As someone who has spent a good deal of time working in Christian churches, I can tell you that the Achilles heal of most congregations is the ever present pressure to get more butts into the pews. The drive for large numbers has changed the message and the method of most churches. Instead of preaching Jesus’ radical call to sacrificial discipleship, most “ministers” concentrate on putting on entertaining (and easy to swallow – no life changing demands, please) show that will keep people coming back for more. Sharon Tubbs writes about this trend in the St. Petersburg Times (thanks to getreligion for the link).
At Without Walls, children worship in their own sanctuary, called the “Faith Fortress.” Ministers dress in costume as members of the “Bible Squad” to deliver the messages.
In the adult sanctuary, prerecorded announcements are broadcast on big screens like the evening news. Charisse Strawberry (wife of former baseball star Darryl) acts as the anchorwoman, articulating the week’s upcoming events. An outline of White’s sermon appears on a PowerPoint display as he speaks. Studies show that people typically have a four-minute attention span before they need a “commercial” or a new idea, so he tailors his messages to hit points quickly and move on.
He suggests that every pastor go to a secular concert to get tips on lighting and format.
“I don’t think the church competes with what the world is doing. I just think (some ministers) say, “It’s ministry, so if they come, they come.’ And that’s why a lot of churches are empty.”
The goal is to grow, to have an impact on the Tampa Bay area, he said. “The city is our church.”
So is this ministry or marketing?
“I believe everyone needs to believe in their product,” White said. “Well, what is my product? My product is Jesus.”
Selling Jesus as a product rather than preaching Him as the King of the Universe and redeemer of mankind results in many problems, a major of which is that it does not produce actual followers of Christ. Rather, it produces fans of Christianity, or at least fans of the brand of consumer religion that a particular church markets.
There was a time in Jesus ministry that he attracted large crowds. They came for the miracles and free food. However, Jesus didn’t allow that trend to continue. He rebuked them for coming to him with the wrong motives and when they heard the hard teaching of his full message, most of them left (John 6:25-66.) Churches should take a lesson from their supposed leader.