Tuesday, July 27, 2010

God's Social Club?

This past weekend some friends from college days visited us. Over the course of the weekend there was much talk about church. One lady would often ask about someone, then ask to what church they "belonged." There was also much discussion about trips abroad to the Philippines, Costa Rica, etc. These trips were youth "mission" trips.

In a couple of other discussions with some local friends recently, one lady commented that many of the local youth use the new gym at her church. Another commented on the competition between churches over which has the biggest and the best "campus." An article about the millions leaving organized religion stated that over the past decade 40 million people starved to death, while churches spent 10 billion on their "campuses."

This all set me to thinking. For most people church seems to be more of a social club than anything else. They "join" the club, taking an oath of allegiance to God. Like most club joiners, they really do not mean it, they simply want the prestige of "belonging" to the club. For a nominal fee they get to use the facilities and attend the social events that occur. They get to see and be seen each Sunday. Regular church goers in my part of the country are highly regarded as "good folks."

They also get the privilege of bragging on their membership. They may "belong" to the same church as some of the local movers and shakers, thus rubbing elbows with them and dropping their name at work or at social events. Their church "campus" may be the biggest and best and its cost may be in the millions. Something else to brag about. Someone locally was once quoted as saying, "you are nobody here, unless you belong to the First Baptist Church."

Finally, "belonging" to the club gives you travel opportunities. Your kids can take "mission" trips abroad using the money donated by the church membership. That gives them bragging rights during the next school year. They can one-up other church youth groups, who might have stayed home and actually helped someone locally who might have been starving. Adults can travel on Christian tours alongside like minded folks to places like Israel and Egypt or they may take a trip to visit the ultimate in church waste, the Chrystal Cathedral. There they can drool and get ideas for the next upgrade of their "campus."

I know this is cynical, but look closely at this phenomenon. It happens. Churches are in fierce competition for members and money. The more attractive they can make the club, the more people will join it. In our town they advertise in the paper with slogans. They talk about the church family and the warm welcome you will get if you join them. They talk up the facilities that will be available to you should you decide to take the big step. They now have neon signs with digital displays that advertise their wares. One local church has an "Extreme Outdoor Ministry" complete with elaborately painted new trucks and off road vehicles. They wear camo's and have a local TV show to strut their stuff.

It's mostly about numbers. Numbers of members in the club. Numbers of dues paid. Dues aren't required, but they are expected and the weekly and annual sales pitch puts the pressure on to contribute. Not to help in the community but to pay the bills and keep the club functioning. Millions go for new facilities and their upkeep. The paid staff includes several ministers (youth, music, the elderly, etc.), baby sitters, custodial staff, and food service staff for the rental facilities with commercial kitchens.

So...join up now. See the world, enjoy the modern facilities, play on the ball teams, hunt in a Christian atmosphere, attend church with local celebrities, and see a great show on Sunday morning. There you will experience God in his finest moment, complete with the latest in digital video and sound equipment. The preacher and musical director are the finest money can buy. You will not find a more comfortable environment in which to worship God. Afterward, have dinner in the cafeteria and play basketball in the gym. You can work out on the best exercise equipment in the gym and spa. Why would you want to join anywhere else?


Shannon said...

Interesting post GMM, I agree with what you wrote. Too many churches tend to be a combination of business/cult and don't practice near as much as they preach. Having a place to meet makes sense, but the churches keep getting more expensive and elaborate, it seems completely against what the spirit of church is supposed to be. And all that money spent to build is money that isn't going to people who need it. I wouldn't want to be a part of something like that.

rainlillie said...

Churches are no different than any other institution, there are always good and bad people. I can't think of one organization that doesn't have a few people who are greedy, and only looking out for themselves. You find it in the military and in politics too. The key is to be able to recognized those kind of people and stay clear of them.

Stephen Fox said...

I think I have rigged things in such a way if you click on my name will take you straightaway to a Baptist story that says some good things about church.
Challenged my sourness and cynicism a little.
Suaan Shaw of the West Rome Fundy church in Rome church also made lemonade out of lemons in her book on her Mom's Sunday School class.
People need to get together. It's not a bad thing if they do it at church, even travel sometogether.
I've even heard of some of em getting some light in their lives.
Anne Lamott's story is another good example.
Take a chance on it. Go in there and sing some songs and you may feel better about things if you do it a month or two.
Shakes hands with some people