Sunday, January 27, 2008

One Last Nail in the Coffin


Today was the Sunday that we help out in the children's ministry at the church we attend. We do that once a month to help fill in areas that have people missing. It's an easy way to contribute without requiring too much of us right now. We have been on the fence about delving more into ministry here as a result of our ambivalence about our place here.

For the past week or so I have been thinking that we should just grow where we're planted, and try to forge ahead to find/make a place for ourselves in this church, to strengthen our ties to it and begin to develop relationships. Now, I'm ready to chuck that idea out the window.

We have been here for over two years, mainly because this is where we landed after leaving a church that we dearly loved. We searched around, found this church to be a close fit theologically-speaking and settled in to lick our wounds. The wounds are just about cleared up, but my interest for this particular church has grown no stronger.

So, what's the problem? Is it me? Am I simply a whiner and complainer? I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not. It's hard to evaluate whether it's me, or the church, or simply the combination of the two.

I have come to realize that philosophically I have completely divergent views on what the purpose of a church is and how to achieve that purpose. I agree with almost all of the theology of this church. I have much in common with its members. There is no glaring spiritual issue pushing me out the least from a superficial perspective. So what's the deal?

Here's the deal:

All of the ministry choices and administration are dictated, perhaps subconsciously, by the size of this church. There is no Sunday School or Bible Study offered on Sunday mornings because the church is filled to capacity for the two services that are offered. People come for the service and then leave, making room for the next round. Instead, the church pushes cell groups, called Life Groups, as a way to build relationship and community within the church.

It sounds great, but it is completely incompatible with our lives. It involves finding child care for the kids and meeting in someone's home on a weeknight. We have no budget for childcare, and DH works into the evening, past the time that most groups meet.

Which brings me to another philosophical difference I have with this church. Everybody is separated. Sunday mornings, adults go into the main sanctuary, elementary students are in the old sanctuary, the youth has their own service, and the middle school does too. So everybody is separated into their own demographic and participates in a service geared specifically for them. Great, right? Not in my opinion.

What do we teach our children about the community of believers when they are never interacting with anybody other than their specific group? Families don't worship together. Other than Christmas Eve, our kids have rarely seen us sing and pray with the corporate body of the church. When the service is over we pick them up from their area, amidst a million other families, and go our merry way. I don't know the other children in my kids' classes, let alone their parents. After two years, isn't that pathetic? How can our children forge friendships with other Christian children if there is no time to get to know them? How can they see other families which share our same values in such an environment? They can't.

When people are baptized, the main sanctuary gets the feed showing it--it occurs outside in a baptismal fountain...remember, this is Florida where it's warm--but the kids, youth, etc. never see it. This is an important ceremony and is only celebrated by a partial congregation. It is a missed opportunity for the children. Instead of seeing people making life-changing decisions, they're doing business as usual.

Today we stayed for a church meeting which unveiled a plan for the church to go "multi-site". What that means is that, in another part of town, people would meet for church, watch a recorded DVD of the pastor's message, yet have their own worship band and "campus pastor".
The idea is to produce pretty much the same church, in a different location, through the use of technology.

We actually visited a church like this once. It was truly bizarre. The church went along as it normally would, except when it came time for the sermon. A white screen was then lowered down and we viewed a recording of the pastor at the main church campus speak. It was like being stuck in a theater watching a bad movie....and with no popcorn.

During the Q and A, I asked why the church was going in this direction instead of just starting an autonomous church plant as a sister/associated church. The pastor said it was a great question and proceeded to answer me with a not-so-great answer. Church plants fail 85% of the time. DH said later that a good follow-up question would have been to ask what percentage of "multi-site" campuses fail.

So why do I care?

I care because it shows that the church is committed to doing church in a very specific type of way. I excused a lot before simply because of the size of the church and the space constraints. Even though I knew it wasn't super-compatible with our family, I was willing to take what was offered because it was what it was. Now, it has become evident that, not only does this church run things this way because they have to, but because they prefer this model.

It's discouraging. I have never felt so out of touch with the way church is done. It seems to consistently rely upon convenience and technology instead of community and fellowship--the two things needed most by myself and many others.

Teaching I can get anywhere. that's something that is in short supply.

1 comment:

Sue said...

You're not alone. There are thousands of Christians around the world (maybe millions - I don't know) who seem to have been going through the same kind of thing around the same time. Well, the whole 'Emerging Church' philosophy started from people being unhappy with 'church' as it is often done, particularly mega-churches. But now Emerging Church seems to have gone mainstream and to have its own patterns and traditions.

The book that I found most thought-provoking and powerful on this topic was Jake Colsen's 'So you don't want to go to church any more' - I eventually bought a copy from Amazon, but it's available free to download from his site ( - it's fictional, but very well done IMO.