Friday, August 15, 2008

Church Growth War Casualties (Part 1)

A few days ago Defending Contending posted an article titled, Christianity: It' All About The Music? It references an article that appeared recently in the New York Times about High Desert Church in Victorville. That caught my interest because I have some elderly friends who have been members there for about 30 years.
The church’s original building is a traditional old, but very well-maintained structure that seats about two hundred. But they outgrew that facility years ago and the first major construction project to accommodate their growth was a multi-purpose gymnasium with a large, commercial kitchen and classrooms. That is where they held their Sunday worship services.

I visited my friends' Sunday School class one Sunday morning. When church started, I peeked in to see the darkened gym set up for “worship.” Spotlights followed the worship team as they performed live for the congregation. The sound level was deafening. I remember my friends telling (actually yelling at) me that they really didn’t like the “new style” of church but, that’s what leadership thought was necessary to accomplish their new church growth goals and, anyway, “they were getting used to it.”

The gymnasium was priority number one in their facility development and growth plan. It served them during the transition while the new, multi-million dollar mega auditorium was being constructed. It is quite impressive. It is furnished with very comfortable, theatre-type seating and state-of-the-art sound, lighting, and multi-media equipment. In my church, we have ¾ inch holes in the side decks of the hymn book racks to hold our empty communion cups. At High Desert Church, they have cup holders large enough for 7-11 Big Gulps.

There is no doubt that High Desert’s growth has been stellar. A number of factors encouraged the church’s expansion . . . . in 1993 the church hired Jeff Crandall, the drummer for a Christian punk band called the Alter Boys, as its music director. Their newest building project is a $20 million children’s facility. “When you start a church,” said Tom Mercer, 52, the senior pastor, “you don’t decide who you’re going to reach and then pick a music style. You pick a music style, and that determines who’s going to come.”

The church boasts several “communities” that divide its membership into special age or interest groups. From their web site, I noted one of those communities that proclaims that any unbeliever can enter and feel comfortable and excited about the environment.

I find it interesting that attracting unbelievers and making them feel comfortable has taken priority over the consideration for and ministry to the older generation of traditional, long-time believers and members who have faithfully given themselves to the support of the ministry for years.

My friends' generation, the older ones, have been marginalized for several years. In fact, their fellowship of about 100 people is not even listed among the “communities” described on the website. These are the folks whom Rick Warren calls "the pillars of the church" because, when it comes to church growth, all they do is "hold things up." At least they had their own staff pastor until he passed away a couple years ago. Today, that pastoral responsibility has been relegated to other church leaders on a rotation basis. My friends tell me that their group now meets on Mondays because there is no room for them on that large campus on Sundays.


Anonymous said...

IMHO, "Church growth" pastor types are charlatans. They should be called to repentance. If they refuse to repent, they should be kicked to the curb.

Daisy said...

I'm so sick and tired of SoCal churches. Okay, I know it is everywhere but it seems like a major epidemic out here. I don't think I'll ever see again the church of my youth.

I miss it.

I miss the hymns. I miss the worship. I miss the reverence. I miss the old folks. I miss the babies. I miss the raising of a hand and the instant sharing of a testimony. I miss the Sunday afternoon informal pot-lucks. I miss the excitment of being that teenager chosen to read the Scripture in front of the church.

Guess I'm old-fashioned, traditional, pre-modern, over-the-hill.... I bet I'd fit in just fine with your friends and we'd sit and enjoy a good game of checkers and a long afternoon chat.