By Lewis Willis
While out-of-town in a gospel meeting, I was given a copy of the newspaper supplement, USA Weekend (April 13-15, 1990). The lead article was entitled “McChurch,” and it centered on activities in what is being called the many “mega-churches” located throughout the country. The primary focus was on the Willow Creek Community Church in South Barington, Illinois, and its preacher, Bill Hybels. In giving his explanation for their rapid growth, Hybels said the key is “Marketing. Ask consumers what they want, then let them (as they say at Burger King) have it their way.” The author of the article, Cindy LaFavre Yorks, put this sub-heading on her article, “To attract churchgoers today, you’ve got to please the consumer. That means high-tech entertainment. Day care. Self-help groups. No pleas for money. No Bible thumping. Happy customers from California to Maryland are eating up ‘fast-food religion’ this Easter.”
In the so-called “worship” of these mega-churches, the idea is not to bore the worshiper. Thus, they use drama, humor and pop music -no “archaic hymns.” The “pitch” goes from “home-baked pies to high-tech telemarketing to day care.” Where is the Bible in this pitch?
I guess there are times when I am not “up-to-speed” about what is going on around me. However, I am still reluctant to think of people who assemble for worship of God as “customers.” I certainly have no intention of buying into the idea that you should produce a worship that “lets them have it their way.” Personally, I happen to like the idea of home-baked pies. I just can’t find any authority for getting pies into the worship of the church. If you are playing to “customers,” I guess it really does not make any difference what you are doing which is really the essence of this matter.
It seems that people have confused the object of their worship. It appears rather obvious that they are not worshiping the same object I am trying to worship. I have had this “archaic” notion that we were supposed to be worshiping God. They apparently have the notion that we are worshiping the “customers.” At least, they are careful to give the “customers” whatever they want and they seem to pay no attention at all to giving God what he wants. And, this is the fatal flaw in this ungodly approach to church development.
I had this subject on my mind before I received the article I am referring to. I had received an invitation to a wedding at a big liberal Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio. When I got to the building I found a so-called Church of Christ trying to play to its customers. It was evident just by looking at the building. There was a new auditorium complex to the left, with the old auditorium on the right. Pulling into the parking lot, one was greeted with instruction on the front door of the old auditorium, “Exit Only.” When I got inside I found out why. The auditorium was now the new “fellowship hall.” The former foyer was now a storage area for the pots and pans essential to the “fellowship” of that church. I can remember a time, when these eating houses were being introduced, that great care was taken to explain that the portable partitions in the classrooms only made congregational dinners “possible.” No longer do these apostates even bother to shield what they are doing. The old auditorium I was in formerly had the permanent classroom partitions removed so that they could seat more people for their dinners. The old pulpit was an excellent place for the gift table of the couple being married. The bridal cake was a beautiful thing to behold, sitting in what was an old classroom. But there was one big problem – they had no place to get water for the 100 cup coffee pot, except in the restrooms of the new building. I’m surprised that someone has not suggested that they pipe water from the old baptistry for the congregational coffee pot. I tell you, folks, it isn’t easy turning a place of worship into a playhouse. But, longing for a mega-church status, and being willing to give the “customers” whatever they want, our departed brethren are trying with all their might!
I sat there in the new auditorium for the wedding, then I went into the “fellowship hall,” all the while wondering if I should even be there. I felt certain that it would require armed force to get into that beautiful new pulpit and preach, “What, have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? Or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. . . And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come” (1 Cor. 11:22,34). 1 know that kind of preaching would be unwelcome there.
I was just thinkin ” then and now, that it was like being in a denominational building. I now realize that I was in the building of a denomination! The Church of Christ would never do such a thing as those people obviously do all the time. It would be a shame if it did. Let the denominations build their “McChurches” let the Lord’s Church continue to struggle along, doing the will of the Lord.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 14, p. 428
July 19, 1990