Sunday, April 17, 2011

Poor Jerusalem and Corinth: If they had only had our resources

For a follower of Jesus like myself who has served in the institutional church "Show" for over 25 years, this time of year produces both joy and grief. Joy because thanks to Jesus' current status, my daily existence is radically altered- and in a good way! Grief because of how the culture has reduced Jesus' resurrection to another golden calf in the post-Christian wilderness. We think we are doing the right thing but an honest look at how we do it might reveal that we, like the religious culture of Jesus' time, are failing to accurately represent Jesus' life to ourselves and to the world.

Few strategies represent this misguidance more than the mass marketing of Holy Week. The competition between local churches to attract the great unwashed in our society to attend (and presumably join) our congregation (read: club) is intense- and expensive! The stress that a senior pastor and his staff experience each Lenten season to design, produce and distribute a glossier and more creative mailer is as I remember it, exhausting. The church spends time, money and energy in the hopes that by generating an attractive advertising campaign, God will be able to pull "unchurched" (and really, how many in our culture qualify as "unchurched"?) in to their Show on Palm Sunday and Easter. Well-intended as this effort may be, I'm afraid it produces enormous piles of recyclable goods and fails to yield the human numbers a church hopes for to their flock.

Poor Jerusalem. If only they had the business savvy, creative brilliance, technological hardware, and financial resources they might have been able to do so much more than they did. Relying on the direct human to other human contact between people who were filled with the Holy Spirit (read: Love of God and others), they apparently only managed to attract thousands to their early models of ministry. If only they had the kind of postal service we have today through which a church can invest a large amount of money to send a professional produced flyer indiscreminately to every house within a reasonable radius of the meeting place, they might have produced a better return. Perhaps hundreds- or even a dozen!

During my tenure in professional ministry, I knew of know congregation to whom the Lord added thousands as a result of either the advanced publicity or the production of the Easter Show.

Poor Corinth. Had they known that competition between congregations was something that the Lord considered "healthy" (no matter what Paul would say about it), and if they had been operating with the resources and mindset the contemporaray church enjoys, they might've been able to let the ungodly heathen select which Show to attend on Easter based on the success of a slickly produced mailer that may have stood out among the crowd of church mailers they received that week.  The Church of Apollos would no doubt highlight the creative and compelling sermon that Apollos might deliver. The Church of Peter might be more servant-centered and choose to attract the church consumer by focusing on the strength of their outreach programs. Paul's church would be teaching-centered, perhaps calling attention to their affinity-based small groups ministry.

If only today's church would wake up to the fact that the people who attend their congregation on Palm and Easter Sundays are probably the people who already attend throughout the year. They just all show up on Easter so we think we have "new" people.

The last place I would be on Easter is a church. If I were interested in what they were "selling" by their mass marketing "evangelism", I would choose to go the Sunday AFTER Easter and see who really attends and how "exciting" their hyped-up services actually are.

I would probably go to the golf course on Easter since all the "Christians" would be in church and the course would be wide open.

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