Over the past few years, the church has gone through a major transition. What started as an anomaly quickly became that which was strived for. Everyone wanted to be Saddleback or Willow Creek. Services shifted from being focused primarily on the worship of God and proclamation of the Scriptures to an approach catered to the seeker or a particular demographic or age group. Churches exploded as a result.
Groups meeting in homes, following the model, grew into behemoths with campuses the size of malls or hospitals. Churches that were already the size of malls or hospitals bought stadiums, and even that can’t contain the masses. Multiple services at multiple times during the day and week were needed.
State-of-the-art sound and video equipment and lighting only outdone by rock supergroups dominated the senses. Movie theater sized plasma or projection screens made it easy for those in the multiple balconies to see everything down to the pastor’s skin imperfections as if they were on the front rows.
In a newer development, churches moved from one giant campus housing all the parishoners to multiple huge campuses meeting at the same time watching the same message broadcast via satellite from the motherchurch.
And all of these things were done in the name of being relevant. Because, for whatever reason the demographers have come up with, this is the kind of experience that people were looking for.
Then recession hit.
People started losing their jobs. Then their homes. People who once had six figure salaries were forced to settle for “survival jobs” just to keep their heads above water.
Now I’m beginning to wonder if maybe what was relevant at the beginning of 2008 has ceased to be so in 2009.
While members of a church’s congregation are losing everything, does the church have the right to take what God has blessed them with to fill its own wants? Giant screens and perfect sound and larger buildings are all well and good, and I would say even have their place in worship, but not until the Church’s needs are met.
The first Christians had an interesting way of doing things.
All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. (Acts 2:44-45 TNIV)
In a day when people are being forced to foreclose on their homes, I think it would better benefit the Body if we were to follow this example. I’m not suggesting that we sell off our huge buildings and do away with the whole megachurch thing, but rather that we strip things down and get rid of the stuff that we don’t need. Whether this be programs or equipment or whatever the case may be, for the church to devote tens of thousands of dollars to programs and things is simply bad stewardship.
But the early church did more.
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. (Acts 2:46a TNIV)
Our multiple service idea is right in line with what the early church did. But our services need to be retooled. Talking about prosperity and sex are not necessarily messages that will resonate with…well…anyone in a recession society. What we need to speak truth about is simple living, money managment, and good stewardship of our resources. I am willing to bet that the Gospel is perfectly suited to this context.
They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts (Acts 2:46b TNIV)
The last thing we need to return to is providing for each other on an individual basis. Well…this is not so much something we need to return to but rather something we need to speak about and encourage more often. And we need to be willing to open our own doors when true opportunities present themselves.
If we as the church want to remain relevant to the surrounding culture, then it is imperative that we take the changes in our cultural context into consideration. Foreclosures, debt, and joblessness are now our context. How are we going to respond?