One of the phenomenon that I didn’t plan to study but has increasingly become a part of the HX critique is Wal-Mart churches: churches that spawn multiple campuses that are near-clones of itself. Now that I’m pastoring in the Plains, Lifechurch.tv is all around me: three of its 12 campuses are within an hour’s drive of me. The pastor is simulcast via digital streaming or DVD to all the campuses. While each have their own local flair/personality, the pastoral headquarters operates all the satellites…much like Wal-mart headquarters operates all its Wal-mart stores that drive the smaller chains out of business by its well-honed machinery.
|Wal-mart Churches are churches with multiple locations, like a franchise.|
In our conversations, we’ve focused on what happens when a big well-financed church moves into a rural area, as well as the dangers of planting Wal-mart churches in gated communities, but so far I’ve left out UM churches either by my own bias or lack of material to comment on.
Until now. Rev. Adam Hamilton is the pastor of the largest UM congregation with several satellite campuses and an online campus (he is also a Methoblogger along with his online associate pastor…impressive). However great Adam is for theological conversation and the church, I felt a deep sense of foreboding when I read Adam’s eNote this past week:
Resurrection Blue Springs?
Two months ago the leadership of North Springs United Methodist Church in Blue Springs, Missouri (located on the north side of I-70 between 7 Hwy and Adams’ Dairy Parkway) contacted our church to ask if we would have any interest in allowing their church to become a campus of The Church of the Resurrection like Resurrection West and Resurrection Downtown. They are an 18-year-old congregation with about 150 committed members who have been unable to grow and who have struggled to become the church they hoped to become when they began.
Further conversations with the District Superintendent, the head of Congregational Development for Missouri, and others convinced us that the Missouri Annual Conference and its bishop supported this idea. We explored the demographics of the community, looked at the debt obligations on its current building, sought to understand what would be involved in adopting this congregation, and we considered the potential of this location, building and people as a new campus of Resurrection. Recently the North Spring’s Church Council voted unanimously in favor of this idea. Last week our Church Council voted unanimously in favor of moving forward with further conversations.
In a few weeks ahead, I’ll share more about this with you during weekend worship and invite you to vote on this proposal.
Let’s be clear: these campuses clearly lead people to a relationship with the Body of Christ. I’m not doubting the integrity of the pastoral or lay leadership of these campuses. I’m not critiquing the ends; I’m fearful of the means and what this might mean for the kingdom.
|I’ve got a bad feeling about this…|
What happens if we put the pieces on the table without any religious terms?
- A struggling (or at least flat in growth) entity decides they are unable to compete in their area of specialty
- Facing extinction or reduced viability, they contact a larger, more established corporate entity and offer to be absorbed
- The corporate entity accepts and absorbs the initial entity into the whole, retaining some local customs but decisions ultimately come from the corporate head.
I would posit this is a connectional church phenomenon (ie. Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, etc). There’s an attraction to retaining a United Methodist identity. Thus, outsourcing the worship message to another UM church or even becoming a satellite of a UM church will most likely be a connectional-church phenomenon rather than a non-denom outsourcing to Willowcreek or something.
I could see a lot more of this happening as local churches that struggle to grow and yet have great ministries decide to focus their energy on their active ministries and outsource their worship to a corporate church. I’m not saying this is going to happen with Blue Springs/Resurrection, but I wonder what might happen if more churches decide to turn their worship, the heart of the Body of Christ, over to the professionals (who do GREAT worship, let’s not kid ourselves, but disturbing nonetheless).
|Resistance may be Futile.|
I can see the temptation. I’m a clergyperson who crafts worship, curriculum, and ministry every week and I wonder how I would respond if we did this. If we gave over our worship time to a corporate church (in whole or part), then look at the benefits:
- I could spend more time doing discipleship ministries (my primary interest) and less time preaching/leading worship. More time = more effective.
- The preaching would be less personal in message but more tightly crafted by fantastic worship leaders.
- People already watch TV all the time, they can clearly
be mezmorized byhandle a streamed message.
- The parish can accept ministers with more gifts in discipleship/congregational growth rather than simply great preachers/worship leaders.
So yes, I can see the temptation to do this. The benefits are clear. But what might the concerns be? Since this is my first pass at it, I don’t have any data to call on for support, but there’s a few inklings that I have on my heart:
- Dude, you just outsourced the primary thing that separates the church from the world: worship of Jesus Christ. Outsourcing the theological task just doesn’t seem right to me, no matter how great the product is you are buying.
- I can see more denominational splintering as multiple churches align themselves with various charismatic preachers, so in one town you have the Adam Hamilton UM church and the Tom Harrison UM church and so on. These sort of alliances can only spell more schizmatic force and the temptation to influence the political process.
- Further marginalization of ethnic preachers and women. Why have the guy who talks funny or the woman when you could have a white male preacher in a bottle? Let’s face it: the super-majority of megachurches have white male pastors! While Resurrection has female campus ministers to offer worship leadership, I could see this happen as congregations vote to marginalize their pastors’ leadership and ability to craft worship.