Water Mosaic echoes from home

pondering the mysteries, simplicity, and humor of life

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Gospel According to Salesmen and Realtors

Can churches become too commercial? Are mega-churches harmful to the communities around them? Are communities better off with large congregations or smaller groups of faiths?

After reading an article in the NY Times about churches and real estate, I began to wonder what the impact of a large growing church has on its surrounding society. Because some many people buy into the church growth myth, they need bigger and better facilities to house them all. A book that our publishing house sells is called Selling Swimsuits in the Arctic: Seven Simple Keys to Growing Churches. Here is a short summary of the book:

Adam Hamilton [author] reminds us that all of life is about sales. Whether we are in a job interview, a candidates’ debate, or a classroom, we are selling something: our skills, our convictions, our selves. The same is true of presenting the gospel to the unchurched.

The gospel is now reduced to a sales pitch in Hamilton’s mind, which will in turn help the congregation double, triple even quadruple in size at an alarming rate. Granted I haven’t read this book and never intend to, but I can’t help think of the damage this does to discipleship. If getting someone baptized or confirmed or “saved” as quick as possible so that the church can outgrow its standing facilities and have a bigger budget, then I want no part this gospel, a gospel according to salesmen.

I once interviewed at a church that talked a lot about growing its numbers in the coming year. That seemed to be the goal for the ministry staff as well as the elders and deacons. I’m all for people having hope in their lives and living like Jesus to better the world, but I wanted to ask them WHY. Is it because you want your numbers to be impressive? Is it because the minister wants to be apart of a large church and have credentials of leading such a crusade? Is it money? Is it power? Even if no one came to your church for a whole year, would you and your church call yourselves failures?

I fear that living like Jesus (discipleship) has become something of a frivolous call that has been passed up by the simple mental belief in Jesus. Churches seem more interested in building the fanciest, most technologically advanced space mortar and brick can contain than building the dreams of God on earth. An adversary in the article for mega churches coming to her community said, “Being a successful church today means being a growth-oriented, seven-day-a-week operation.” Her comment makes one assess how others are seeing what “success” means to faith communities.

Am I against church buildings? By no means. But is the building using its space for those outside its walls to better the community? Or is the church buying into the corporate American concept of consumerism, commercialism, and materialism? Has the gosple been reduced to real estate and sales? Lord help us all.