Mega-Church Field Trip

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?



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

18 responses to “Mega-Church Field Trip

  1. @Sabio
    They had fantastic lighting, sound, mixing, correographing and such — it actually kept my daughter’s interest. But that is the point, isn’t it.

    Great line! I’ve thought about these modern services a bit, as I grew up in the traditional churches. I have a repulsion to the moderns, but I can’t quite tell if that is just because of my own prejudices, or if it is truly justified. I’ve heard people say in defense that God wants us to have a good time, which is part of the reason for all of the Festivals given in the Law. But when you contrast the rock music, choreographed showmanship and waving hands of a modern service to your recent celebration of Holi, well, I think it’s obvious who is really having more fun! And then when you consider how music has the ability to sway our emotions and even to slightly hinder critical thinking, it starts to seem like an advanced format for manipulation rather than true worship.

    I attended my sister’s church once. It was very similar to the experience you described here, but on a much smaller scale, maybe 100 people. The waving hands to the music just cracked me up, as nearly everyone did it there. I could hardly contain myself! But that is the en vogue culturally acceptable reaction, unlike bowing, which may explain the discrepancy.

    Too funny that your daughter saw right through it all! I guess you really do have to become like a child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. 🙂

  2. Ben

    Was it a field trip or an episode of Scared Straight?

    I don’t think I have evolved to the point where I could take an anthropological field trip. I still have too many hot buttons and would probably just get pissed off and walk out.

    Great post.

  3. Ben

    LOL…on a side note…you posting reminds me of a worship leader from my college days. During worship, he would get all revved up and say things like, “worship him in you own way.” Then without skipping a beat, “raise you hands to the lord.”

    Wait which is it: My own way or raise my hands?

  4. @ TWF,
    Yeah, my daughter is no longer a “child”, so I guess she missed the bus to “the Kingdom of Heaven.” 🙂

    @ Ben,
    I must not have invested too much in Christianity. Because even after I left, I was able to visit without much effort.

    I loved your anecdote about the hand raising. Let’s freely worship the Lord![with all the right language and gestures and doctrines !]

  5. Ben

    I often wonder how it would have been received it “my own way” meant dancing in the buff.

  6. It’s been so long since I’ve visited a church, I’m not sure I would know what the heck is going on. Last time I did go I was struck by how casual the dress was. There was much “canned” music accompanying soloists, which would have been unthought of in my youth. The preaching is probably still as dreadful as I recall it being. But any of these traditions look far different from the inside than the outside.

  7. @ Doug B,
    When I was doing my Ph.D. in Philosophy and Religion, for a year and a half I would make a point to try and hit a different denomination or religious group each week. I read up on them and then visit. I learned a lot.

    Even in Pakistan, India, China and Japan I kept up the habit of visiting many different religious groups.

    But heck, I would visit gambling sites, slaughter houses and much more — I think I was meant to be an anthropologist but missed my calling.

    But you’d hope the preachin’ has gotten better since your younger days.

  8. DoOrDoNot

    Why is the word “just” so overused? It irritates me. What is the point of it? I can’t figure it out. I’d “just” like to hear any insights.

    I’ve thought about taking my boys to other religious events. I’m sure I will as they get older. Terrific idea.

    My church doesn’t celebrate festivals in the same way many others do, but one event my boys are enthusiastic about is Vacation Bible School in the summer. If you visit a large church, then VBS is quite an elaborate event that most kids find very fun and engaging. However, parents typically drop their kids off, so your daughter might not want to try that. Maybe if she went with a friend.

  9. Earnest

    You should take her back on Palm Sunday. Then she and her brother can have a palm frond swordfight in the parking lot. But that may still fall short in the fun category compared to finger painting.

  10. All of the comments here seem so one-sided. I’d like to hear from a few of the attendees.

    Unfortunately, what ties most of those church-goers is the emotional bond that occurs. Your anthropological field-trip just shows the strength of the herd mentality and fear of asking too many questions.

    Kudos to your daughter to see right through that!

  11. Lucky. Our old Catholic congregations were much less fun

  12. I’m fairly certain that the only blog article that’s ever come close to making me laugh as hard as this one was something about a Bulimic attending a Halloween party as an Anorexic. Very well done. Your daughter sounds to be smarter than me. 🙂 x

  13. rautakyy

    @Sabio Lanz, I really appriciate your effort to give your daughter the possibility of learning of other cultures and their world views. It reminds my own father who put me to religion classes in school though he was an atheist. He said to me, that I should learn how other people think about these things and make my own mind up about gods and such.

    Regrettably here in Finland the religion classes only teach the Lutheran vision of christianity, and other religions were (at least in my schooldays, decades ago) presented in an undignified fashion.

    I am biased for the old churches and traditional ways of worship. I guess it is partly because I am so much interrested in history, but also because this “megachurch” as you describe it to represent agressive market consumerism. Such does not bother me in a rock concert, but in a church it is somehow out of place.

    There is something very dignified and compelling about the Greek Orthodox catholical mass. I suppose it is the mysticism it offers and artistic beauty of the icons and their churches. Those may represent the fashionable pop-culture of a certain past era and culture. However, that is what I would recommed for you and your daughter to visit.

    Here is a link to a completely nother kind of worship:

  14. @ DoOrDoNot :
    In English, “just” is used to soften or lessen something in the sentence. In these cases it is probably a form of colloquial humility.
    Concerning Vacation Bible School: the problem is, my daughter is very outspoken and if she thought she was being taught bullshit, she might raise her hand say so — same with my son. So that could be an issue — unless I told her that we would debrief after the field trip!

    @ Earnest :
    Yeah, she’d love Palm leaf fights — but it would conflit with the manners training I put her through. 🙂

    @ zqtx :
    Yeah, it would be nice to hear from some Evangelicals or Mega-folks. I don’t think any of them read this site.

    @ nicole marie story :
    Thanx for stopping in. You made me laugh too.

    @ rautakyy :
    At my daughter’s age, sitting though any ceremony — orthodox, evangelical sermon or otherwise is painful. We’ll have to wait to intro her to the mystical.

  15. The prayer jargon and gestures you described fit Charismatic worship, but they also characterize a lot of contemporary evangelical worship as well. If you don’t mind me asking, what was the denomination of the megachurch?

    “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.”

    I had the same experience when I bought some CDs (as future blog fodder) at an Apostolic megachurch. I think you’re right; these particular church community are so large that they don’t automatically notice newcomers.

  16. This sounds like a fantastic precursor to whatever kind of fieldwork your daughter will be doing for her PhD in cultural anthropology, the calling you missed, kind of sort of.

  17. After reading the two posts on the experiences, the one word that jumps to my mind is “participation.”

    It may be the limited information (just one day living amongst each group of “apes”, as it were), but still intriguing.

    Holi: messy and playful, get involved, social early on and no real separation between what the adults do and what the children do.

    Mega: polished and entertaining, all ya gotta do is just watch, assumed separation between what the parents do and what the children do.

    I hope this “anthropological field trip” idea catches on with more bloggers.

  18. @ Ahab:
    They called themselves “non-denominational”, a common phrase used by many protestants who don’t want to be labeled and want to be thought of a “simply Christian”.

    @ Chris:
    Smile ! I’d be tickled if they became anthropologists.

    @ Andrew G:
    Yep, the participation thing was fun. It would be cool if more skeptic bloggers reported on field trips.

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