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Sunday, March 16, 2008

the chick-fil-a church

A couple years ago, it made for a good joke. But how quickly life imitates satire! The North Point Community Church in Atlanta has replaced outreach with franchising. Franchisee Eddie Johnson of Cumberland Church in Nashville explains ten ways that Chick-Fil-A restaurants serve as a model for North Point and its affiliates.

Frankly, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, this is similar to what the mainline denominations have always done. On the other hand, there are some disturbing differences.

In #2 of his ten parallels with Chick-Fil-A, Eddie Johnson says:

Our church model is not going to offer a gluttonous “buffet line” of ministry programs for every type of interest group, life stage or bible study we can possibly offer. Our mission is simple. It is to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We seek to do it by creating helpful, engaging and irresistible environments that help people take that “next step” towards a small group.

Forget about ministry, just get people into small groups. Christianity lite. Who needs discipleship when you can play it safe with fellowship? (Of course, many of the mainline denominations have the same weakness.)

In point #6 Johnson speaks of the "innovative concepts" that he expects will fuel the future growth of his church.

One cool thing we did at Cumberland Church this past summer was to have a Sunday worship band TOTALLY on video. Yes, video. The worship set was previously recorded at a live service at North Point. ... While not everyone liked video worship, it gave us a "Purple Cow" for discussion and debate in the community about what is and isn't "worship".

Cumberland Church's web site explains that the church often uses videos from North Point for their sermons on Sundays. Last summer they tried using imported worship music too. And why not? If the sermon is being preached by someone from another city in anther state, who is completely disconnected from the worshipers of this congregation, why not disconnect the songleaders too? After all, it might spark a debate about what worship should be. And surely debate is what Sunday morning worship is all about.

What kind of Christianity is that?

8. Just like Chick-fil-a, I can be in business for myself, but not by myself. North Point now has 3 campuses and 14 Strategic Partnership churches.

This is one of the things the Chick-Fil-A church gets right, unlike many megachurches across the U.S. Still, this is no innovation. This concept has been a part of mainstream Christianity for two millennia. We can see it in Paul's letters to the young churches. We can see it in all the denominations.

Underlying all of this is the disturbing paradigm of church as consumer product, and nowhere is this philosophy stated more clearly than here:

5. Just like Chick-fil-a, we strive to know what matters to our customers.

This attitude is common among megachurches, but it seems to be seeping out into the mainline churches, as shrinking congregations turn to outside growth consultants or focus groups to help determine the church's future plans.

I'm not convinced this is healthy for Christianity.

It may be that Christianity is not in step with 21st century American culture. If this is indeed the case, the answer is not to add technological dazzle to Sunday morning to appear more hip. The answer is not to drop ministry in favor of getting people into small groups.

The answer, it seems to me, is to get back to what the church did right in the early days: To care for each other, to provide for neighbors' needs -- neighbors inside the church and outside. To take a stand against the excesses of the popular culture. To speak up for those who are down. To give until it hurts. To be willing to face ridicule, even ostracism. To fast and pray, to listen for the voice of God to help guide the church in its future plans.

On second thought, that all sounds too hard. I don't think I could do it. I'd rather sit at my computer and type snide comments.

But maybe, just maybe, God expects something better.

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At 3/18/2008 11:27 AM, Blogger truevyne said...

i am called to a church which looks at the model of northpoint and follows their lead (video cafe, expensive coffee house, children's curriculum, no sunday school, small group emphasis). i do have snarky things i could say, but my point is that God asks us to stay to make a difference. i find myself working against the current often, especially with the entertainment children's ministry model, but working non-the-less. i'm told the elders are interested in coming to my class (I teach a quiet and contemplative children's way to 2-12 year olds) to observe an alternative to be with children than the "fun and games" contemporary model. i wonder what they'll think?

At 3/20/2008 7:36 PM, Blogger BruceA said...

truevyne -

That's interesting. How were you able to get that type of class started? Was there a lot of opposition? Is there much interest in the class, among the kids, among the familes?

At 4/10/2008 5:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant thinking... continue to be constructively critical of this trend.


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