Surviving a Megachurch
I went to a superchurch for a few weeks. In Singapore. Six services every Sunday run by the same team. 1,700 people at every service. A machine. Copied from the American V8 model. Fulltime staff of sixty people. Tell you what, man, this is church! The electric band is up there of course, leading everyone into singing. It seems informal, they are just getting into starting singing, almost like they know they are there for it, but it was the crowd that started singing, and so the band picked up behind the crowd, and everyone can say later how it just seemed to start spontaneously and wasn’t it glorious? Gee, I’m getting cynical in my old age.
The Pastor, well, he’s nowhere to be seen just yet. Then fashionably he appears, slightly late, as though he has emerged from some serious scene of prayer with someone, and now must minister to his flock. Here he comes, from the back, where people can’t see him to start with. He moves through the aisles, reaching out to shake hands with people he knows, stopping occasionally to meet people he doesn’t. Very warm guy.
‘Great to see you here this morning. Praise God.’
The crowd loves him.
Another song starts, and he picks up the lyrics, singing as he moves on down, in tune with the band up front.
Effortlessly he moves onto the stage, blending in with the band, picking up a microphone conveniently left somewhere. The song leader sees him, there are unseen signals between them, and then he decides to move up to the pulpit. Automatically the other leader senses this, and seems to disappear, to fade from where he was.
Our preachers first words follow on from the last song. It probably is informal, it probably really is. It is just wonderful to watch though.
Then he preaches. A whizzbanger of a message. A tear jerker. Emotive. Real stuff too actually, this is the point. Despite all the preceding drama, which caters for the crowd’s needs, but would drive an alternative populace into the desert, he speaks genuine words, a real message from his heart.
But then most people who work crowds are genuine. They really do believe they are doing a wonderful thing influencing and moving them. The only one I know who distrusted the emotions of the crowd was the Galilean. He had them in the palm of his hand, only to leave after dark to seek solitude. He would walk on water to leave them, unlike may today who would walk on water to get such a crowd. But I digress.
Then our Singaporean preacher stands down, and some older guys get up to go for the throat, I mean the close. They ask people to come down the front, the music is toned down, the piano starts to lead more, the drums soften, there is a gentle lead guitar stirring the feelings. An older grey haired man lifts what look like holy hands, beckoning down those that need prayer. This call is the modern act of contrition, of public effacing or humiliation. It is built up as a significant and brave thing to do. Well, it’s brave, I’ll give you that. And it possibly feels soul cleansing when you do it.
I could slip into cyncism so easily here, so I’m going to make a surprise jump and support the guys act for a line or two. How come? Because people are lazy and full of inertia. It takes effort to shift them to do anything, and probably requires an emotional kick in the backside. I mean, if people feel this preachers pull, but resist walking down, do you think they will act on it when they get home, and start to work on improving their lives? Not on your nelly. They will eat lunch and watch the football. It’s just the way things are.
So if you thought I’m going to get stuck into the superchurches, I’m not. This site is to help people cope with Christianity, to live with what occurs, and find Christ in the middle of this great big mess. We have a televangelist type superchurch right here in little old New Zealand. Given there are only a few of us milling around amongst 40 million sheep, its pretty hard to get significant numbers to a football game, let alone a church. But there is one, mostly populated by our Polynesian community. A respected friend of mine, who doesn’t listen to hearsay, visited it to see for himself. And he came away impressed. People whose lives are a mess of violence, incest, drugs, and Kentucky Fried Chicken are converted there. The minister tells them when to stand up and when to sit down, how much to save, how much to give to the church, and their lives are transformed. Transformed.
You can sit there with all your middle class intellectual assets, your marvelous history of Christendom, your enlightened ideas, but they wouldn’t matter diddly squat to his congregation. They need a way out of a blighted life, and with a strong guiding hand, he gives it. His church happens to have all the electric bands, the showmanship, and the techniques mentioned earlier, but …. do you and I have a better idea on how to reach that demographic?
Damn it, I’ve ended up supporting him.