Tell me if I’m wrong, but I’ve sensed a growing discontent in the whole church scene. I can’t really pinpoint what it is, but something seems to be amiss. For regular churchgoers, consuming church is a craving, perhaps even a necessity to be taken in every week. There is solitude in the building, calm in the pew/chair, trust in the programs and events, and also a chance to have a brief encounter God.
But for others, all of this seems tiresome, uninteresting, potentially confusing, dare I say fake, and most definitely boring. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not proposing a solution that includes more flash and dash so boredom does not race through the pew, far from it. But if our regimented system of church has become as desirable as a slow dance in an old folks home shouldn’t we at least ask the question: are we doing the right things?
(The picture above doesn't really make sense because the biggest church in Calgary tends ot be only a couple of thousands tops, so think mega-church = at least 1000 on any given Sunday. The joke probably holds true for the vast majority of churches though.)
So what are the right things?
Perhaps I shouldn’t use such definitive language as ‘right things’ implies there are ‘wrong things’ and I certainly don’t suppose that all of how we do church in Calgary is ‘wrong’. However, what I do know for certain is that churches tend to be very reactionary to their culture. Those who are in a model that seeks to be ‘cutting edge’ and ‘hip’ usually succeed as well as cool parents in the eyes of cranky teens.
What I do know for certain is this: typically churches are doing a good job translating the gospel messages to a person who knows nothing about it. Solution? In comes the consumer church I mentioned earlier.
In the 90’s the ‘seeker sensitive’ model of church emerged. Basically, build a building, put in some nice seats, put on a show, and they will come. Pretty good given that Canadian culture is/was bent to favour quietly taking part in an individual and anonymous spiritual experience. Get in, enjoy, get out, and hopefully return.
Today, this model is slowly losing its capability to do exactly what it’s designed for: attract new consumers (I mean visitors).
This past week I visited another church of the ‘seeker sensitive’ or consumer variety, which, be it high church (Anglican, Lutheran, United, Catholic) or low church (Brethren, Baptist, Efree, AGC, C&MA), all look the same.
Here’s how my morning went:
I showed up in an indifferent mood, not really hot for God nor cold. Greeting me at the door were the kind ushers, I proceeded to get my free coffee compliments of the church because after all, my comfort is paramount to keep me coming back. After my coffee off to the ‘sanctuary’ which could be a sacred space for you, perhaps not, perhaps something more like a gym or community hall. Got my bulletin/liturgy and found a nice cushioned chair not too close but not too far from the front.
The music was typical, I stood and listened to the performance, the folks singing had the same dull enthusiasm, the congregation even duller. In between I heard some ‘announcements’, shook some hands of people I’ll never get to know, and awkwardly passed the basket of money.
After I sat down it was time for the big event, the sermon. So I sat through the sermon, noted some folks taking notes, some taking note of the floor. I caught applications here and there, some applicable to my life, some cliches, some relevant Bible verses. I was neither impressed nor offended but probably felt a bit better on how I could adjust my life to the perspective of this church community.
After the sermon, some prayer, maybe another song, and then it was done. Back outside to my car and homeward I went. I suppose I could have stuck around and stood around trying to find someone to talk to, but that’s pretty socially awkward.
I have this sense that if the pastor of this church had flagged me down and asked me how service went I would give this answer:
“Well you know what, if I thought all Sunday church was a time to just sit and listen then it was good. This church seems to be designed so I can comfortably show up every Sunday morning to figure out how I as an individual can connect with God. Being greeted by a smiling face and getting a free cup of coffee was the extent of my interaction with other people, but it was nice, even the music was a good listen.
Sermon was good, from the word–something about direction? But overall, yea, I thought it was quite nice, thank you for another typical good service, I’ll be back next week to consume another.”
Ok maybe I wouldn’t say something like that. But does it seem like there should be more to this whole church scene?
If all we can do as a church is produce a consumable product once a week (with some other programs on weekdays for a nice mix) that strives to improve one thing: retention of recruits, then we are totally missing our mandate as a community of God.
If your church is too big and looks more like a production of a very low budget concert and self-help routine then good glory find something else.
But what is that something else? Is there something out there that I can fit into? Something out there that speaks my language? Something out there that allows me to participate in the worship of God beyond just singing songs too far out of my range? Anybody? Somebody?
If you know of a church that speaks a different language then do post back, I’m interested to check you out.
However, I’m not convinced there are many churches in Calgary that extend beyond a consumer mentality. I think some are starting to see that the more they look like a consumption based organization, the less effective they become. But still, the overwhelming majority are caught in a dwindling cycle of comfort church.
Or maybe it’s just me.