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Megachurchification

The Dallas Morning News‘s architecture critic reviews [1]the new $130 million facility that the venerable First Baptist Church — once known jokingly as the “Baptist Vatican” for its influence on the Southern Baptist Convention — has opened downtown. He calls the overall structure an example of “efficient and conscientious banality.” Excerpts:

The centerpiece sanctuary, identifiable from the street by its crown of pearlescent maroon steel, is a case in point. It is, effectively, an enormous television studio — it seats 3,000 — from which Jeffress can broadcast his weekly sermons, accompanied by a large chorus and a rock-infused orchestra. A bright, artificially illuminated room accented in marine blue, it makes no claims on the imagination. As visual drama, it pales in comparison to Philip Johnson’s Crystal Cathedral, the limpid glass pavilion in suburban Los Angeles that is the Chartres of televangelism.

It is no accident that television, the secular religion to which we devote so many of our waking hours, assumes an outsize presence in the space of the church. The screen is the principal messaging system of First Baptist, and it is the defining feature of its sanctuary: a 150-foot-wide stadium-style video board wraps the full length of the proscenium. The operation of its computerized projection system requires 35 volunteers sequestered behind banks of monitors in a darkened control room that could easily double as a set for a sci-fi thriller.

Sunday services begin with a bit of technological wizardry emanating from that studio: a rousing video sequence indebted to the opening credits of TV’s Dallas. Backed by a propulsive score, an aerial camera swoops around the city’s gleaming skyline before homing in and zooming down on the new First Baptist, effectively establishing its presence within the urban fabric. “The goal is to welcome the city of Dallas to worship with us,” Grable said.

This is not my tradition, and I don’t relate to it in the slightest, but I don’t see that this renovation (or, if you prefer, wreckovation) is any different from what any other megachurch is doing these days. Tell me, though, is your reaction:

a) Whatever brings people closer to God is fine; the church has to speak to its time and place, and like it or not, this does;

b) Are you kidding? This vulgar razzle-dazzle is what Baptist worship has come to? What about the simplicity we were raised with?;

c) American Protestantism is making the shift from print culture — which gave rise to the Reformation — to a postmodern form of the visual culture that preceded the Reformation. It may look tasteless and banal compared to the aesthetic glories of historic European cathedrals, but this is the 21st-century Protestant version of the “smells and bells” that liturgical and sacramental Christians have always insisted on;

d) [Fill in the blank.]

The reviewer, Mark Framster, apparently lets his political commitments get the best of his aesthetic judgment in this unfortunate passage:

With its redesigned complex, First Baptist consciously insinuates its private space into the public space of the city, mirroring Jeffress’ evident mission to promote the role of faith in the public realm and collapse barriers between church and state.

This is achieved with the opening of a pedestrian channel that extends Patterson Street through the complex, connecting North Ervay with St. Paul. Anyone not paying strict attention might presume that this space belongs to the public. But in fact it is the privately policed property of the church, which subtly proselytizes all who pass through, confronting them with a massive granite fountain, conical in form, surmounted by a cross.

The fountain’s dancing waters are liable to accidentally baptize anyone near it when the wind blows.

Oh, come on. Is Framster really worried that some Baptist voodoo might get worked on pedestrians when they walk unawares through church property, and steal their souls? That’s princess-and-the-pea-level pettiness. But he’s right about this:

The Vegas-style score of hymns to which those waters are choreographed is audible from well beyond the church’s property lines. Whether one finds that music schlocky or inspiring is a matter of taste, but there is no reason it should be imposed on the public several blocks away, far beyond the church’s property.

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47 Comments To "Megachurchification"

#1 Comment By Darth Thulhu On July 10, 2013 @ 6:30 am

[d]: This is further evidence, as if any were needed, of the so-called Prosperity Gospel’s complete inversion and corruption of the message of Christ.

Catholic and Orthodox strains of Christianity at least grapple with the dichotomy between divine wealth and material poverty. The megachurches instead choose to directly embody the satanic lie that material wealth is the signifier of true salvation, and tirelessly preach the positivist heresy that God will visibly reward the heaven-bound with ostentatious wealth in this world as a proof of holiness.

#2 Comment By Dan Davis On July 10, 2013 @ 6:36 am

At least when I was a kid going to church (First Baptist), it was merely boring. Now it’s a nightmarish descent into idiocracy.

#3 Comment By Mike On July 10, 2013 @ 6:48 am

The mega infatuation w visual is not, I believe, harkening back to premodern worship, but a further thinning out of the senses; ie not full-robed visual, but basically conflating experience of he world with a jpeg file.

#4 Comment By Alisha On July 10, 2013 @ 7:22 am

D. Ewww.

#5 Comment By Neildsmith On July 10, 2013 @ 7:40 am

If I were a megachurchgoer, I would have been chastened by this event:

MONROE, OHIO — Monroe fire officials set damage at $700,000 after lightning struck and burned down a 62-foot-high Jesus Christ statue and an adjacent amphitheater at Solid Rock Church late Monday.

[2]

I retain a connection to Catholicism (tenuous at best) due to the music, ritual, and, yes – pageantry of it all. Everyone likes different things.

#6 Comment By matt On July 10, 2013 @ 7:53 am

“The fountain’s dancing waters are liable to accidentally baptize anyone near it when the wind blows.”

Pretty sure that’s a joke.

#7 Comment By Turmarion On July 10, 2013 @ 8:04 am

I’d take b, mostly.

[T]his is the 21st-century Protestant version of the “smells and bells” that liturgical and sacramental Christians have always insisted on….

I think there’s a lot of truth in that, but I’d make two points. One, the problem is that a lot of Evangelicals don’t get that it is sacramental and liturgical. They’ll still criticize Catholic or Orthodox sacramentalism without realizing that they’re doing the same thing, just in a different idiom.

Two is that there is a disanalogy to ancient practice. The ancients made use of the technology available to them, but they always drew a line between the sacred and the profane. There are detailed discussions in antiquity (even in pre-Christian religion) as to what musical modes are appropriate for the sacred, as opposed to the secular. Even as late as the 18th Century, Mozart was criticized on the grounds that his Mass settings sounded too much like Italian operas.

In short, there would have been no ancient or even early modern equivalent of CCM (contemporary Christian music). Inculturation is one thing, but trying to co-opt pop culture is a losing strategy in the long run. As another blogger I read sometimes points out, trying to write a hymn or praise music to hard rock is getting the semiotics confused.

#8 Comment By Pinkjohn On July 10, 2013 @ 8:09 am

When I was starting to get active in the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in the mid ’90’s, the big thing in the fellowship at that time was the construction of the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas. They were raising money for the construction of that butt-ugly Philip Johnson building, (all asymmetrical, no windows), and had a shopping mall with a book store, ATMs and other features in the building with their current sanctuary. I visited one time and was thoroughly unmoved by the service, didn’t give a crap about the book store and couldn’t get out of there soon enough. Happily (for me anyway,) they had a dispute over tithe assessments with the Fellowship and bolted to the UCC. I say fine. I am pleased as punch to see the megachurch trend bottoming out. It can’t happen fast enough for me. I happen to like not only that old-time, pared down Protestant religion and worship style, but also the teeny, tiny, struggling churches. These are where the miracles happen for me.

#9 Comment By surly On July 10, 2013 @ 8:21 am

D. Not my tradition either. So I will just say live and let live.

#10 Comment By JLF On July 10, 2013 @ 8:26 am

Rod writes: “This is not my tradition, and I don’t relate to it in the slightest . . . ”

This is not anybody’s “tradition” and that shouldn’t be surprising. Architecture is a monument to its time, and the architecture of FBC- Dallas is just that: a monument to the defeat of “tradition” and the hegemony of the modern. There is no “tradition” in the music. There is no “tradition” in the liturgy. The monumental statement made by FBC-Dallas is the final victory of modern, consumerist culture over “tradition”. And the centerpiece, the altar – okay, it’s a Baptist church, the proscenium – is a 150 foot television screen.

#11 Comment By Niall On July 10, 2013 @ 8:29 am

It sounds irredeemably ghastly. I am uneasy about megachurches in general on temperamental, theological, social and ecclesial grounds, and I object to proud and self-conscious Protestant philistinism about church buildings.

But then I’m an emotionally repressed Englishman who enjoys going to a sparsely attended Mass in a small chapel on a country estate that used to belong to recusant Catholic gentry, so what do I know?

#12 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On July 10, 2013 @ 8:29 am

Moloch.

#13 Comment By Kevin On July 10, 2013 @ 8:46 am

Its both (b) and (c). I grew up in two Baptist churches–one a rural working class church, and other in a city made up of rural working class people who moved there. Megachurches (this was the early 90s) were viewed with a mixture of awe and suspicion, though they did manage to “keep the young from leaving.” To an extent, though, this sort of thing is the culture of rural working class people who want to show the secular modern world that they’ve made it in some indefinable way. Its certainly cultural politics, but not in a way that a newspaper would likely get at. Its from people who may have middle-class incomes and attitudes but aren’t entirely comfortable with them–see your post yesterday about that lady who went to Africa. She wanted to be radical, these people built a huge megachurch, but is just a matter of taste.

#14 Comment By Nickp On July 10, 2013 @ 8:48 am

This is not my tradition, and I don’t relate to it in the slightest, but I don’t see that this renovation (or, if you prefer, wreckovation) is any different from what any other megachurch is doing these days. Tell me, though, is your reaction:

It sounds gruesome, but my reaction is basically “Chacun à son goût.” I would almost certainly find it ugly and dispiriting. On the other hand, when I clicked through to Crescat’s post yesterday, I found the chapel that she hated to be OK, if a little dull. The chapel and service that she found spiritually nourishing, I found to be breathtakingly horrendous: The Vegas level of gaud! The silly hat! The skirts that appear to be made out of my grandmother’s lace tablecloths! Worst of all: The swirly columns that look like they are squishing down under the weight of UGLY!

If people derive spiritual nourishment from the aesthetics of religious architecture, and if people’s aesthetic tastes differ, then I guess we’ll have lots of different churches. Just don’t force me to worship in a megachurch or a baroque chapel. I reserve the right to make fun of other people’s tastes, though.

The most beautiful religious building that I have ever seen is the Imam Mosque in Isfahan. YMMV.

#15 Comment By Nickp On July 10, 2013 @ 8:58 am

One additional thought: If we want to worry about something, perhaps the practice of televising worship services is more significant than dull or ugly architecture. What does corporate worship mean if someone is watching on a television?

#16 Comment By Manfred Arcane On July 10, 2013 @ 8:58 am

Really? He’s worried about noise pollution caused by hymns that carry too far, “several blocks away”? I am daily assaulted by the speech and noise of people and things I’d rather not hear but that is the price of living among other sentient beings, especially in an urban situation. This seems almost as silly as the holy water complaint.

#17 Comment By guest On July 10, 2013 @ 9:03 am

d) [Fill in the blank.]

Profitable, this religion business.

#18 Comment By Henri James On July 10, 2013 @ 9:03 am

I think you’re reading too much into the politics of it. I feel like he’s going in a little bit more of a tongue and cheek direction here.

#19 Comment By JohnE_o On July 10, 2013 @ 9:19 am

Back in the day – mid 1970’s, the First Baptist Church had a rec center with a skating rink and bowling alleys. I can only imagine what the place is like now.

As for the worship center – dunno, but I can’t imagine Dr. Criswell preaching in a place like that.

#20 Comment By Patrick Harris On July 10, 2013 @ 9:51 am

I’m just impressed the Morning News still has an architecture critic, given the progressive shrinkage of the news business. I thought in-house critics had gone the way of the pterodactyl.

#21 Comment By Mr. Patrick On July 10, 2013 @ 9:52 am

It’s a capitalist and theist answer to the Soviet Palace of Culture. And I’m pretty sure that’s what they were going for.

#22 Comment By Jane On July 10, 2013 @ 9:59 am

My choice is c, with qualifications, and d.

I enjoyed reading the thoughtful opinions above. Here’s mine:

During part of the time when I was a Christian, I attended a megachurch. It was very different than the sweet eighteenth century building I attended church in as a child, but what I loved most was the sense of being in a brick-and-mortar community of people with shared beliefs.

For example, there was a restaurant in the building. When I attended the Sunday morning service, I would sometimes eat bacon and eggs there before the service. There was always the smell of coffee. Cheerful, neatly-dressed people would come in and sit down at other tables. The diner was nice, but this was special in its own way, too.

There were a bunch of other things like that in the building that wouldn’t have been possible without the economies of scale provided by the large number of attendees.

I loved that place, and I loved those people. If I ever go back, I hope I can bring them some brownies.

I’m probably biased, because I’ve always loved glitzy malls, but it seems coded into culture that certain forms of modern architecture and design indicate superficiality. That’s unnecessary, and not true. Building materials are just building materials. They don’t require or demand that certain views be imparted to them.

It’s just my opinion–no one else has to share it–but one of the things that makes me most happy in life is that liking A doesn’t have to mean disliking B.

#23 Comment By David J. White On July 10, 2013 @ 10:05 am

Whether one finds that music schlocky or inspiring is a matter of taste, but there is no reason it should be imposed on the public several blocks away, far beyond the church’s property.

I can easily see this attitude being used in the near future to silence church bells.

#24 Comment By O.L. Johnson On July 10, 2013 @ 10:25 am

I wonder how much Matthew 25:31-46 they could have accomplished with $130 million?

#25 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 10, 2013 @ 10:29 am

Some people must like it, if they can fill up the sanctuary and raise the money to pay for it. Whether they feel it any differently than being on “Good Morning America” or “The Price Is Right” is a question that lies between them and God, I can’t answer it.

My pastor once remarked, if this church gets big enough I don’t know everyone’s names, the assistant pastor is going to take half of y’all and go start another church.

#26 Comment By MikeS On July 10, 2013 @ 10:36 am

When Texas finally secedes from the US (God haste the day) and forms the Texas Christian Republic, that place can be their national Capitol. On the bright side, here in California, the Crystal Cathedral was recently purchased by the Catholic Church.

#27 Comment By Chris Mallory On July 10, 2013 @ 10:43 am

The splash of the fountain wouldn’t baptize. Southern Baptists immerse, they don’t sprinkle like heathens.

#28 Comment By Michelle On July 10, 2013 @ 10:47 am

(D) The slow surrender of religion to our culture of entertainment and consumption. Because heaven forbid there’s not enough glitter, glitz, and visual simulation to keep people from getting bored.

Granted, I’m Jewish, so the whole megachurch phenomenon is beyond my understanding. Needless to say, I’m never going to set foot in one.

#29 Comment By Al-Dhariyat On July 10, 2013 @ 11:12 am

JLF writes: “This is not anybody’s “tradition” and that shouldn’t be surprising. Architecture is a monument to its time, and the architecture of FBC- Dallas is just that: a monument to the defeat of “tradition” and the hegemony of the modern. There is no “tradition” in the music. There is no “tradition” in the liturgy. The monumental statement made by FBC-Dallas is the final victory of modern, consumerist culture over “tradition”. And the centerpiece, the altar – okay, it’s a Baptist church, the proscenium – is a 150 foot television screen.”

If that is the case, then I’ll go with (B) with no possible reach towards (C). Someone can correct me but when those now-old European cathedrals were new, they still connected back to ‘tradition’. If the new/modern cannot connect with the old/tradition, then it is an eyesore and will do little to slow the descent of religion in this country in the long-term.

#30 Comment By Charles Cosimano On July 10, 2013 @ 11:58 am

I think it’s kind of cool. It make the folks who use it happy and annoys the hell out of everyone else. What more can you want?

#31 Comment By Patrick On July 10, 2013 @ 12:09 pm

“C”, though I don’t share the contempt for *the idea* of experimental modern art, architecture, etc. It’s ok to have tried and failed at a new aesthetic – the alternative appears to be copying old European forms from here until the end of time.

#32 Comment By Chris 1 On July 10, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

Whether one finds that music schlocky or inspiring is a matter of taste, but there is no reason it should be imposed on the public several blocks away, far beyond the church’s property.

He’s wrong about this, as wrong as when cities move to ban church bells and processions.

He’s also wrong that religious space is “private” space, that’s part of the problem with the entire analysis. Religious space should endeavor to be as public a space as a shopping mall or a sports complex. How can religion engage in the public square if it’s confined to private spaces?

One of the joys of walking through a city is to hear the church bells playing the Angelus or the choir during services from out on the street. It’s something lost in the suburbs, where we drive by while listening to the radio or talking on the phone.

You “get” Chartres, could you imagine if this guy were writing about it while it was being built? That monstrosity! The bells get heard all over the valley!

So this place isn’t that, but the process by which the music for the dancing waters is quashed is the process by which religious expression is forced out of the public square.

#33 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On July 10, 2013 @ 1:13 pm

d. Economics of scale and consolidation are the keys to higher profitability when markets decline. So mega churches make complete sense.

#34 Comment By J On July 10, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

d) Bigger and hollower than ever.

Back when I was parentally compelled to attend one of these places with some semblence of regularity, one of the obvious motifs was homogenization. All the ministry staff were learning and copying from other megachurch ministry sorts (and in turn being copied from) at their big meetups, aka evangelization conferences. The membership were likewise copying and conforming to their ministers and more desirable cohorts of Christian culturists.

These days the homogenization is far more complete. The preachers clearly use pretty similar source materials, e.g. Barna polling and purveyors of PowerPoint clips, Bible quotation apps, and sermon outlines. (There are only about ten actually different sermons, if that many; all the others are variations or blends of them with different contemporary particulars plugged in.) You get the same megachurch preacher sermons all over the country, with as much theological variation and political variation and dialect variation as you do at Chik-Fil-A franchises. The buildings themselves are shopping mall or corporate office block architecture with shopping mall features- here’s the imitatio Starbucks (with WiFi!), here’s the book store, here’s the gallery of the mediocre artist parishioners, here’s the movie theat- um, the Sanctuary. The employees have uniforms- certain facial hair cuts, soft leather shoes, toned down suit-like attire, a confident salesman aire. The show we all know about- the tinnitis-inducing bands and ‘vocalists’, the sappy and very selective anecdotalism, the poorly understood symbolisms, the narrow theology, the pantheon of second and third rate heros that American Christian megachurch culture is about. An entertaining irony is that hymnbooks and pew Bibles have vanished as big screens have appeared- the transition from sola scriptura to sine scriptura is a rapid one.

And then the preacher-entrepreneurs invariably complain about consumerism, complacency, therapeutic lifestyles, hedonism, failure to accomplish Great Things, inauthenticity, lack of integrity, lack of artistic ability, lack of Bible literacy, lack of originality, and how the world is conspired against Christians.

#35 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 10, 2013 @ 3:44 pm

Chris 1, how would you feel about a muzzein calling the Muslim faithful to prayer over a loudspeaker system audible for five miles around?

If I were writing all the rules, church bells per se are not a sufficiently significant intrusion to write laws over, or entertain lawsuits, but one could make a public nuisance out of them if one worked at it. Tolling the hours, maybe one gong on the quarter hour, no electronic amplification, and full tunes no more than four times a day, and not between 11:00 pm and 6:00 am?

The muzzein could climb the highest tower local zoning codes allowed the mosque to build, and use a mechanical but not an electronic bullhorn.

Amplified music to be “shared with the neighborhood” no more than twice a day, no later than 7:00 pm, and there should be a decibel limit. I’m not expert in decibels, so I won’t specify a figure.

We can keep this fair and balanced, or we can shut down everything that annoys anyone.

#36 Comment By Noah172 On July 10, 2013 @ 4:02 pm

My gut reaction is “b”. Megachurches repulse me, and not on aesthetics alone.

Upon a moment’s reflection, I want to be charitable and say “a,” at least for some foreign country that is either historically non-Christian or where historic Christianity has been in steep decline. Whatever brings people to Christ in Morocco or Vietnam, or back to him in Western Europe — but America, which has a Christian history and a wealth of still-functioning traditional, liturgical churches across the confessional spectrum can do better than this slop.

“C” is interesting; I had not quite thought of it that way. Big difference though between the medieval cathedral and the modern megachurch: the former was not the regular place of worship for most Christians. Those cathedrals were special places for holidays, pilgrimage (think, e.g., of The Canterbury Tales), and special ceremony (although, yes, regular Mass was conducted there as well for the neighborhood). The medieval Christian worshipped in his parish church, his community church, where priest and parishoners knew him and he them. There he got his weekly “smells and bells,” but it was not a sensory overload.

The megachurch, OTOH, is a sensory overload, week after week, which inevitably deadens the senses to the truly mystical.

I am a member of a “high church,” liturgical Protestant tradition, Presbyterian (which occupies the next position in the Protestant high church-low church spectrum after Anglican/Episcopalian and Lutheran), but I confess to admiration of the beauty of Orthodox liturgy: Russian Orthodox chant is among my favorite Chrisian music. One of the things that Rod has written about Orthodoxy that has struck me the most is (quoting from memory), “You do not change the liturgy; the liturgy changes you.” More power to Orthodoxy if that is what it does for some Christians, and may other confessions try to emulate that power through their own liturgies.

#37 Comment By W.E.B. Dupree On July 10, 2013 @ 4:06 pm

“Sunday services begin with a bit of technological wizardry emanating from that studio: a rousing video sequence indebted to the opening credits of TV’s Dallas. Backed by a propulsive score, an aerial camera swoops around the city’s gleaming skyline before homing in and zooming down on the new First Baptist…”

I don’t know if any other current or former DFW residents will remember this, but when I was a kid in the 1980s, the Fort Worth Museum of Science (& Industry?) opened an Omnimax theater, and before the feature movie they would show an introductory short that included footage shot from a helicopter high over Fort Worth. The audience would gasp and scream as the vertigo-inducing footage filled the immense Omnimax screen.

Perhaps some kid in the audience in those days grew up to become the FBC’s Director of Marketing (or whoever calls the shots over there). By the way, while I had never thought of the “Dallas” theme as the theme music for Southern Baptists generally, I think it would be a great fit.

#38 Comment By loudonisafool On July 10, 2013 @ 4:38 pm

Nickp wrote:

The swirly columns that look like they are squishing down under the weight of UGLY!

You’re kidding right? That was a picture of St. Peter’s Basilica.

#39 Comment By Alisha On July 10, 2013 @ 6:32 pm

J, your comment was awesome.

#40 Comment By Nickp On July 11, 2013 @ 8:31 am

Loudonisafool, Not kidding, though perhaps engaging in a little hyperbole. Intellectually, I can appreciate Bernini’s skill embodied in the Baldachin, but emotionally, it leaves me cold. I just don’t like baroque twiddles and find the Baldachin and its columns thoroughly unattractive. There are aspects of the Basilica that are gorgeous, but restricting my impressions specifically to the two photos that Crescat posted, the modern chapel wins. Heck, I even prefer the simple white orchids in the modern chapel, compared to the overstuffed arrangements in the St. Peter’s photo.

#41 Comment By Dan Martin On July 11, 2013 @ 10:56 am

Though not a huge fan of mega-churches for various reasons, I feel that we must not judge them all alike. The explicit or implied charge of extravagance is not always as appropriate as it may appear. It is sometimes the case that the per capita expenses of building, staffing and maintaining the mega-church are less than smaller churches.

#42 Comment By Leigh1960 On July 11, 2013 @ 11:50 am

Sorry, as Jesus Christ’s humble beginnings and life attest to, I cannot possibly worship him in a building large enough to land a 747 in and glitzy enough to house the Academy Awards.

#43 Comment By Tom On July 11, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

Is this a church? The problem I have with this is not that it is too expensive or that the architecture is ugly (cf. that Catholic cathedral in Los Angeles) but that I see little in this building to signify that it is, in fact, a place of worship.

Going just by the pictures, if one wished to retrofit this structure as a shopping mall, a theatre, an art museum, a university lecture hall, a conference center, an office building, a legislative chamber, etc., all one would have to do would be to make a few minor changes to some of the ornamentation – for instance, removing the simulacra of pews from the central conference space. (If one wished to convert this into a courthouse, a monument to the Ten Commandments would need to be installed as well.)

Technological wizardry is not in the same category as “smells and bells.” The latter are not part of a church service for the aesthetic pleasure or entertainment of the church-going public. They are there, as Rod says in another post, to enable the worshipper to ‘get out of [one’s] head’ – as well as out of a ‘secular’ frame of mind – and into a truly worshipful state that is conducive to communion with God. Traditional church architecture, likewise, through the millenia has sought to place within the ‘worship space’ a metaphor of Man’s relationship with God, and this requires a distinct formal language.

Much has been stated regarding the supposed ‘secularization’ of contemporary culture, or the supposed threat of religion intruding on the political arena, but what I see here is a wholesale ‘secularization’ of religion itself – in other words, secular culture and politics has so intruded into the religious arena that a NASCAR mural would seem to be just as appropriate in a church as anything with a traditionally ‘religious’ theme.

#44 Comment By JP On July 11, 2013 @ 5:39 pm

The church has to minister in the time and place it exists, so if this is what successfully reaches people with the gospel and helps disciple the flock into mature believers, run with it! I’ve been active in churches where 50 people in attendance was a good week and in churches that measured Sunday attendance in the thousands. My experience is that neither is necessarily better, or more faithful than the other. If anything, my experience has been that “megachurches” tend to have better discipleship, a stronger core of mature believers and do a better job of encouraging and enabling believers to live out their faith than smaller churches. Of course, a smaller church that does the above is likely not going to stay a small church for long.

For the most part, the criticisms hurled at megachurches tend to be more preference and sour grapes. The architecture could be better, but if they made it grand like old cathedrals, the church would be bashed for spending money on a fancy building instead of the poor, or evangelism, or something. Modern architecture is not as ornate as classic architecture, and that is a pity. People don’t like modern rock ‘n roll/pop influenced music, or praise and worship. Everybody has their own taste and should find a church whose worship fits them. That said, many “traditional” hymns were actually written in the 1940’s, 50’, 60’s and even 70’s. What people often want, is not tradition, but what was popular when they were growing up. The list could go on, but the point is that the criticisms are issues of preference, not doctrine, or faithfulness and those making the criticisms should recognize that. Having a flock of 10,000, constructing a building to fit a flock of that size, nor including multi-media components in your service are inherently bad, blasphemy, or heretical. If the church body is reaching the lost, living out the gospel in their community and the world and growing people into mature believers, they’re doing what their supposed to be doing.

#45 Comment By Richard Johnson On July 11, 2013 @ 10:02 pm

“d. Economics of scale and consolidation are the keys to higher profitability when markets decline. So mega churches make complete sense.”

Exactly! And with the amount of money that the upkeep of this building requires would need a larger profit base. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

#46 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 11, 2013 @ 11:18 pm

There was a cartoon some time back in The Wittenburg Door which showed a man in the lobby of a megachurch where he had just trashed the gift shop. As a horrified crowd gathered around, he said “I just asked myself, what would Jesus do?”

#47 Comment By SB On July 17, 2013 @ 5:58 pm

I like what JP says. I don’t think that church is evil, and I do believe it is well-intentioned. I have a lot more confidence in the good work they are doing with their budget than the good work I am doing with mine. It sure is easy to criticize. At least the building was built with money willingly given by the congregation.

What is ugly about the building probably has to do with its being so big and their having to make economical choices in construction materials, lack of detail, whatever. To a certain extent, having that many people in one church is automatically more economical than having them in many different churches.

As someone who has actually attended various small, small-town churches, I can attest that spiritual nourishment can be just as lacking at such places. Like JP said, there is a reason a lot of churches stay small.