Jesus Wants A Refund

Megachurch gives God credit for growth.

 God asks for cash back.

(If I were the editor of a satirical newspaper about church, this would be a headline).

 I am going to make a statement that I am so sure of, I will bet you $10,000 (Mitt Romney will cover for me) I am right: every evangelical church that has experienced significant numerical growth claims God brought about that growth.

Those sorts of claims make me suspicious, especially when they are explained as supernatural intervention from God.

If church growth is in fact brought about by God, then why do so many large evangelical churches typically have the following in common?

  • Huge debt, often in the millions of dollars. Jesus has to “finance” his miracle? Side note: Have you ever seen a church borrow money to feed the hungry or cloth the naked?
  • A spectacular worship band, staffed by paid professionals.
  • Notice the sound system, the graphics and the video.
  • A charismatic leader/speaker.
  • Great child care with a strong emphasis on not having children in the service. Because they say, “We want to maintain a distraction-free experience.”
  • The audience will be mostly white, middle-class, and apparently in a good mood. (My experience is with the megachurch in metropolitan America.)

I am sure I have left out tons of similarities. Feel free to help me fill in the blanks.

A better way to determine if God really did act in a supernatural way would be a 3-month test in which:

  • The musicians were really bad–sweet, sincere Jesus lovers but tone-deaf, every one. (Every megachurch I know of has both a large, paid, professional staff of musicians, and a church filled with people who would love to get to help lead worship, but the bar for participation is too high.)
  • A sign-up sheet went around, and whoever wanted to teach or facilitate the service was allowed to do so.

Can a church both grow and embrace the participation of those who are not yet polished and professional? What would the growth rate be if a church was influenced and led by the poor or marginalized? If not, is growth really miraculous, or is something else at work?

If you borrow the money and pay the performers, is it God or American Idol?

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18 Responses to Jesus Wants A Refund

  1. Well, given that most, if not all, megachurches have 501c3 status, and therefore, in reality, government institutions, they should just call up ole’ Benny at the Fed and just ask him to print up some monopoly money to pay off those state of the art buildings. (Never mind the high interest passed on to the taxpayer). Hey, worse case scenario: if the economy continues to tank and the debts can’t be paid, then perhaps these buildings can be used as “holding cells” for all those “Moozlim Boogiemen” out there, which Evangelicals also seem to despise more than the Devil himself. The “moneychangers” can do what they wish with “their” property. If the money is borrowed, it belongs to the bankers, not Jesus. The only person who can do miracles is Ben Bernanke. Sorry, hope this wasn’t too harsh. I can’t help but be sarcastic in the face of absurdity.

  2. karlw says:

    could think you don’t have high blood pressure, think you might blow an artery!
    sarcasm is sometimes the only language that will do

  3. Steve Tonkin says:

    The idea of spiritual revival has gotten lost somewhere in our worship so it’s easy to replace it with more “appealing” pursuits. It is probably partially due to our need to see results that can be quantified. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how we fulfill the Great Commission today and our reason for doing so. Anything short of “Doxology” puts focus on the wrong things and it’s easy to get caught up in the trappings of life rather than the purpose of faith.

  4. I heard a pastor say once, “We failed because we only saved one person and we only baptized three people.” I thought when did we get so caught up into numbers and buildings and facilities that the rate of our success is a barometer of pass or fail. This same pastor told us that we also failed because we didn’t reach out enough. When someone brought up how our own congregation had people hurting and maybe it was time to nurture our own for a bit the reply was, “It’s not about our own, it’s about reaching out!” I thought wow! Not a fun place to go if you are hurting. That would suck!! I loved in the Shack when MacKenzie and Jesus were talking about church and Mackenzie says, “but you created the church,” Jesus said, “No I didn’t. I created the people in it.” I don’t know, but I’m thinking Jesus might want that refund!!

    • karlw says:

      so beautiful! i have sympathy for your pastor, i will bet he would sit in a meeting with other “failures” and there would be at least one super star church, hitting it out of the park. shame is the itch, evangelism the scratch.people are targets, lost, without personality, need or stories.

  5. It is sad to see how much “the big church” appeals to the Christian middle class. There is a “big church” on I-70 (which shall remain nameless) with a big “FOR SALE” sign on it. The congregation split and could no longer afford the building. They now meet in a school. Every time I drive by, I think “God is for sale!” The church in America is a mess. Thanks for all you and Kathy do to bring the reality of life and loneliness and reality into your little body.

  6. Mark Tracy says:

    Careful about painting evangelicals—and large churches with too broad a brush. Most of the large churches I have attended have had a no dept policy. If the money wasn’t there, the project stayed in limbo or was dropped. I have no problem with high standards in determining who sings or preaches or teaches—but there are the times when I have heard a “bad” singer, who shares from the heart, turn a song into something of rare beauty. The underlying issue in all of this, though is who among us is worthy to be appointed Judge against such things? I find that when I begin to look outward with a critical spirit, I fail to see the great pillar of self-righteousness upon which I must stand for that task to be accomplished. But when I peer inward to my own failings I have to realize that in comparison to what I see there, the outer things are not so bad after all. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God . . .”

    • karlw says:

      i love the tension. you are right, who am i too judge any individual church. but i do have a perspective and new experience that long for in the church. i hope you can hang in with me, keeping pulling from perhaps a different direction but with perhaps a common goal. i will soon make a case in the blog for the power of mediocrity, that from my evaluation “excellence” has been a tool of oppression.
      plus, you got me on the self-righteousness- no doubt and a life long character defect. thanks for the reminder.

  7. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say about the power of mediocrity. Because I feel ever so very mediocre these days and it sits just fine with me until I start looking around at everyone else. Also, maybe a post about finding a faith community? It’s easy to church-shop the big churches, but how does one find a small, caring community?

    • karlw says:

      awesome thought on looking for a church! will do…
      mediocre compared to whom? is that not always the standard? you are amazing! but sometimes honest people have a disadvantage…

  8. kathyescobar says:

    i think it’s miraculous we are still here, 6 years later. we certainly couldn’t attribute it to anything except for God-at-work-in-the-midst-of-a-whole-bunch-of-beautiful-mediocrity-where-everyone-gets-to-play. it’s pretty awesome.

    • karlw says:

      hold on my dear co-pastor! how can you imply success? we own no building, we have not even had a stewardship campaign, not one of our sermons has gotten the virus (you know when everyone sees it on the tube thing) and pretty sure we have not had one expert come to find out our secret to staying small. oh how do we do it?
      just hum-drum, people finding hope and life, sobriety and friends, and hopefully Jesus out in the open
      thank God for our time so far…

      • sophiasavedbygrace says:

        Not that I am in any state to do it (or maybe that’s the perfect state to be in), but I tell my husband often that I hope for something like that refuge or to learn from you two to create something like it where we are. As I am deconstructing, no church seems like an option…but what you guys, and homepdx and the bridge do…that I could get with 🙂

      • karlw says:

        maybe all we need is to know we are not alone. you are not alone! because you are on a different path, does not mean you have lost your way.
        peace

  9. I have no wise words … but a whole lot of questions. I’ll skip the questions for now and just say this — After leaving the land of mega churches and living in, in this order: a half Islamic country, a fully Islamic country that allows Christianity to exist, and now an over-the-top fully Islamic country that allows … well … not much … I can say that I’ve learned that God is calling us to three things: relationship, relationship, relationship. That can happen within an institution or without an institution. But if it ain’t happnin’ it ain’t Life.

    • karlw says:

      sharon, that is true! when i see someone like you, it makes me think how often i am committed the theory of Christ, but not always the whole thing. thanks for your help and perspective.

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