A young woman named Sarah posted the following comment in the last thread. Here is a young person (I'm guessing maybe mid to late 20s) who reminds me of the dog who's always chasing cars and one day when he finally catches one can't figure out what to do with it. Here she calmly and logically states what others have been trying say ever since all the changes were announced, but coming from the viewpoint of a young person whose eyes appear to have been opened, I hope her words carry more weight than those of her elders who have been accused of just wanting to live in the past.
I used to be one of those proponents that believed churches had to become more entertainment-oriented in order to reach people. The reasoning is that people are saturated by entertainment, that they would be numb to a traditional style of worship, or if churches did productions, they would have to be big in order to compete with companies like Disney for people's attention. You had to make the Gospel look cool if people are going to listen to it.
Now, Bellevue has shifted in that direction, and many other churches around the world as well. As I begin to see it firsthand, I'm no longer a proponent of an entertainment-oriented church. It's funny, because everything I'd wanted Bellevue to become over the years is now taking place, and I don't want it anymore.
It's one thing if an unattached Christian group wanted to use entertainment to reach people. They exist - creative arts groups, comedians, bands, etc. that aren't associated with a church and are able to reach people in fun, unique ways - out there in the real world where people are. I'm all for such groups, but I think that so-called "Christian entertainment" should not be associated with churches. Churches don't exist for that reason, and they were never meant to, if you want to go back to the founding of the New Testament church.
There are several reasons for this, the first of which is one that was completely unexpected for me. It just feels weird and awkward for a church to try and entertain people. Bellevue's 11:11 service seems to be nothing more than a superficial vanity. It's overtly trying to be "cool" and draw people in, and it just rubs me the wrong way. People aren't stupid - they can see through such things, and it's not just Bellevue, it's any church that employs similar psychological devices.
Did it ever occur to churches that people might want a refuge from the entertainment-saturated world and find a spiritual escape from it all? Why do you have to make a worship service compete with Disney or a rock concert? Why do you have to add a stage extension and put up rather pathetic looking decorations in an attempt to create a clearly orchestrated effort to dangle a big, fat worm in front of people's faces so that they'll bite.
I don't think any of it is done for money. Bellevue's not about money, even though it may appear otherwise. I just think they don't "get it." And yes, the contemporary service is WAY behind the times if that's what they're aiming for. I'm sorry, but you don't have someone like Steve Gaines preach at a contemporary service. He's about as anti-contemporary as you can get, even without the tie. Bellevue, if you want to update your service, lose the hokey 11:11 title, lose the preacher, lose the ridiculous sails in the background that try to hide the choir loft, forget the unecessary stage extension that attempts to bring the pastor closer to the people, and just stop trying so hard.
I must respectfully disagree with Sarah's next to last point -- that none of this is done for money. I think much of what's driving all this is money. I think they're pulling out all the stops to bring in more money, but they're shooting themselves in the foot with this plan. The demographic they're targeting is not the demographic with the money. Those are the very groups they're alienating. However, we'll cover that in a future article.
In the "Vision Twenty-Ten" plan we read this:
Corporate worship that is honoring to God will always be a part of Bellevue Baptist Church. The style of service and music will vary to enable the church to reach our culture and encourage corporate worship.
This was a joke going around a couple years ago. But is it really that far from reality?
Sarah's comment raises some interesting questions.
1. Why is it the church's mission to "reach our culture"? Implied in "reaching the culture" is that you become more like "the culture." Has anyone noticed "the culture" lately? Rarely does "the culture" rise to your standards. Rather your standards are more often than not compromised to conform to "the culture's" standards (or lack thereof). We've already seen this in the "dressing down" for church and what appears to be a loss of respect (of self and for others) in behavior. Watch a Bellevue service from a few years ago and compare that to services there today. They may be more relevant to "the culture" now, but in my opinion the quality has suffered.
2. Should "Christian entertainment" such as "Christian rock concerts" or "hunting extravaganzas" or public school teacher in-service days (which have involved some rather un-Christian "entertainment") be brought into the church? I'm talking about a church the size of Bellevue that has the facilities to host large concerts and other events that ordinarily would be held in a secular venue.
3. "It just feels weird and awkward for a church to try and entertain people." I think they call that a slippery slope. Stick around long enough and you'll get used to it.
4. "Did it ever occur to churches that people might want a refuge from the entertainment-saturated world and find a spiritual escape from it all?" You mean like someplace... reverent? What a novel concept! Which begs the question -- what is the "purpose" of church?
5. "I'm sorry, but you don't have someone like Steve Gaines preach at a contemporary service. He's about as anti-contemporary as you can get, even without the tie." Well, he's no Rick Warren, that's for sure, but it's not age. Rick is four years older than Steve Gaines, and a lot of people think Rick's "cool."
I will end with an open letter to the pastor...
Dear Brother Steve,
That was a good sermon you preached Sunday morning. While I'm not necessarily a proponent of "scaring the hell" out of people, I'm encouraged to hear you preach on the subject of heaven and hell. A lot of preachers don't do that today. However, I must tell you, performances like this one during your sermon Sunday are not helping raise your "coolness score." Not to mention the theology of this particular song is not really biblical, but I digress. Please, pastor, just preach. Don't yell. Don't beat the sheep. Don't sing. Oh, please don't sing! Preach the Word (not your word, but THE Word) and people will respond. Or as Sarah so succinctly put it, "Just stop trying so hard."