“The Church herself no longer is about discipleship… It’s about being entertained in the gathering.”
This is what Pastor Matt Chandler preached at his Dallas-based Village Church. His sermon set the internet abuzz after becoming the topic of a May 15 Christian Post article.
Responses range from complete affirmation in Chandler’s indictment of American churches to heated defenses against over generalizations.
I’ve watched the development of the American church culture, both as a pastor in a local church and in non-church-based capacities. These experiences taught me to be constructive when pressing the ever-forward progress toward the future. We are never, now, what God intends us to be tomorrow.
I also desire to be charitable when considering the strategies churches use and understand the various reasons contributing to those decisions.
Being Charitable: Why Entertain?
Remember that the Church has long made good use of the communication methods of the day in order to spread the Gospel and to transmit the Scripture (i.e. letter writing, printing press, broadcast technology, etc.). The present information age makes Scripture and Gospel proclamation extremely accessible, presenting two problems for local churches:
- Information sources are ubiquitous, but are they all trustworthy?
- Unfettered access to the most effective communicators of our generation may discourage people from connecting to a local church at all, choosing to watch those preachers online.
Focusing on entertainment and consumer-like services through the local church seems like an effective way to handle both challenges.
For the first problem, I’m careful not to fault local churches making smart use of marketing and communications strategies, particularly in social media. Yes, it looks like a lot of self-promotion, but it is also how you become a known and trusted source for conveying the message of the Gospel. Spend 30 minutes down the rabbit hole of online searches on the book of Revelation sometime.
As for encouraging people to actually show up for church gatherings, I once felt that planning childcare and age-graded programming in order to make ministry gatherings happen as a huge pain and totally off mission. Then I had kids. If certain services are not provided, my family is considerably less likely to participate (Leave whatever comments you like; that is just a fact).
Being Constructive: Three Questions To Ask
Any strategy that doesn’t have diagnostic questions for evaluation to make adjustments is bad strategy. Here are three:
Historically, the Church has always used culturally relevant and creative means to capture the attention. Ultimately, anything that is entertaining does the same. The first question must be: to what end?
Paul talked about the different styles, approaches and talents of his contemporaries as well as the different audiences each were called to reach. He also utilized different strategies to capture the attention of his audience depending on the context.
Any style or method should be filtered through the lens of Phil. 1:18, “Only in every way…Christ is proclaimed.” Paul wrote this even while he questioned the particular motives of other ministries. We can apply that filter to 21st Century American Christianity by asking the second question: Are my methods building the Kingdom or building our brand and market share of church-goers?
Answer that question through the lens of 2 Tim. 2:2: “what you’ve heard from me… entrust to faithful ones who will be able to teach others also.” Ask one final question: Are we equipping people to make disciples whether our church is here or not?
The church must produce independently-growing, disciple-making disciples of Jesus Christ. The kind who are actually equipped to make disciples whether your church exists or not. If it doesn’t, then it’s possible that the methods are more intent on building a brand than building the Kingdom. In that regard, Chandler is absolutely correct, and the church is probably more focused on entertainment than on disciple-making.
If it is, then you are part of the global movement that 2,000 years of human history hasn’t been able to stop.