Finding Church: The Mega-Church Experience
It was bound to happen. We visited the church of a close friend, and now I have to write a blog post. If I write that we loved it, will it be sincere? What if we decide not to make it our church home later? What if I write that we didn’t like it – will it strain the friendship? The truth is that she knows my taste, and nothing I say will be a huge surprise to her.
Taste. This is so much of what makes one church different from another – its personality, its style, its way of doing things (of course, the other big differences are in specific beliefs). Some differences rise out of nuances of belief, such as how they practice the sacraments (baptism, communion, etc). But things like children’s programs, style of music, song choices, location, size, smaller group gatherings for adults (whether you call it “Bible study” or “small group” or “Sunday School”), and numbers and times of services are all matters of personal taste, though they often derive from real constraints such as space and talent available.
Personal taste isn’t a moral issue. Taste is personal. It is neither right nor wrong to prefer singing hymns with organ accompaniment or songs accompanied by guitars and drums.
Why do we worry about differences in taste then? I think it’s precisely because taste is so personal. If we’re not careful, we can make the mistake of assuming a preference for drums and bass guitar is a judgment against those who love organ music and traditional hymns. We are prone to taking preferences personally. My friend Nish wrote about this recently – why do we take one person’s choices as a criticism of ours instead of at face value?
I have learned to be very cautious about recommending (or the opposite) because of this. People’s tastes are so different, and I don’t like being misunderstood or judged for my tastes, whether we’re talking movies, music, books, or churches.
It’s a risk to invite someone to visit your church. My friend made herself vulnerable by doing so (especially since she’s friends with a blogger – I think her willingness to be my friend gets her halfway to sainthood), especially when she knew that I might not like it.
Hers is one of our city’s mega-churches. It is a multi-location church, and we attended one of the satellite locations near us. They have live in-person music and announcements, but project the preaching from the main location via live video feed. We have visited a church like this once before, while visiting friends out of town, so we had an inkling that it wasn’t for us. Yesterday confirmed it: we are not mega-church people, at least not right now. This is not a moral judgment against mega churches or those who attend them (see above!), unless we’re talking about getting the gospel wrong. I am thankful for the kind of good they are able to do in the community because of their vast resources.
But once again, I felt like a spectator, not a participant. They kept the lights dim, so no-one talked before or after the service. The only person who introduced herself was the woman who registered our kids for their classes. Very few people sang, and the music was too loud to really hear those who did sing (though not painfully loud like another church we visited). The preaching by video feed only added to the impersonal feel.
The content of the message was a mixed bag for us. Sometimes it sounded like the pastor was telling us that God makes our lives here and now perfect if we do things right. My question to this kind of teaching is and will always be an angry one: “If that’s true, why didn’t He do it for me? Why did my daughter die?” [If you will allow me to rant on my soapbox for a sec: God never promises a good life now. God isn’t a vending machine, dispensing blessings or miracles if we put in the right coin. He promises to help us face the brokenness of this world. End rant.] Scott and I each heard different things, so we may have misconstrued the preacher’s message. But it was still concerning.
Scott and I both really enjoy being surrounded by voices singing together. We want church to be interactive and relational. We want to meet people and make connections and find ways to share the gifts and baggage we have to encourage others. After spending the last 8 years in small churches and church plants, a spectator-style church (mega or otherwise) in which it is easy to come and go quietly and without commitment just isn’t right for us. And my baggage shows me that the vending machine god dispensing candy-blessings if I do all the right things is a false god. Things just don’t work that way.
Do you attend a mega-church? How do they teach God’s promises and the problem of evil? How do you make connections and get involved?
This has been another installment in my series on finding church. You can find the rest of this series here.
P.S. Because of the U.S. Independence Day holiday and volunteering at my son’s camp, I will not be hosting Life:Unmasked this week. See you next Wednesday!