Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Reminder: The Show is Not Working

Last week I read on Joe Cool's blog a review of things Joe Cool's friends did in their Easter services. A breakdancing routine, a Daft Punk song with coordinated glowstick show, a water wall to create rain on stage. Let's not forget dropping toys from the heavens.

I've got nothing against breakdancing, Daft Punk, or toys and helicopters. Those things are cool, and I like them. (Glowsticks are kinda gay, though.)
This is not about not being creative in church.

In my mind, the two biggest bombshells in church growth news occurred in this, the same year:
1) Willow Creek's REVEAL survey revealed the stuff they'd been banking on for years and years to create disciples wasn't.
2) Sally Morgenthaler, the theological guru for "worship evangelism," concluded after years and years of churches practicing the principles of attractional worship that it doesn't work. And she has the stats to prove it.

This is huge.
And yet nobody's even talking about them any more. There was some wringing of hands. But it's now (show) business as usual.

In The Courage to Be Protestant, David Wells writes:

This co-opting of showbiz, this transformation of Christianity into entertainment, is rapidly becoming the norm today, not the exception. Pastor are straining to outdo each other in becoming as chic and slick as any show in Las Vegas.

I pity satirists who might be tempted to try to tweak these segments of the evangelical world. Theirs is a mission impossible. It can no longer be done. No matter how indelicately they might exaggerate, no matter how much they might embellish to make a point, no matter how many descriptions they might offer of the tasteless things that are happening, it will most likely be met with only a yawn and a bored question: “So … ?” Nothing seems improbable. None of it, in fact, ever seems exaggerated and none of it seems improper. It has now become impossible to insult some evangelicals. How the Wittenburg Door stays in business, I do not know.

Well, right. I mean, we can poke at Osteen for not really preaching the Bible all day long, but it just provokes a yawn, because the guy is on "60 Minutes" readily admitting that explaining the Scriptures is not his gifting. (Those are his words, by the way, not mine.)

Are we tilting at windmills?

I really, really hope not. This is real deal stuff.
I got a message this morning from a friend contemplating leaving his church. He described the Easter service at his church with these words: "Bollywood musical."
He was jonesing to hear about the risen Savior, he said. But he got a short inspirational message about human potential (his words), after a long production highlighting various artists in the church.

This is not about uberpastors and criticbloggers. This is a disconnect straight from the marrow of John and Jane Congregant. The show will not keep them for long. Which is why we have to keep outdoing ourselves.
What you win them with is what you win them to, remember?

It's not working.
It's not working, it's not working, it's not working.

Let's be honest, also: the Church has not been able to approximate the originality, talent, and excellence of the entertainment it's appropriating. If what I want is entertainment, I'm staying home and watching TV. There's much better stuff on there than there is at any church in this city or in yours.

But we've got the one thing people actually need, and it's the one thing the world can't offer. Why is it relegated to the sideshow?

(HT for the quote: Tim Challies, Bill Kinnon)


Rob said...

Umm, Jared, that's Sally Morgenthaler, not Marva Dawn; which is rather a significant thing, because Marva's been ranged quite fiercely against that kind of thinking for as long as it's been around. That's really not a brush she'd be happy to be tarred with.

Jared said...

Ack! Of course you're right, and I knew that. It's fixed.
No idea why I put Dawn's name there.
I followed the link to my previous post also, just to make sure I hadn't repeated a mistake, but I had Morgenthaler in the previous mentions.

Steve said...

Dude, are you taking steroids? LOL You've hit another home run with this one!!

I am encouraged that numerous others are sounding this same clarion call. Not everyone has forgotten the confessions of Willow Creek and Sally Morgenthaler. There are lots of churches that have not relegated the gospel to the sideshow -- it's just that most of them don't receive anywhere near the hype of the ones that have.

Jared said...

My trainer says they're just vitamins.
From Romania. Hmmm.

Rob said...

Yeah, I knew you knew it--just wanted to make sure you caught it (for which my thanks). Anyway, Steve's right, it's a great post; I really don't get preachers who don't lead with the gospel. There must be a lot of folks out there in ministry with a lot more self-confidence than I have.