A Bridge Too Short?
Earlier this week, my fellow blogger Calvin Sodestrom penned an excellent piece on so called “church marketing.” While I agreed with most everything that Calvin said, I also wanted to press his point further and help us to reconsider how we go about “doing church.” Calvin’s insights were useful but as long as we are conceiving of church in the traditional paradigm, our comments on “marketing” will always be a bridge too short.
In trying to persuade his readers against consumeristic thinking about the church Calvin writes:
…maybe the fact that people make quick first impressions is not justification for being “seeker sensitive,” but rather proof that the church was not meant to be decided on in 7 minutes.
I propose going a step further; the church was not meant to be decided on… ever. Not in seven minutes, not in seven billion minutes. The assumption that the church was “meant to be decided on” at all presupposes coming to the church as a consumer. Unfortunately, this presupposition cannot simply be tossed out by writing and teaching against it. It cannot be tossed out because it is embedded in the very structure of the traditional church paradigm.
Structures teach values. Structures always, always, teach values. And the structure of the traditional church paradigm teaches people to consume. As a result of this non-verbal teaching, people naturally begin to value things like nice bulletins, good signage, a hospitality team, etc.
When people drive up to a church building, they naturally expect to go in and consume a product. They hope to find nice people, a place for the kids and a well-polished service with no awkward pauses. It is a performance. There is simply no way around it because the structure does not allow for anything other than a performance. Put on a poor performance and not only will casual attendees not come back, but many Christians will not return either.
This is not surprising because the traditional church paradigm is professionalized. A professional pastor with a large amount of training, an office staff, a band that practices so that if puts on a good performance on Sunday. So while there is a chorus of voices telling us not to treat church like a business, they fail to realize that the very form of church is embedded in a business structure. The church must be a well oiled machine or it will fail (I mean this in a business sense). The same goes for the call to pastors to not act like “professionals.” They operate in a professional structure and so it is impossible to deprofessionalize in toto.
So is it possible to achieve Calvin’s vision? Yes, it is. But the church structure needs a dramatic overhaul. We need to start thinking of church on an organic house church type level that we see in the New Testament (Philemon 1:2; Romans 16:5; Colossians 4:15; 1 Corinthians 16:19).
When thinking about house church, this does not mean taking what we do in the traditional paradigm and simply doing it inside of someone’s house. House church looks quite different from the traditional model. It gets us to that end goal of the church really being about the people of God and not marketing. The structure of house church teaches values of community, the priesthood of all believers and the use of everyone’s spiritual gifts. House church takes seriously Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 14:26 where he says:
What then brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (emphasis mine)
It is impossible to live this verse out in the traditional paradigm but it is very possible in a house church. This verse tell us to bring something for others rather than going to church to get something for ourselves. Your perspective on church dramatically changes when you think about what you are going to give rather then what you are going to get. And it is in this framework where God’s people are coming to minister to one another in small home communities that the beauty of God’s church shines forth brightly.
It is here where flashy signage, bulletins and parking space become meaningless as the beauty of God’s people living out his Word amongst one another builds a bridge that is just far enough.