For some Sunday morning ‘fun’, my 10-year-old daughter and I went on an anthropological field trip to visit a megachurch in our area. Actually, it is the same mega-church that is the mothership for the satellite church that is still controversially meeting in her Elementary School on Sundays.
Here are some of our observations:
Appearance: Older folks were dressed up but most people less than 40 years old wore blue jeans and a casual shirt. Most women wore dresses. It had a relaxed, conference-center feeling. My daughter and I enjoyed a drink in the huge cafe outside the sanctuary before the show.
Music: The first half-hour was rock music led by fantastic singers: a tight-jeaned youth pastor and a slender, pretty 20-something girl swinging their hips for Jesus. The band had 5 guitars, a drummer and a keyboardist. They had fantastic lighting, sound, mixing, correographing and such — it actually kept my daughter’s interest. But that is the point, isn’t it.
Prayer Jargon: Prayer had all the familiar jargon: Over use of “just”, for instance: “I just want to thank you Lord.” “I just want to lift up our sick to you Jesus.” And odd prayer-only language like: “God, please continue to minister to us.” And, as usual, the pastors used prayer to preach — they switched from talkin’ to Jesus to lecturing the crowd. “Thank you God for this day, and remind us to support your work ($$$) in this church.”
Contradictions: Even my daughter picked up on a theological contradiction. One song said, “Jesus is always with us.” Yet a gospel passage was read where Jesus said something like, “You will always have the poor, but you will not always have me.”
Miracle talk: Even my daughter was surprised by naive songs that said, “Jesus will heal all your disease.” Then, in an aside during the sermon, the pastor told us of seeing a crippled, severely mentally retarded little girl during one of his three mission trip that year. He said, he felt sad for the girl but he smiled when he thought how happy and grateful she would be when, at the resurrection, God gave her a perfect body and a perfect mind. — I could barely contain myself. Arghhhh!
Praise Gestures: People sang “I hold my hands up to the Lord” and about one out of ten held their hands up — the more dignified held up only one hand. You could see the hesitancy in some people to raise their hands. But when they sang “I bow to you Lord”, why did no one bow? 🙂 Makes you wonder if they really listen to the words meant to honor their god or if they are there simply for the good feelings – like any rock concert.
Sermon & Tithing: Actually the preacher’s sermon, which was broadcasted to their four satellite churches in this area, was pretty good. Using a Nehemiah passage, he talked about remembering to give to the poor even when your own life is broken. Interestingly, no one needed or carried a Bible, the passage was on the screen. Then after the “give more” sermon, huge buckets were passed down the isles.
Church Welcome: No one greeted us or came up to talk to us while we were there. But then this place is so big, I don’t know how they keep track of who belongs and who doesn’t. My daughter and I spent an hour and a half as invisible, curious anthropologists.
We had fun talking about our impressions in our half-an-hour drive home. At bedtime, I could hear my daughter telling her brother some of these stories about the church — they weren’t complimentary. I don’t think my daughter will want to go back to a church like that in a while. But to be fair, I didn’t give her the real experience: there were almost no kids in the service, because they were all off having fun in Sunday School craft and story sessions — but she wanted to stick with me, of course. Oh well, so much for trying to let her see different cultures that are fun. What sort of Christian festival is there where she can have as much fun as we did at the Hindu temple?