During the 1990s, “seeker-friendly” churches began popping up everywhere. Most were non-denominational churches looking to reach those who fell between the cracks and divides that separate many of our traditional denominations. These seeker-friendly churches did well for a time. The fact that many are now struggling to pay the bills has less to do with the changing economy than it does with the changing culture.
It’s no surprise that these churches did well in the 1990s. The economy was strong and people gave charitably. The same can be said of the first seven years of the Bush administration. Many seeker-friendly churches were able to break ground with new buildings, which seated thousands of congregants. They were able to fill these big buildings with scoreboard-sized video monitors and all the latest video and computer technology. They even served gourmet coffee.
But things began to change in 2008. The economy tanked and the churches had to cut back. They hoped the next election would bring change. But hope was not enough. Men cannot always bring about that kind of change. And only God can bring about lasting change.
But the one thing that has started to change in the mega-church is the message. What once was a slightly watered-down seeker-friendly version of the Gospel is now a slightly Gospel-flavored bucket of water. And it’s not enough to quench the thirst of the masses.
As one who has traveled to twenty-two states this year I’ve had an opportunity to hear pastors in several of these mega-churches. And I’ve heard some very interesting things. Some examples follow:
1. “We encourage you to sign up for one of our Bible study classes. We don’t say we have all the answers. We may not have any of the answers that you might have. We just want to start a conversation.” Oddly enough, the church where I heard this little gem doesn’t even call itself emergent. Of course, Don Miller claims he’s not emergent but I’m not buying that jazz.
2. “This church doesn’t focus on doctrine. We focus on hope.” Well, that explains why the pastor rode up to the stage on a motorcycle. By giving a sermon standing in front of a Harley Davidson, instead of a cross, he can avoid that unpleasant doctrinal stuff about sin and redemption. Pass the Starbucks. This is going to be a good one!
3. “If Christianity is to survive in the 21st Century, everything about it must change.” You can’t be serious with this one, can you? Does that mean I should cast the first stone? Can I cast it at the idiot in the pulpit? Wait, there is no pulpit. And no cross. Never mind.