickry. People say it’s all the cost and effort is worth it if just one person comes to faith in Christ.
I wonder if the hundreds of African villages that could’ve been fed with Big Church’s annual advertising budget would agree that the money spent was worth it, so one more American can come to Big Church and feel good about himself for an hour a week.
What if we tried doing what the Bible said, and let our actions speak louder than our advertisements?
Jesus Is Enough…But More Is Better
And yes, pastors are not immune to advertising. Why do you think they keep using it? Someone advertised to them.
Christian faith is an industry, and nowhere is that more apparent than Catalyst. It’s a brilliant setup, really. People go to hear the speakers, and are challenged and encouraged. But at the same time, you really can’t help but feel kind of crappy about yourself in the presence of all this face-melting awesomeness. Everyone on the stage is bigger, better, and more successful than you, and they probably smell better too.
But wait! Just outside is a myriad of enterprising Christians who can help “unleash” your potential and make you the Chuck Norris of Christianity. All you have to do is buy this book, that product, and these programs.
I cannot possibly know how much money is exchanged during Catalyst’s 48 hours.
But I got out having kept every dollar I brought with me…
…Besides, I can always get that book I need on Amazon.
What do you think? Can we officially define “Big Church?” What else do you think is an example of Big Church at work? Or is all the Christian industry a sign of good things?