Disclaimer: I'm about to make lots of generalizations and blanket statements that will, more than likely, offend at least a few of you. Just so you know. Here goes...
Zack and I tried our second church in the new city this morning. Last week we went to St. Charles Avenue Baptist, which is right up the street from us. We chose to go there first because, well, it's right up the street from us. Yay for convenience! It was ok I guess, but not what we're looking for. It's a big old church and had a very traditional service, which we happen to prefer mind you, but the congregation was of a decidedly different age demographic than what we were hoping for. We were either twenty years older, or twenty years younger than everyone else in the building. Plus, the church is in the process of getting a new pastor, so things were a little, um...disrupted. We put it on the list of "Churches We May Try Again Later On If We Get Really Really Desperate."
So this morning was church number two; First Baptist Church New Orleans. I thought typically the First Baptist Church of any town was like the original ooooold church downtown. Something about having the word "first" in the name I guess. Wrong, wrong, wrong! First Baptist New Orleans was kind of the opposite of all things old and traditional. It was one of the gigantic mega churches that seem to be so popular these days, and the service was extremely contemporary.
(This is where I'm going to start getting offensive). I'm going to go ahead and say that I personally have a problem with both of those characteristics in a church. Let's talk about the mega-churchness first. No, I haven't been to every single mega church in the whole entire world so I'm sure there are bound to be one or two out there that aren't like this, but of the ones I have been to, they all suffer from the same problem of becoming so focused on the numbers that God sort of just gets lost in the shuffle. I've thought about this a lot and I think it, like most things in life, all boils down to money. I bet these churches started out innocently enough, probably with an ambitious pastor who felt lead to grow the church as much as possible. Obviously, bringing others to God should be one of the main goals of any church so I'm not knocking that. But what happens when these churches start to grow is that pretty soon they get too big to fit in their old building so they have to build a new facility. And of course they have to plan ahead for even more growth so the new building gets to be roughly the size of Rupp arena, and while they're at it why not make this thing state-of-art too? Now the church has this brand spanking new building with more technology in it than NASA...and is millions of dollars in debt. Hence the almost obsessive need to increase numbers; somebody's got to pay for that new building.
I've been to a number of churches that had this problem and I've found that in an effort to appeal to a wide "customer base" the church begins to water down its core beliefs to the point that, before long, it'll say and do just about anything to avoid offending a potential new member. I very much stand by the notion that I may or may not agree with everything a church has to say, or everything it believes, but by golly I sure do have a lot of more respect for the ones that will at least take a stand on what they do believe in. I have no use for a church that cares more about money than it does about staying true to the beliefs it was founded on.
Alright, so that's complaint number one; complaint number two has to do with the contemporary service. And truthfully, this is just a matter of personal preference and I don't really take deep moral issue with the idea of worshipping in different ways. I think people respond to all types of different things, and if a contemporary service is what does it for some people then so be it. To me though, there's just something about worshipping in a basketball arena, with a band on stage, and a light show, and jumbo-trons with the lyrics to songs, and the preacher's sermon on PowerPoint that feels less like a church service and more like a Broadway production. I admit I'm old fashioned but singing the old hymns out of the good old Baptist Hymnal and hearing a preacher preach from the Bible and not from a set of slides feels so much more sacred to me. This morning, as I do every time I attend a church that does a contemporary service, I came away feeling like I hadn't really worshipped. It feels like a very hollow, borderline insincere, attempt at a church service. Oh! And can I just say that I find new contemporary worship songs to be some of the silliest, most inane music I've ever heard? Very few of the lyrics even make any sense and all the songs sound exactly the same. Zack's says contemporary Christian music reminds him of AC/DC--you can take any set of lyrics and substitute it with the music of any other song, and it works, because it all sounds alike anyway.
Some of this is silly, I know. Some of it is probably me being stubborn and set in my ways and making up my mind that if things don't happen the way I think they ought to then they're inferior all the way around. I know that even in the biggest mega church out there, people have gathered in God's name and HE is there. Ultimately it shouldn't matter what songs are sung, what verses are read, or whether I'm in a building that cost $10 million to build or a tent outside on the front lawn. It's just a lot harder for me to find God when I'm blinded by the glare of all the neon lights.