Thursday, August 19, 2010

#182 Swank church buildings

American evangelicals enjoy posting pictures of their swanky church buildings online. These evangelical churches typically expend great effort and spare little expense to make their worship and gathering facilities intriguing and relevant.

As megachurches build out, they're under greater culturally-imposed pressure to make each of their satellites a little hipper and that much more relevant than the last. They've gotta reach people, you know? Who wants to visit a boring-looking church with lame fonts and hymnals? The ancient church's mission is relegated to the backburner. They are now primarily seeker-friendly.

These churches are very proud of themselves when they've completed a remodel. For hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of dollars, wouldn't you be? They're excited to get the pictures on Facebook and in the paper to show off the building, which is always charming and dreamy. It looks happily air-conditioned and they've got snacks! And it probably still smells like drywall. I want to visit it. I bet I'd feel like no terrorist could get me there.

In order for a Christian church to spend that kind of money on this type of thing some substantial cognitive dissonance must be in effect. Ghettos and homelessness are in the same communities as each revamped state-of-the-art church building. In the south, the poor and homeless tend to stay safely away from the middle and upper classes which makes them easier not to think about. On the coasts, poverty and homelessness are usually on the same block as awesome new church buildings that have security systems and espresso in the lobby. In either case, it's super easy to stay away from the poor and needy or just step over them on your way to church. Same goes double for the rest of the week. Just like Jesus said to do. Glory to God!

This post originally appeared on Beliefnet. The original post and comment thread are here.


Ed Taylor said...

Now, if they are not "swanky" are you okay with them being "relevant?" Because, in my mind, and in the mind of most of my pastor friends, that does not necessarily require cognitive dissonance. We are actually trying to be creative and interesting not as an affectation but as a way to use our gifts and creativity to glorify God, while trying to figure out how to help the poor - not step over them.

Pat Pope said...

" I bet I'd feel like no terrorist could get me there."

That comment really hit home with me as at my last church I naively shared with my Sunday school class that a Muslim co-worker asked if he could come to church with me sometime. He and I had been having discussions on faith which prompted him asking if he could come to my church. When I shared that with my class, without hesitation a woman said, "As long as he doesn't bring a gun!" With that, the whole class erupted into laughter and they were off and running on a conversation about profiling. I felt as though I had been punched in the stomach. After a few minutes, I stopped the conversation and got the class started, but that remark revealed a lot to me about the church. The woman who made the remark did apologize as she could see my reaction, but nevertheless, those words have stuck with me. By the way, this was at a suburban church that had a building campaign which included the addition of a cafe and an activity center with state of the art sound system that was used for worship, high school basketball games, concerts, etc.

jasdye said...

Pat, I always wish I didn't believe your stories. Cuz I don't want to believe they're true - even though I've witnessed (and probably been involved in) several myself.

Ed Taylor said...

We had a guy do a class on comparative religions, which was informative, but it was so condescending I couldn't keep going. I tried to steer it away from judgmental comments and chuckles at others' expense, but the class was just too large, and this was just the prevailing attitude.

It broke my heart a little, because I really liked this guy, but all I could think of is what if I had brought a Hindu or a Mormon to church today? How would that have gone over?

howard said...

I go to a mega church and I continue to find the stale criticism of this site woefully ignorant of the truth of modern evangelicalism. My church spends thousands of volunteer hours, millions of dollars and a great deal of time and prayer for the poor in our community. In my county if you are in the foster care system you have met with someone from my church.

Jen said...

I was trying to figure out why your comment made me uncomfortable, Howard, and I think I have.

Aside from my belief that targeting children is wrong, I think it's that I chill at any organization that helps prop up a system as broken and corrupt as child protective services.

I think this quote from Bill Moyers helps to sum it up: "Charity is commendable; everyone should be charitable. But justice aims to create a social order in which, if individuals choose not to be charitable, people still don’t go hungry, unschooled, or sick without care. Charity depends on the vicissitudes of whim and personal wealth; justice depends on commitment instead of circumstance. Faith-based charity provides crumbs from the table; faith-based justice offers a place at the table."

Anonymous said...

I've had a huge problem with mega churches. Difficulty with relationship is one, the pastor is not that accessible, it is hard to make friends in such a large place with multiple services, too much emphasis on growth-numbers, pandering for money. When the church is rallying to buy a new multi media system for 400k- especially at a time when so many are faced with unemployment and foreclosure- I find that distasteful.

Here is a message to the purpose driven, multi media, corporate like churches... You are not relevant. You have destroyed the heart of the church family experience where the pastor knew everyone and had time to come for a Sunday dinner, where people noticed if you missed a Sunday and called or at least remarked on it e next week. Now it is all glitz and sheen. So in effect the mega churches are the equivalent of Walmart and McDonald's.

I read a book review on a book discussing bringing Christians back and how the younger generations are falling away. The church has been trying hard to keep prople in the church with flashy multi media, rock and pop worship services, play land like nurseries, trendy stuff for the teens, artificial support groups known as home groups meant to stand in as the church comminity...etc. what is missing is the sense of family and community, there is an emptiness to mass produced entertainment style religion. That is why people leave, they feel the void. All the marketing strategies in the world can not compete with good old fashioned human connectedness. Society in many ways is disconnected and people feel lonely even in their mass produced homes in master planned communities with carefully chosen big box stores and franchise cafes. They go to the local church seeking relationship, purpose, genuine community and get handed more mass produced over marketed shiny commercialized entertainment. That is why people leave, seeking eastern religions or other forms of worship, they don't find God in these warehouses of Christendom. All the marketing strategists in the world can dream up all the strategies to make someone stay but they can not market and package God's spirit.

"vanity of vanities, all is vanity."

Erica M

Ellie said...

I agree with many of your posts but this is one that bothers me. I agree that sometimes too much money goes into swanky new church buildings. I went to a megachurch a few times and was disgusted by the amount of money that was used on completely useless things. But hating on a church for designing a nice-looking building is kind of dumb. People bitch about fancy church buildings and they bitch about ugly, ghetto church buildings and they bitch about traditional church buildings. Who cares? It's a building. It's what the church does that matters.

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Anonymous said...

"People bitch about fancy church buildings and they bitch about ugly, ghetto church buildings and they bitch about traditional church buildings. Who cares? It's a building. It's what the church does that matters."

If I understand correctly from Ellie's comment, what the *church* does is allow its members to sling around vaguely misogynistic language and middle-class-constructed projections of their idea of being in the trenches ("ugly, ghetto church buildings..."? really?) in the name of their holy lord. How relevant. How edgy.

This whole website summarizes so perfectly all the reasons why the church provides me with nothing more than a bad (often silly) taste in my mouth at best, and a deep-seeded disgust at worst. The website as a whole is hilarious and I've been thoroughly entertained reading the posts. Comments like Ellie's just reaffirm my growing suspicions that the purpose of Christianity is not to share love with non-Christians, but to provide a haven for fellow Good Christians to complain and empathize about the perils of dealing with the views of the Rest of Us.

Marina One Residences said...

Well, it even more look like a condo rather than a church. Just like here in singapore. but for me they don't just need to go for luxury things to justify their beliefs in life. Simplicity is always the key to be appreciated by people.