Spiritual Field Trip #2

Blog / Produced by The High Calling

I wrote recently about my wife and I taking our children on a series of spiritual field trips to various churches. Having started by visiting a Greek Orthodox church, we thought we would take our second field trip to the most user-friendly form of Christianity in our culture, a seeker-sensitive mega church.

The church we visited has ten worship services throughout the week. Off-duty police officers directed traffic in and out of a massive parking lot, easily the size of a large sports venue. The foyer of the worship building had a cafe serving breakfast, a coffee bar, a bookstore, and several information centers. We walked up a ramp to the worship room and were handed a color program featuring a smiling family with the words, “It’s all Good!” above their faces. The worship room had seating for 5000 in plush, theater-style seats. Huge screens to the right and left of the stage flashed pictures of Jesus and had timers counting down the minutes and seconds until worship began.

At twenty seconds before the start of worship, the house lights dimmed, music began, and the curtain started to open. Purple and pink lights flashed out of the split in the curtain and played across the ceiling. The curtain opened fully to reveal an entire orchestra with electric guitars and drums. Behind them, a choir was singing and swaying to the music. Twenty singers stood with microphones across the front of the stage. The music minister strode confidently to the front, pointed a finger upward and began an upbeat praise song. The singers handled their mikes and solos like professionals, while two men with shoulder cameras circled, filming close-ups of everything. Someone in a booth was directing the camera shots and broadcasting them to the screens up front. With multiple camera angles and professional production values, it was tempting to watch the screens instead of the live action.

The pastor’s message was outlined on the screens for us while he preached. HIs text was from Daniel six, the classic story of Daniel in the lion’s den. He made a comparison of Daniel’s persecution for his worship to the sabotaging office games of the modern world. If you do your job with excellence, the pastor said, others will be jealous and persecution will surely follow. He repeated his main point often and it was flashed on the screens to help us remember it.

"Be excellent and be persecuted.
Be faithful and God will deliver you."

The plan of salvation was presented quickly along with an invitation to pray the “sinner’s prayer.” The pastor prayed in short phrases with the entire congregation repeating each phrase after him. After the prayer the pastor said,

“If you prayed this prayer honestly and for the first time today, stop by the visitor’s center for a free Bible and a worship CD. They will answer any questions you have.”

After that, by a modern miracle of logistics employing hundreds of well-trained volunteers, 5,000 people were fed the Lord’s Supper in about ten minutes. The pastor closed the service by saying, “Now go tell ten people what you’ve heard today. Thanks for being here.”

The lights went up and everyone stood immediately and moved toward the doors. We shuffled along in silence, packed tightly in a crowd of thousands. We left the building in droves and inched our way out of the parking lot, being directed toward the exits by police officers.

Afterwards I asked my daughters what might be the strengths of this kind of worship. They came up with a few thoughts.

  1. The media format of their worship was familiar and easily accessible to people in our culture.
  2. The music, with its rock-and-roll style and video presentation, was easy for non-church people to appreciate.
  3. The message was straight-forward and oriented toward application, again easy for people new to Christianity to understand.
  4. Clearly a lot of people appreciate this kind of worship, as evidenced by the numbers in attendance.

I asked them what might be the drawbacks of doing church in this way. They said the same four things. In other words, their strengths may also be their weaknesses. Which is often the case with churches.

What do you think?

Gordon Atkinson

Photo by Kelly Langner Sauer