When you no longer recognize your church

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It is a relatively modern phenomenon. One church, several locations.
Here’s how it works. It runs a bit like a corporation; with one main Pastor or CEO who runs the show and several co-Pastors who man their individual “Campuses.”

The way it happened in my last church was that our Pastor retired and another Pastor came in, one who already had a church in a neighboring town. All of a sudden we had a real live Pastor twice a month. The other time we saw him via a video feed speaking from the other campus.

The first time we went, it was so slick and polished and coordinated and pre-packaged…….and fast, we wondered if we had actually just attended church. Instead of speed dating, we were speed churching. It was like church drive-by.

We left. There was no more spontaneity, no more prayer for needs in the service, no more holiness. More than anything, I didn’t feel the Holy Spirit there anymore. It was like he packed up and moved out.

It’s really hard to get God to work in a constrained and prepackaged formula. The Holy Spirit needs room to breathe, room to work in and through His people. He doesn’t stay where He isn’t welcome.

Now it has happened again. Our church building was sold out from under us by the developer and almost overnight, we had to find a new home. The church that was interested in buying it backed out when they found out we didn’t even have a clue the building was up for sale. It was a bad deal all around.

Another Pastor who already had three “campuses” in other towns, offered to let us continue, but under his church name, and as part of his church organization. We were now the East Valley branch.

There is only one problem with it. We are unrecognizable from what we were before. We are them now, which to some people is just wonderful. Our Pastor is still the Pastor, sort of, but he doesn’t speak, he just introduces the other “hosting Pastor” who does his talk via video. I assume he will get a “turn.”

So this past Sunday was our make or break Sunday. Will we stay or leave. And we decided we will leave.

I think it is safe to say that we had both already decided when we heard a song by Stevie Wonder filtering into the church coming from the stage where we used to hear praise music. Nothing against Stevie Wonder, I love his music, just not to open a church service.

And when we saw the flat screens projecting, not church messages, but football scores, and an actual game, I got a vision of Jesus and the money changers in the Temple. I pictured him with a baseball bat bashing out the screens. This is the question that has haunted me ever since.

Have we gotten to the point where we really want more world in the church instead of more church in the world?

And someone kidnapped our outstanding music group with another guy who smiled a little too much and sang every song in a monotone. Elaine leaned over and whispered that “all that was missing was the mosh pit.”

Communion is also done differently than any church I have ever attended and I have attended a lot, in just about every denomination. The plate is passed and you eat and drink the elements right then before you pass them on.

It’s craziness. People trying to pass and balance, hurry and not spill looked more like people doing oyster shooters and shots of vodka than communion. By that time my sense of humor either saved me or failed me, whichever way you want to look at it. I had to bite the sides of my mouth to keep from laughing out loud. Where is the holiness, where is the reflective pause? Where is the feeling of community where we all gathered at the table and received it together.

Am I missing something?

The “talk” was short, and meatless. I felt more like I had just been to family counseling session than church. He had some very good points, and he smiled at the right times, and looked sympathetic and humble at the right times. He spoke like he has been through the Dale Carnegie school of public speaking…….more than once.

And again. There was no “altar call” and if that is just too evangelical for you, no time for “a decision.”

We will be looking for a new place of worship, needless to say.

And it makes me sad that once again, we have to do this. But do this we will. Because I believe in the church more than ever. Both as a body of believers and as an actual place to go.

I don’t need it relevant.

I need it real, and full of Jesus and some imperfection please.

If anyone is reading this and loves all the changes taking place, please don’t be offended. These are my thoughts and mine alone. I am sure the Pastors and staff are all wonderful people and want to do what is good for the community and are following their hearts. There is always the possibility that I am way off base with my synopsis of the way things are. I am by no means any kind of spiritual health meter of churches.

And yet, when it’s all said and done, each of us has to go where we are fed.

And my prayers, you can be assured, are with you always.

I would be interested in comments. Has anyone had similar experiences?

8 thoughts on “When you no longer recognize your church

    • Diane…..Oh! Thank you so much for reading, and commenting. Yes it scares me some things I see in the American church, because I don’t think you see it nearly as much in other parts of the world. But I believe we will see a falling away in part, but a strengthening of another kind. It will be interesting to see……Thank you and bless you! And in your new career as well….You will be in my prayers and I know that God will use you in a mighty way!

  1. Dearest Lori. Have I had similar experiences? Yes. Yes. Yes!!!! And these experiences make me sad and angry and confused and downright frustrated.

    Every description here is right on the money, and I feel the same as you. Where is the holiness….the sacredness? I don’t want to fist bump with Jesus-in-skinny-jeans, nor do I consider Him my homie. I think there is a vast, vast difference between the Church being relevant and the Church being real.

    And where is that sweet, wonderful family-like intimacy? That is something our church truly lost, too. As the building got bigger and bigger, the congregation swelled and more ‘dynamic programs’ on Sunday mornings, as well as through the week, were offered, and I feel like I’m in a morning rush hour crowd in New York City, as folks try to juggle their hot coffee and breakfast pastries as they head into service or to Life Groups (nope…we don’t call them Bible studies anymore. It’s Life Groups. DO NOT get me started on THAT).

    I’ve shared with a few of my friends that anymore, I feel like I’ve come from a conference/concert/corporate meeting, all rolled into one prefab package, instead of a church service. We’ve now started a new campaign to raise money for, among a host of other things, brand new campuses throughout our county and across the river into Pennsylvania.

    I could go on, but I won’t. I can feel my blood pressure going up.

    While I know that the Holy Spirit resides in each of us, so it would stand to reason that when we are gathered together, He is in our midst, but I can’t help thinking along your lines. And that is pretty much that, like Elvis, Jesus has left the building.

    So this past summer, I was on a mad search for another church. But it seems that anymore, it has become as you’ve said: there’s more of the world in the church than vice versa.

    Thanks for writing this, Lori. I’m going to share it with some of my friends who feel as I…and you…do.

    • Amen, sister. Guess I was preaching to the choir on that one. And I realize that church is made up of people first and foremost and that until we get to Heaven there will always be something we would change here or there, it should foster a feeling and an atmosphere of respect and holiness. Thank you for your comments. I appreciate you, and I will be praying for both of us! Lori

  2. I’m in an odd position here, as I play guitar on a praise team at two churches. One is now a multi-site, though there is no taking over other churches…yet (I *do* believe I’ve heard talk about figuring out how to do so). The other church? One building, one pastor, no ego, no ecclesiastical imperialism.

    As a part of the praise team at the big church, I’ve played Pink Floyd and Z.Z. Top, Stevie Wonder and Sting on that stage, and with some of the big names in contemporary christian music. We play well, all good musicians. At the other church? The bassist and I, and our worship leader, are the strongest musicians – the drummer and piano players all need lessons in time-keeping and tempo.

    At the big church? We haven’t had the football game on yet in the worship center, though I suspect it to be a matter of time – it already more resembles a sports bar than I care for – but the back area that once housed a green room for the musicians also houses a room (recently added) where the senior pastor ca park it, along with two other tight friends, in front of a massive screen to watch the game. He cries on cue, because services are scripted to a fare-thee-well and there is no room for movement of the spirit (there is also no altar call – never has been, so far as I know).

    At the other church? The practice is there without the formal announcement every week – prayer happens. The big screens are for the words of the tunes – which are not always contemporary. Sports will likely never appear on those screens. The church community is ethnically mostly of Dutch descent in a town of mostly Norwegian and German stock – I’m one of the token Irishmen.

    I could go on – I’ve written about the subject myself a few times – but my time for choosing is coming soon as well, and the only advantage I have over you is that I already know where I’ll land.

    If I want to watch TV and call it church, I can do that from home, on *my* schedule, with my coffee in the room with me – but that is *not* what I want until I am sick and cannot leave the house any longer.

    • Rick: I kind of identify with your Dutch/German descent congregation since I grew up in a Central California town which was mostly settled by German/Russians, many from North Dakota (lots of big Lawrence Welk fans LOL) But I also strongly identify with the bigger “mega” church style because while I grew up on the old Hymns (so glad I did), there was a point in my walk where I just could not simply sit and worship. I wanted, needed to stand, clap and celebrate the joy of my faith. So, I am searching I guess for something with a little of both. Reminds me of the old Donny and Marie bit “I’m a little bit country, and he’s a little bit Rock and Roll….” I have no doubt God will lead me to the right place. There are so many to choose from here, this one was just very close to where I live and since I commute for work, I really didn’t want to commute for church either. But I have no doubt it will all work out. Music is so important to me in church, many times I have been in services where I could have walked out after the music, it blessed me so powerfully. It is such a wonderful and important part of the service for me…..glad you are using such a great gift for His glory! Bless you. Keep me posted and I will keep you posted as well. Thanks, for commenting! Lori

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