Monday, August 11, 2008

Brave New Church

"Being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us." -- Paul the Apostle.

""Volunteers are at every entrance making sure everyone has a badge." --Mike Buster, executive pastor, Prestonwood Baptist Church.

In a Dallas Morning News article intended to be favorable toward Prestonwood, but that would be difficult to caricature, church leaders and software vendors explain how the church can use technology to provide its 27,000 members with an experience of "intimacy" while making each and every person "feel important and wanted." Somehow, "intimacy" derived from tracking "new members by archiving the cards" and from providing parents with badges helping them to pick up their children from workers that they do not know would seem to fall short of the biblical notion of a church community. Indeed, it makes one sad to consider what might for some people pass for intimacy in the modern world.

Intimacy through technology. Oooookay.

Prestonwood and other megachurches are pleased that they can leverage technology to "digitize operations just like a secular business," in order to assist in, among other things "tracking which members stop attending" or "monitoring tithing levels." If you quit tithing, you might get an encouraging letter. Once again, such practices hardly cohere either to biblical concepts of community or to Jesus' mandate to make disciples.

Of course, technology driving churches becomes necessary for those that have exchanged the concept of disciplemaking with an emphasis on putting butts in seats, and that have confused the values of the Sermon on the Mount with those of Broadway. Indeed, and this is related to the reason that churches have become comfortable with greater levels of anonymity, questions of worship style have by and large replaced concerns with the content of the worship experience. The goal of Christian "worship" now is not so much to help people be reconciled to God as it is to help them feel good about themselves. Real ministry requires knowing the congregation; putting on a great show can be completely anonymous.

Of course, there is nothing wrong, per se, with feeling good about one's self. However, the loss of true intimacy among congregations of people who should strive to actually know and relate to one another while being conformed to the image of Christ can hardly be held up as an ideal for believers.

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