As a Christian who doesn’t attend church—at least, big church/program Sunday—every time a mega-church controversy bubbles into mainstream, three things happen in my brain: 1) I’m reminded that people still go to church 2) I remember that Christians identify themselves and their faith with a specific brand (excuse me, denomination) 3) I question if big church is worth all the hassle.
Mark Driscoll’s ongoing saga of pretentiousness is a good place to start. To catch up, read up on the Mars Hill best-selling list controversy. Then read Mars Hill’s response. The problem is not that Mars Hill/Driscoll made a mistake; every organization, Christian or not, makes mistakes. But bigger the organizations, bigger the mistakes. And when mistakes happen, time and money is lost fixing them. Instead of spreading the Gospel or serving the poor (one in the same), the administration spends all its time in damage control: phone calls, accountability meetings, media avoidance, website postings, etc. All these things distract.
More and more, Mars Hill is beginning to look, sound, and apologize like a corporation. The difference, of course, is that corporations pay their taxes.
I know I’m picking on Mars Hill, but my stance holds true for any Christian non-profit organization who focuses primarily on branding over serving (i.e. Hillsong, Bethel, more and more smaller churches).
SIDE NOTE: Shouldn’t serving be our brand? Fire your design guy!
Making Mark Driscoll a celebrity and Mars Hill a branded entertainment and record label organization begs many questions: is it worth all the fuss, all the lost time, all this misspent funds, the over $12 million of salary? Is it worth the Driscoll influence on smaller churches, who assume they need to do the same? I suppose it comes down to utility. If the good outweighs the bad, in utilitarian phrasing, then maybe it’s worth it.
Unfortunately, we don’t really have a way to measure utility beyond price. We do know that congregates are shoveling their funds through tithing and donating; for them, the price of maintaining these organizations are worth its hassle and controversy. But does the conversation end there?
I worry that members of these organizations are vulnerable in two ways: 1) cognitive consistency, a psychology theory which states people naturally resist changing behaviors and attitudes–religiously exploited through branding and services; 2) the pressure upon members within corporate/religious culture to not speak out against administration (a trait often found in corporations prior to implosion and/or whistle-blowers).
Big Affect on Small Church
More and more smaller churches are hiring graphic designers and app builders; they are funding documentaries and music albums; they are building bigger stages and buying better lights. If your church doesn’t have a brand with its own flashy logo then your church sucks and the youth wont come to you.
Here’s my plea: the youth aren’t coming to you, as many have said, because the church is empty of sincerity. Make good works, not good logos. Be a sign, don’t make a sign. Serve, don’t depend on services (and other catchy phrases).
Art in the church is a good thing. But art shouldn’t be requisitioned for only commercial purposes to push a brand (counter-culture, remember?). Art, instead, should flow freely from its members, permeating all it says and does without regard to who knows or cares where it comes from.
Go in Peace
So, all the headaches, all the drama, all the fights and controversies, is it worth it? It depends upon the alternative, or course. So, what ‘s the alternative?
Home church. Small groups. No brand. No program. No salaries. People serving and influencing others by doing good in their community for no other purpose beyond love. It sounds almost too simple.
I wonder if it could work.