Random musings and activities of a 30 something mom, potential sprint triathlete, vegetarian, dog and cat owner, and a evolving urban homesteader just trying to do the right thing in life for my daughter and the world around us. If the blog seems random, it's because life is and hits us all at 100mph.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007

PostHeaderIcon Mega Churches Breed Apathy? Or just a place to hide?

As I was sitting in service this weekend, I had some observations. With the amount of people in there (2/3 full, so I'm guessing about 1800 people or so)... the general lack of enthusiasm during the songs was surprising. I would think 1500-1800 people singing would rock the house (like the Christmas Eve sermon when we sing carols), but sadly enough, no. I can't sing, so I more or less lip-sync and maybe everyone else does the same. No one wants to be heard about the crowd, so all we hear is the 30 person praise band / choir.

Then, they were asking for the 5th week in a row for volunteers for the kids' Sunday school and nursery. Our pastor made an additional plea. You are supposed to volunteer 1 weekend a month if you use the nursery. Obviously people aren't, because out of a 8,000 person congregation, they do not have enough volunteers.

If you go to a big (mega) church, is it because they offer a wide variety of projects, or because you can hide? Does it breed apathy because you assume that "someone else will do it"?

If someone else is always going to do it, then who will? My guess is that the people who are the most active in our church are those who would be the most active no matter what congregation they belonged to, whether it was 200 or 2000 or 20,000.

The two main reasons why I started going to the church I do was:
1) the pastor was particularly engaging
2) I could go in and get lost in the crowd on Sunday and leave. I was fairly new to attending church again (did the usual drop out in late-teens, early 20s) and didn't WANT to be noticed.

Now, things have changed and I feel I'm outgrowing those reasons. Don't get me wrong, the Pastor is one of the best I've ever heard, but how many people do we lose between the cracks?

When you're in a small congregation, people notice when you've been gone a month. Of course, we're supposed to belong to one or more small groups but since there are 5 services you can attend with 1000-2000 people in each one - how would they know if I was there or not unless we discussed attendance in small group? I rarely see anyone from my small groups at a service.

As I looked around and realized I was in the heart of Leawood, that maybe it was the affluence of the group that breeded apathy, much more than the size of our church. I believe that most Americans are apathetic and unwilling to personally risk their comfort to help others or make this a better society.

I have mentioned before that several trips to our sister church in Hondorous had to be canceled because of lack of volunteers. I would LOVE to go, but do not have the $1800 it requires. On the same note, I did not donate even $20 to sponsor someone else. Shame on me. If everyone on the rolls donated $20 (most probably spend more than that on a week's worth of Starbucks), just think what we could do for that mission. I just did the math - it would be enough money to spend approximately 130-135 volunteers for the next year.

Then I thought of another kind of apathy I believe that runs in our church, apathy towards the message. Sometimes I get the feeling as long as we go in there and get a "good sermon" that doesn't deal with anything too painful or shocking or mind-bending, it's ok.

It's ok to talk about Jesus' messages of love, but let's not touch the UMC position on abortion for example. We can talk about how to be a better person, but the one sermon we had on homosexuality caused quite the uproar. Why is that a bad thing? Why not preach a sermon that causes people to squirm a bit and rethink for themselves what their stance on something is?

I truly believe that a change in the individual life marks a Christian, not any church, however well attended. So, if people are not stepping up to volunteer or to be challenged in their faith, why are they there? Why are they content to sit back and let others do the "works" of the Christian faith?

If you asked many of the member of any church, I'm sure they would cite poverty, hunger, genocide, etc as concerns - but how many look for ways within their own community to fight those issues? One of the reasons I continue to go to my church, is that because of the mass, we are able to accomplish a lot of things in the community that smaller churches are not. But I wonder what percentage of our congregation actually participates? Or is it the same people volunteering each month? (the 80/20 rule maybe?)

If we can't even get parents to volunteer in their own kids' class, then as a group of Christians, how are we supposed to pool resources and fight many of the social ills of today?
There is no place for apathy in a world which sees 20,000 or more children die each day because of poverty related conditions.

But this could be just the view from my seat.....


supergirlest said...

first of all - 1800 people in one room on a sunday!? WOWZA! blows my mind!

i was really surprised as i read through, at every turn. i guess i always imagine all churches to be like the one i went to several times when i was little - engaged and dedicated souls - all of which would sing and volunteer at the drop of a dime...

just from what you've relayed, my sense/gut is that a good chunk of the folks that attend your church may just be doing so out of habit. they clearly aren't inspired much beyond the showing up, which is pretty sad to me. i had always also thought that The Church was to serve as sort of a community/peer group. i think that must be a thing of the past.

i mean absolutely no disrespect to your church by what i'm about to say, but i'm not sure how it will come off. the mega churches remind me of the mcdonaldization of much of the culture. if i had to venture a guess, i would say that the majority of people there are going there to hide, but still feel as if they are ensuring their golden ticket to heaven just by showing up... sadly, i think that vast majority of folks are going out of habit. and i think that mega churches, while they could be a gathering place that could create some wonderful change in the world has the sheer numbers of members working against it.

kinda reminds me of an ani difranco song,

up up up up up up points the
spire of the steeple
but god's work isn't done by god
it's done by people

i do think that affluence does sometimes breed a sort of apathy - but so do a whole lot of things these days...

something else that comes up often when i've talked to various christian people is their belief that all of what you describe (poverty, hunger, genocide, etc) is god's will and happening for a reason. they aren't "meant" to fight it, just to let it be. you're honestly one in a literal handful of people that i've met that actually attempt to make a difference, to speak out for change, and that identifies as a christian!

SimplyComplexJen said...

that doesn't offend me at all. I mean look at our culture. We live in "neighborhoods" in the burbs that do not encourage interaction. We have no sense of community a lot of times, and I think sometimes people join a church just to be able they belong to something. They constantly are tryign to fill some kind of void, so maybe they try to fill it with church, consumerism, and a myriad of other things, but in the end.... the void is vast and they can not fill it with such superficial means.

The Cybernetic Entomologist said...

I wholeheartedly agree that a good sermon should make you squirm. If a sermon doesn't take your mind on a mini-vacation away from its comfort zone, I don't consider it to be all that great. This is especially true in the heart of Leawood, where people lead pretty comfortable lives for the most part. It's very easy to isolate yourself from the rest of the world here. I too wonder how many people are here to blend into the crowd.

Andrew C said...

Jen - Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate what you have to say about making meaningful connections within a large congregation. Making connections with people who have not been in attendance is an ongoing concern, as it is important whether or not someone is able to worship with a community of faith. What do you think are ways that any congregation could make connections to build community and empower people for God's mission in the world?

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Quotes as I come across them......

“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, an hour, a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it last forever.” ~~~Lance Armstrong

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." ~~~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

"I like running because it's a challenge. If you run hard, there's the pain----and you've got to work your way through the pain. You know, lately it seems all you hear is 'Don't overdo it' and 'Don't push yourself.' Well, I think that's a lot of bull. If you push the human body, it will respond." ~~~Bob Clarke, Philadelphia Flyers general manager, NHL Hall of Famer. (Will-Weber's "Voices From the Midpack" chapter.)

The reason most people never reach their goals is that they don’t define them, or ever seriously consider them as believable or achievable. Winners can tell you where they are going, what they plan to do along the way, and who will be sharing the adventure with them.~~~Denis Watley

Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned; and however early a man's training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly. ~~~Thomas H. Huxley (1825 - 1895)