Yesterday, I was at a meeting to develop the marketing campaign for a building project that would add much needed space to our former church. My wife asks, “Why do you think the church is growing so much while other churches just a few miles down the road are stagnant or diminishing?” This is an interesting question.
Why Evangelicalism is beating mainline denominations
In his book, “Revolution and Renewal,” Tony Campolo pointed out that Evangelicalism — although he calls it fundamentalism in disguise — is a middle ground between rigid fundamentalism and compromising liberalism. People are turned off by fundamentalist legalism and the mainline denominations’ traditionalism and growing liberalism. In other words, unlike their anachronistic contemporaries, the evangelical church is “up with the times” and people, Christian or not, find this attractive.
From church building to community center
One of the reasons why our former church is growing so fast has to do with its transformation from church worship service to community center. Evangelical churches have undergone significant transformation in the past 15 to 20 years. Suburban church buildings have evolved into community centers. They have become facilities that provide community services like day care, counseling, sports, rental spaces for events, play productions, support groups, etc. As the church population grows, the demand for these services increase. Hence the need for more space, more community services, more ministries, more programs.
Ability to quickly adapt to change
Evangelical churches can quickly respond to its needs. If the facility needs to expand, they have no problem moving somewhere else for more room. Mainline denominational churches, on the other hand, are established where they are and have no room to either expand or enhance their building in megachurch-like proportions.
Rockin’ the suburbs
In suburbia, community services are very attractive, especially when these services are geared towards the youth. David Brooks mentions in his book, “On Paradise Drive,” that children are the primary reason why families move into suburban communities. Americans view suburbia as a safe haven for their kids. A friend of mine, who is a youth pastor at my former church, told me that most of the parents are primarily concerned with safety. He is surprised by how many of them care so little about the spiritual well-being of their kids and more about their safety and good behavior.
Evangelicalism is hip
Evangelical churches are cool and modern. The worship services can be entertaining and theatrical. The sermons are seeker-friendly — short and not too heavy. The yearly plays are family-oriented. Sports are competitive. The Superbowl is blessed by God. The question isn’t why this church is growing so fast but, why not?!
The downside of a growing “church”
Unfortunately, the growth of many evangelical churches has less to do with a hunger for God and more to do with the community services that are being offered. My wife believes churches should offer community services. I partly agree. I think that a community center model has the potential to impact a community on physical, relational and spiritual levels.
But what happens if this is all the church becomes, a facility offering privileges on demand? I understand providing day-care for families who can’t afford to have stay-at-home mom or dad in the house. I understand the vitality of services geared to meet the needs of the less fortunate.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that just because a church offers community services does not mean it is a community or an environment that encourages the communal elements of our relationship with God and people. Ecclesiastical community centers have the potential to become safe boxes for people to stay in, which is contrary to what the pastor at my old church taught: the church needs to go beyond the four walls of the building.
Community building should be the vision for community service. Anything else are just jobs that ministry leaders perform to make their customers happy.
The reason my wife and I left our church had much to do with the lack of community we experienced. It is difficult to feel connected with such a large congregation. Small groups have become the go-to community-building mechanism of the megachurch, but even those can lack community as well. This is certainly not our church’s fault. I have utmost respect for the elders and pastor at my former church and believe in their vision to make the church more than just a set of ministries to make people happy.
It is my hope that my old church figures how to deal with the challenges that come with a fast-growing congregation. As for my wife and I, we’ve made the tough decision to leave our church of many years in search for not just some other church institution but a community of believers who are crazy about spending time with one another as they are with God.