Friday, August 20, 2010
Staying Ahead of the Competition
The same problems are faced by those churches who compete with other churches, with secular entertainment, with the current techno craze, and the notoriously cantankerous prevailing moods of Americans. You spend half your time evaluating the competition as you do working on your own stuff. In fact, sometimes it seems like just when you thought you had arrived you find out somebody else is having better results doing something different.
In our local movie theaters (which I do not visit with great regularity) some churches advertise to the captive people waiting for their favorite flick to begin. They all seem to say the same thing. We are hip. We are with it. We are kewl. We are where its at. We are phat. We are sweeeeet. (Drat, I don't even know how to say cool anymore... that is the problem with change and keeping up with it all.) Inevitably their buildings are warehouse style structures -- very modern, very stark, with only video screens and speakers as the obligatory ornaments. Their Pastors are smooooooth and look good in a suit (or polo and khakis or jeans and a tee). The musicians always seem to have a couple day's growth of beard (except the females who are so very fine). Hands are raised, people are dancin, and it seems like everyone is really havin a goooood time. They have happening names like Exit One Church or Faith Outreach or Cornerstone Church, etc. They have stages and light boards and magnificent sound systems and the most current mics that barely show that they are hanging off the ear.
I get some email journals on church growth techniques and the like and they tell me where you can get the latest worship slides for your screen or worship software to control the images AND PowerPoint the sermon AND project the words to the songs. The thing is that this stuff costs more per year than we spend on everything related to worship (including a cantor's compensation and choir music). Plus I would have to read up on all of this and become intimately acquainted with the tech geeks in order to get it all up and running and then be able to use all the capacity I purchased for Sunday morning.
People like it though... the commercials don't pan the congregations but they sure looked full while I waited for the latest Transformer movies to cue up. People like what is current and what is in -- you can get them in one Sunday but as soon as you fall behind the curve on what is new or cutting edge... they will ditch you for some other place that is less behind... Statistics tell us some of this is why these churches seem to thrive -- not so much converting many new folks and moving the same folks around and around again.
The sad truth is that the only reality we need to stay ahead of is sin and death. And we stay ahead of this reality by proclaiming an age old message (well, at least 2K old). We proclaim a Gospel several millenia old using worship forms that are almost that old and this is where God as (just as He has promised to be). Which would you rather compete against? The techo toys of the moment and the entertainment fads of the day or proclaiming to sinners where forgiveness is to be found and telling the dead where life is available and telling the lost where home is... by preaching Jesus Christ?
I like technology. I don't like being on top of it all. I seem to recall an old TV commercial in which a man went to great lengths to insure that the computer he bought at the store was the most current model and most current technology available. On the way home with the top down on the convertible and a big smile on his face he looks up and a sign painter is putting a few words on the billboard advertising the computer he purchased. The words were "Now New and Improved." And the smile faded from the man's face because he knew that what he had in the back seat and what he had never opened yet was already out of date.
The Church cannot afford the financial cost of staying ahead nor can the Church afford the cost to the mission of Christ and being faithful to our Lord when we substitute trend for the Gospel, what is in at the moment for what Christ did once for all time, and what people want now for what they need for eternity.
Even Microsoft is finding the cost of staying ahead a big pill to swallow.... As my old friend used to describe it, how can St. John's by the Gas Pump do for the faith what Microsoft can barely afford to do with internet browsers?