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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Jingle Bells, Batman Smells, Robin Laid an Egg (Part 2)

Little did I know when I wrote this quickly written piece on megachurches not having services on Christmas Sunday that it would stir up such a hornet's nest. Big thanks to Jim for getting the comments roaring by soliciting input from his sister Bissy. I stepped away from my computer yesterday for a few hours to come back and find 14 comments. I would normally respond with comments of my own but this is a big enough topic to warrant another post.

I first want to thank Bissy for her comments and willingness to dialogue here. Bissy and her husband are friends of mine from college and I have nothing but the highest respect and regard for them. In particular, having had so many friends in full-time ministry, I can appreciate the stress and time commitments that ministry jobs can put on family life. I can understand and appreciate not wanting to have one's Christmas day completely filled with work.

I also want to make clear that my previous post was not intended to be some big rant against megachurches or Willow Creek. While I choose to not attend a megachurch mostly for aesthetic reasons, I do think that megachurches do much good. I have written previously about ministries to the poor in megachurches and have even defended Andy Stanley and North Point Community Church on another blog. Here is what I had to say about megachurches in the discussion with Andy Stanley:
I have had the privilege of attending almost every church mentioned in this discussion. My father grew up at First Baptist Atlanta where Andy's father pastors and I grew up several blocks from the Stanleys. I spent a significant amount of my chidhood at Perimeter Church which started in a tiny office space in the late '70s and has now spawned dozens of churches in Atlanta and has become a megachurch in its own right. I spent high school at Westminster Pres. in Atlanta, a tiny 150+ church, spent time at medium sized churches in Greenville,SC, and at small churches in southern California. I'm now at Intown Community Church in Atlanta. I have visited North Point, Buckhead Church, Church of the Apostles, Willow Creek, Redeemer in NYC, and more that I have forgotten.

I mention all these experiences because they have taught me that there is no right way to "do church". There is no right size. There is no right worship style. There is no right sermon style. And THAT IS OK.

You see, context is very important. I have noticed many people criticize various elements of the worship service at North Point. But the context has a lot to do with this. For those of you who have not spent much time in the South, Christianity is a cultural thing here. I remember thinking in college at Auburn University that we had to first convince people that they were NOT Christian before sharing the Gospel with them. Because of this cultural issue, many people in the south have various hangups or issues with their conception of "traditional church". So what is wrong with lowering some of these obstacles?

I'm amazed at the sense that some people in this discussion have that assume that certain church things are Biblical when in fact they are cultural. There is nothing Biblical about having crosses in your church, having a sermon, passing an offering plate, having an "invitational", or doing music in any particular way. I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with these things, but they don't constitute the Gospel. Does it matter what people wear to church? No. Does it matter that people walk in with Starbucks coffee? No. Does it matter if you like the musical style? No. Does it matter if the sermon is academic enough in nature? No.

Would Tim Keller's model in NYC work in Atlanta? Not without some major tweaking. Would Andy Stanley draw such a huge crowd in SF? Maybe not. Would Bill Hybels have the same success in Seattle? Doubtful.

The context matters, people. In this manner, each of these people are being "missional", as Tim might say.

Is North Point the church for me? Not really. And that is fine. It doesn't need to be. Do I have any doubt that Andy is doing God's will? None.

I hope this better clarifies where I am coming from in this discussion on megachurches cancelling services on Christmas Sunday. I can appreciate the fact that megachurches including Willow Creek are going to do things differently from what I and many others are used to. Does it seem odd that Willow Creek is asking people to get online tickets for their pre-Christmas services? Yeah it does. But so what? However....

There's always a however, isn't there. I think that all churches have their blind spots. I know that mine does. And every church I have ever attended does as well. In this case, the decision by many megachurches to cancel Christmas Sunday services highlights a blindspot that many megachurches have. I believe that this blindspot is the miscalculation of the culture we live in.

From what I have seen, megachurches seem to go to great lengths to understand the culture we live in. I find this very admirable. Yet for whatever reason, they seem to be getting it wrong. Let me give an example. Andy Stanley's church in Atlanta, North Point Community Church has planted quite a few other churches, one of which is the Buckhead Church. The Buckhead Church has been meeting in an old grocery store and simulcasts video of Andy preaching from North Point. (I refer to this as Holodeck Andy. Yes I am a geek) This past summer the Buckhead Church announced plans to build a new church building. What I found particular interesting was the design of the church and the explanation for the design.

Here you can see that the church is designed to look like an office building. There isn't really anything that would signify that this building is a church. David McDaniel of North Point Ministries explained,
"having the building look like the office a typical [person] would enter five days a week is right in line with what we’re trying to do...that’s making people feel more at ease about church."

I was baffled when I read this. I have been in the corporate world for twelve years now and worked for many different companies with many different types of people. I have yet to meet anyone who would like to spend part of their weekend back in an office building that they were so happy to get out of on Friday afternoon.

This example perfectly illustrates how many megachurches are miscalculating the interest and desires of non-churched people. There seems to be a lack of understanding that a growing segment of society is looking to Christianity and churches for something different that they can't find anywhere else. Are most megachurches preaching the Gospel and talking about things that many people are looking for? Yes. But there seems to be a disconnect between what is said and what is observed.

I think ultimately this is what saddens me about churches cancelling Christmas Sunday services. I don't think these churches are in sin or are doing major damage. But I do think that they are missing a great opportunity to show how Christianity is different, eternal, and true for all.

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