New church trends offer aromatherapy, when chemotherapy is needed.
For nearly a half century prominent Christian leaders have been raising a chorus of alarmed voices about the diminishing knowledge of God’s Word in churches and among Christians, yet by all measures the ignorance and apathy keeps growing. Even secular researchers are reporting on this alarming trend, like Pew Research: “Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge.” Evangelical Christians were not on that list.
Surely it’s time to stop cleaning the surface and consider surgery to remove the malignancy gutting Americanized Christianity. Chemotherapy is needed, not the aromatherapy dished up by some of the new “Young and Restless Reformed” preachers.
Don’t get me wrong—this young crop of preachers are courageous brothers with a fighting spirit. They teach and preach God’s Word, often with great conviction and refreshing insight, like my buddy Mark Drischoll. I hasten to add (before I get in trouble) that Mark is trying to fight the trend towards Christian ignorance, and offers some in-depth teaching material.
The problem is excessive reliance on The Really Big Show, which means big budgets, theatrics, and facilities with ambiance. Together, they create Christian Aromatherapy, which is stirring the Great Christian Migration phenomena so well-documented by Willow Creek in a survey of Christian migrations among 280,000 respondents in 1,200 churches.1 Their survey made a big splash a few years ago and popped a few megachurch bubbles.
Aromatherapy transformed the church landscape into a shopping mall crowded with pilgrims in search of a new and improved church. After five years in the same place, bored and restless Christians go church-shopping, according to Willow’s research. So the “Young and Restless Reformed” are rising stars winning customers in the megachurch mall, sometimes at the expense of aging stars, like Bill Hybels at Willow Creek. (But who can “Walk Across the Room” like Bill? Check out this great rap at the XSI site.)
If it all sounds too cynical, watch this clip from Elevation Church in North Carolina with six satellite campuses orbiting around Lead Pastor Steven Furtick. He looks a little like Jim Carey, but that’s irrelevant. The lighting, colors and music create a warm ambiance, which surely defines Christian Aromatherapy. Like it or not, the term fits, the intent is clear, the cost is exorbitant, but is the ambiance effective? Attendance says “yes”, but there lies the problem—attendance growth is not church growth if church migrants are streaming in.
Within a decade, Elevation Church grew from a few families to 9,000 attending weekly, and although salvations may be underway, only Migration Growth can possibly explain the dramatic and rapid rise of Elevation. A young, Pagan-Christian (i.e., a secularized convert) friend watched the Elevation broadcast with me, and nailed it: “It’s more like a presentation to keep the Christians coming back. What I wanted [as a non-Christian] was something more like an explanation, something reasonable.”
Steve Jobs Versus Jesus Christ
I asked my friend to explain the difference between “presentation” and “explanation”. He said a presentation assumes you already understand all the terms and ideas, but still need to be reminded of the value, like Steve Jobs presenting a new gadget at an Apple users’ convention. But an explanation is aimed at skeptics who don’t understand or believe any of it, like Bill Gates selling Windows 7 at the same Apple users’ convention—a difficult job! My young friend was close enough to his pagan roots to remember attending church and how boring and useless it was to an “outsider”.
Jesus was no Steve Jobs. He spoke with authority, not hype: “When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” (Matthew 7:28-29) Is it not interesting that Jesus never led a Singing Worship Service?
The lights went on and the spell of aromatherapy suddenly vanished. Everything was clear—this young, Pagan-Christian virtually quoted Paul (with fluff).
“We persuade men,” Paul wrote (2 Cor. 5:11). In three simple words Paul explained the nature of Early Christianity and its raging success. Bible literacy thrived in that era, when young Pagan-Christians actually learned God’s Word and spread it across the Empire in a few, short decades. No seminaries pumped out the preachers, and since they met in houses, they needed tons of preachers. Average Joe Christian spread it, but “average” was pretty darn knowledgeable and exceptional, by today’s standards.
Paul’s prescription is chemotherapy for Americanized Christianity, and so badly needed for the malignancy everyone sees growing. I’ll explain Christian Chemotherapy later.