I just finished Monique El-Faizy’s God and Country: How Evangelicals Have Become America’s New Mainstream, and it contained a lot of different points that I’d like to discuss. It is really interesting to read an athiest’s view of the Evangelical world. She was a Christian until she went away to college and stepped away from the faith. Its kind of nice to be able to hear from someone who was both an insider and now an outsider to Christianity. It makes for an interesting perspective.
I was going to write about her chapter on church history, but I just changed my mind. I want to talk about her discussion of megachurches and their future 🙂 So let’s jump on in:
Despite the continuing success of megachurches, as they get bigger and blander some people are starting to look for a new kind of experience, one more immediate or transcendent. They’re finding it in some unlikely places, in the podcasts of sermons they download from the Internet, in cyberchurches, and in Bible studies at their workplaces, what Barna calls “marketplace ministries.” Many have left the church building and are meeting in parks and houses. In fact, the house church movement, in which several families meet on a regular basis in someone’s home, often to be led by the same person each week, is growing by great leaps.
Even before I read this section, my mom and I were discussing this idea of alternate ways of attending church. I had told my mom that the Bible study group that we led last year in our house was the truest church I’ve ever attended. We were living lives where we could be accountable to each other, learn together, really probe into scripture with debate, and pray for one another. It wasn’t just a matter of showing up on Sunday and checking “church” off of our list. It was non-hierarchical and met in our home, and yet it fulfilled more of the ideas of church than any “church” (what we now consider to be a church) that I’ve attended ever has. Still we feel this pull that it was “only a Bible study” and that if we didn’t attend Sunday services in a big building then we wouldn’t really be in church.
This is a seminal time for the church, a moment of reflection and self-assessment such as hasn’t been seen in decades. Its attempts to germane to society have been so successful that the church is in the midst of an identity crisis sparked by its own achievement. Long accustomed to being on the fringes, evangelical Christianity has become so big, so powerful, and so mainstream that many on the inside are wondering if they’ve lost their flavor and have abandoned what made them distinctive.
I can definitely see this feeling spreading in the church. We are losing a lot of our flavor. We are giving many of our churches over to the pop culture of Christianity and the world. If you don’t attend a mega-church, then the far likelihood is that you attend a church that uses a curriculum from a mega-church. There is no local flavor. It is bland.
The response to these concerns has taken several different forms. Many Christians are looking to put the sanctity back in church and are returning to the traditions that the megachurches abandoned. Where churches such as Willow Creek and Saddleback desanctified the physical church, others are looking to resanctify it, placing new value on incense, stained glass, candles, and other high-church trappings. They are reintroducing liturgy to their services, or moving into denominations that never abandoned it, such as the Episcopalian church (although there they opt for conservative congregations that are on the restrictive side of the split over gay clergy).
I find this to be very true in my own life. I have started searching out more traditional ways of worship. We light candles for the Sabbath like my father’s family did, we recite the same prayers that were recited when I was young (and since the times of the early Jews), I am longing for more liturgy in service. I have even looked at denominations that still use liturgy, although I have generally been more drawn to Messianic Jewish congregations instead of Episcopalian, but the root desire is the same. The desire is to be a part of something deeper… something that isn’t just the flavor-of-the-day. I want a faith and a practice that stands the test of time, not just what gets people in the door today.
Megachurches were invented by baby boomers and designed to appeal to that generation. They rely on the notion of choice and individualization and on the tools of marketing to hone and promote their product. This comes, though, at the cost of the idea that the church is a body, the needs of which supersede those of the individual. Along with defecting boomers, younger generations, which are remarkably religious, are beginning to rebel against the church of their parents’ generation and are looking for more direct encounters with the divine. They don’t need the pat answers megachurches provide but are willing to embark on their own personal spiritual journeys.
The fact is that my parents and my husband’s parents were fundamentalists who switched to a more evangelical route when the tide started to change. They followed what was going on around them. In our attempt to return to a “deeper” spiritual experience, we are doing the same thing. We are doing what our generation feels prone to do. We’re not any different, the trends are just changing.
I have a lot more to say, but my fingers are getting tired, lol. Next time I want to write about what El-Faizy sees as the different options in the post-modern and emergent church. I think you’ll find it interesting to read from the perspective of a woman who is no longer in the church (El-Faizy, not me, lol).
My morning sickness seems to be coming at night, and I am starting to feel a little yucky. I’m relieved to feel a little sick though, because it gives some reassurance that this is a “sticky” baby. I’ve really been trying to put this in God’s hands, but it is so hard. I know I have no control over this little life growing in me, but at the same time I get a sense of control if I am thinking or worrying about it. I am trying so hard to give that up. I really appreciate everyone’s prayers for me, for the baby, and for the rest of our family. You’re the best!