22 January 2011

Quality, not Quantity


We attended a orchestra concert last night in the contemporary service "sanctuary" of a local mega church. I put the word sanctuary in quotation marks, as I was hard-pressed to think of the room as anything other than an excellent theatre. Other than two banners, there were no religious markings. Yet, this church built this new facility to house their "come as you are" trendy worship service. Apparently the high seating capacity was justified, as it is a popular service from what I hear.

I was told that this service was started to reach out to those who think church is boring or not relevant to them. "If the people, especially young people, aren't going to church because they find it stuffy or irrelevant," they reckoned, "then we should change it all to suit them." No suit and tie, just come in shorts and a t-shirt if you like. No organ, but plenty of guitars. The ministers are similarly attired to those in the pews. No hymnals, because the music is displayed on a screen like karaoke. Everything is centered about making people feel good. That might be well-intentioned, but it is thoroughly misguided.

When you make church about numbers, you are treading on dangerous ground. Absolutely we should all be trying to convert as many as possible, but we must actually convert them, not simply get them into the pews. When the church ceases to be God-centered and becomes people-centered, yes, you'll probably get people in the pews. This is not surprising, as "worship" becomes about the individual and not about God. People do not truly have to convert in their hearts and souls. All they have to do is show up, put money in the plate, and sing hymns, all in exchange for the emotional high they will receive. No longer is any self-sacrifice suggested and no longer are the people in the pews expected to join in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. There is no longer a concept of spiritual warfare against evil. The concept of sin has flown out the door, and it all becomes about feeling good. No more is anyone told that they are wrong, because theology is now relativistic. Whatever you believe is now considered fine, it seems.

Make no mistake. Being a Catholic is difficult. It is not surprising that the modernist, feel good approach is popular. It is not surprising that people would rather abandon the true faith delivered by Christ and handed down through the Apostles for something instead that is "easy" and gives them an emotional high every Sunday. It is not surprising in the self-centered world of today that we would rather trade something that requires serious spiritual work for something that requires no work at all...except maybe helping at the church picnic.

Large churches can be nice. So can small ones. It isn't the size, the building, or the location. It is the people inside, what they do, and what they believe. Don't you remember the little game you played as children where you took your hands and made a church? Then you made a steeple with your index fingers and opened your hands to show all the other fingertips as the people inside the church? Try it again yourself now. You can see it looks like your two hands, which were the roof of the church, are holding all the people. There is a great message in that. The church is there to take care of the spiritual needs of the people. It must do that, but according to the Faith once delivered, not according to modern trends. The people who are not going to church must be reached out to, but in an authentic way. We profit them nothing by bringing them in if we have to dilute, warp, and destroy the faith to do so.