Satellite churches with onscreen pastors

The latest in megachurch trends:  Doing without a pastor, except on streaming big screen video:

A new church was born Sunday morning, but, like an increasing number of congregations, it has no preaching pastor.

In what has become one of the most popular church growth methods across the country, a large white screen unfurled in front of the stage with the preacher’s image projected on it, preempting the live sermon and the pastor’s physical presence.

Welcome to the satellite church, a 21st century phenomenon that owes its success to advances in technology. These days, instead of starting new congregations, churches are reproducing the successful ones, franchise-style. . . .

Over the past five years, nearly every megachurch in the Triangle has done the same. Hope Community Church in Raleigh, Cleveland Community Church, or C3, in Clayton, and the Summit Church in Durham – all have at least one satellite location where the pastor’s message is recorded and then streamed live or hand-delivered on a DVD to an ancillary site where it’s screened for a different audience.

Though there are varying methods to the satellite concept, they share many of the same characteristics. Each satellite has a live praise and worship band and a local “campus pastor” who makes announcements, leads in prayer and tends to the needs of the congregants throughout the week.

But the heart of the service – the sermon – is given over to the big screen.

via Growing church opts for tele-communion – Religion – NewsObserver.com.

Why doesn’t everybody just stay home and watch it on their computers.  Think how mega such a church would be, with a congregation unlimited by location, space, or time.  Actually, I believe that is being tried.

Does anyone here go to a church like that or been to one?

Church growth for Christian Scientists

The Church of Christ, Scientist, founded by Mary Baker Eddy, teaches the gnostic and Buddhist/Hindu notion that evil, including sickness, is an illusion, which can be dispelled by proper thinking and meditation. The Christian Scientist movement used to be quite popular among the nation’s upper crust, with Reading Rooms and a national newspaper, “The Christian Science Monitor.” But these days the numbers are dwindling. So, like other desperate churches, the Christian Scientists are trying to employ methods of the church growth movement, including toning down their traditional teachings and practices to make them palatable to the masses.

Thanks to tODD for putting me on to this. He comments, “this story has it all! Church-growth-like numbers analysis! Attempts to be more relevant in the face of declining numbers! Insane levels of Gospel-less Law! Nutty theology that is neither “Christian” nor “science”! And, of course, health care!” From the New York Times:

Since the founding of their church 131 years ago, Christian Scientists have been taught to avoid doctors at all cost. It is a conviction rooted so deeply in church dogma that dozens of members have endured criminal prosecution rather than surrender an ailing person to what they see as the quackery of medical science.

But faced with dwindling membership and blows to their church’s reputation caused by its intransigence concerning medical treatment, even for children with grave illnesses, Christian Science leaders have recently found a new tolerance for medical care. For more than a year, leaders say, they have been encouraging members to see a physician if they feel it is necessary.

Perhaps more significantly, they have begun a public campaign to redefine their methods as a form of care that the broader public should consider as a supplement rather than a substitute for conventional treatment, like biofeedback, chiropractic or homeopathic care.

In recent years, the church has been lobbying to convince lawmakers that its approach is an alternative way of tending to the sick, and that its costs should be covered by insurance companies and included in health care legislation.

Lobbyists succeeded in getting provisions that encourage private insurance coverage of Christian Science care into both the 2006 legislation overhauling health care in Massachusetts and the United States Senate version of the health care overhaul; both measures were removed in negotiations. Church officials say they intend to keep trying, at both the state and federal level. . . .

The faith’s guiding textbook forbids mixing medical care with Christian Science healing, which is a form of transcendental prayer intended to realign a patient’s soul with God.

But rigid thinking has not served the church well in the last half century, Mr. Davis said. Though officials do not provide membership statistics, scholars estimate that the church’s numbers have dropped to under 100,000 from a peak of about twice that at the turn of the 20th century. The faith has about 1,100 churches in the United States and 600 abroad.

In New York City, falling membership forced the Christian Science church on Park Avenue to lease its building part time to a catering service in 2006. Another Manhattan church remains open; a third closed in 2005.

“We are a church on a slow curve of diminishment, in good part because of what people see as our stridency,” he said in an interview at the church’s New York offices on East 42nd Street near Grand Central Terminal. “So we asked ourselves, ‘Are we only going to pray for you if we find you pure enough and spiritual enough?’ ”

Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, in 1879 in Boston, wrote in the church’s textbook, “Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures,” that anyone inviting a doctor to his sickbed “invites defeat.”

Mr. Davis said that by toning down “the judgmental part of our nature” and opening the doors to people seeking Christian Science prayer as a sort of “value-added health care,” the church hopes to keep alive a form of religious practice that its adherents still see as the true path to salvation.

But if even the members no longer believe in their founders’ theology and practice, maybe they should just stop being Christian Scientists! (And this religion almost got into the Health Care Bill!)

New church growth ideas

A Roman Catholic church in Ireland is attracting large crowds by offering a mass that only lasts 15 minutes. Basically, it cuts out the sermon and everything except a rushed-through Holy Communion.

A church in a tiny Virginia town has gone nudist.

If churches are going to do this–change historical practice to better appeal to culturally-besotted Christians, nonbelievers, and quirky sub-cultures–what else could they do?

Introverts in church

Contemporary American churches, for all of their church-growth methodology, are leaving out–indeed, alienating–a whole class of people.  Namely, introverts.  Joe Carter cites and discusses some recent writing on this topic.  Such as this from Christian experimental psychologist Richard Beck:

Do introverts fit in at church?

The answer, obviously, is that it depends upon what kind of church we are talking about. In liturgical churches I expect introverts and extroverts fare about the same. But in non-liturgical churches they may fare differently.

Specifically, non-liturgical churches tend to be more sociable churches. So, let’s call them that. That is, there are liturgical churches and there are sociable churches. Sociable churches tend to emphasize relationality among its members. For example, a large part of the sociable church experience involves lengthy greetings (being greeted and greeting others), adult bible classes that are conversational and oriented around fellowship (e.g., in my church we sit at tables drinking coffee, eating donuts, and chatting), and the in-depth sharing of personal prayer requests.

This is not to say that liturgical churches aren’t sociable or don’t have sociable facets to them. It’s just the simple recognition that going to a Catholic mass (the prototypical liturgical experience) differs greatly from my day at church at the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, TX. My experience is heavy on the “visiting,” as they say here in Texas.

In these highly sociable churches there is an implicit theological theme that marries sociability with spirituality. That is, being sociable—visiting intensively, and being willing to “get into each other's lives”—is highly prized. To a point, this is understandable. A sociable church is going to rely on extraverts to make the whole vibe work.

But introverts fare poorly in these sociable churches. The demand to visit, mix, and share with strangers taxes them. Worse, given that these social activities are declared to be “spiritual,” the introvert feels morally judged and spiritually marginalized. As if their very personality was spiritually diseased.

Consequently, the “issue of the introvert” is one of the big overlooked problems in these sociable churches. For example, church leaders often want to make church more “meaningful.” What they mean by this is that they want to create an atmosphere were deep human contact can be made. This is a fine goal, a worthy goal. However, to pull this off in an ordinary church setting demands a degree of sociability that introverts just don't have. Take a typical church service, communion service, small group service, or bible class. Let's say, to make it more “meaningful,” you ask the participants to find someone sitting close to them to have a spiritually-oriented exchange/conversation with. A time of sharing. Well, the introverts are just going to HATE this activity. They may hate it so much that they just might stop coming to your services. In fact, I know introverts at my church who purposely come in late to avoid the perfunctory meet-and-greet that occurs right at the start of our services (“Find someone close to you and say hello!”).

I bet most of you readers of this blog, whatever your political or theological persuasion, are introverts. Don’t you just HATE it when you visit a church and in the name of being friendly to visitors they make you stand up and introduce yourself? And wear a special name tag? And can you stand it when a group of strangers in a Bible study asks you to “share”? And liturgical churches–while perhaps following a way of worship that is a haven to our sensibilities– can be just as bad, as when they make you “pass the peace.”

Seriously, introverts are a major demographic. I would argue that they–we–are especially serious about religion, tending to focus on the inner life, though they are also the group most alienated from the church and thus in particular need of the gospel. Churches drive them away. And yet, churches are always urged to be “more friendly.” Which drives introverts away even more.

Is this right? (Don’t worry. At this blog you don’t have to “share.”)

Tattoo sermons

Another way to make your church relevant! Preach a whole sermon series about tattoos. And during the sermon, have someone actually getting a tattoo so the whole congregation can watch. From the Tuscaloosa News:

The sight of a woman being tattooed live on the altar accompanied by the sound of a buzzing ink gun provided a startling backdrop to Sunday's evangelical sermon.

Your parents' church service this was not. In the drive to stay relevant, the Gold Creek Community Church has been hosting a series called 'Permanent Ink' that featured Sunday's live-tattoo finale.

The Mill Creek, Wash., church is not exactly staid — booming 20-minute rock sets launch regular sermons — yet the pastors acknowledge this series was pushing societal norms.

'We've said from the start that we are not advocating tattoos — nor discouraging them,' said pastor Larry Ehoff.

'We think of it as amoral. It's neither immoral nor moral, it's just the choice of a person.'

Ehoff said the church is telling the same story of Jesus as always, it's just finding different ways to tell it.

Sharon Snell was one of several congregants who volunteered to be tattooed Sunday. At the noon service, she got on stage and faced away from about 150 parishioners while tattoo artist Matt Sawdon worked on the image of a police shield on her lower back. . . .

As Snell's tattoo took shape, pastor Dan Kellogg told the congregation that permanent markings, both good and evil, are mentioned in the Bible. The most famous symbol, he said, is '666,' the sign of the devil.

But there's also mention in the Bible of markings on Jesus, saying he is the king of kings and lord of lords, Kellogg said. . . .

Last week, as part of the Permanent Ink series, a member of the church had a tattoo of Texas removed.

Because the equipment was too cumbersome to transport, parishioners watched a video of the process.

The man now lives in Washington, and he doesn't see much need for the Lone Star State anymore.

So what need is there for any of this? Why is preaching THE WORD OF GOD somehow not enough? What does preaching about tattoos, complete with live-action object lessons, have to do with ANYTHING, other than, perhaps, trying to project an aura of coolness that the church really doesn’t even have, since aficionados of tattoos already know how they are made?

First the Gospel is dropped, leaving only Law, and next the Law is also dropped, leaving I’m not sure what–a sense of belonging? feeling good? just coming to church for its own sake?


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