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?