I came across an ad for a certain hydra-headed megachurch in a local alternative weekly. Here's the text:
Thou shalt not
go to a church
(Insert uber cool logo here with name of church + .tv underneath.)
Freakishly good music.
Fancy shmancy coffee drinks.
Let's play adbusters. What is the subtext of this message? The KJV is bad. Okay. You're not very smart or churches are really confusing. Logo. Our sermons (messages...messages? What exactly is a message?) aren't very hard to understand. We play, well, freakishly good music (by someone's standard). And we have Starbucks-like coffee. You should come. You'd probably like it.
That's not the real subtext though. The real subtext is:
- You're stupid, so we'll make this simple.
- The Bible is full of simple messages that we'll pass along to you.
- You have no attention span, so we'll entertain you.
- You're spoiled, so we'll have lattes in the foyer.
- Church should be easy. Why should you have to work to understand it?
This is pandering. I don't know what else to call it. It's also insulting for anyone capable of reading the subtext. It's an effective ad if you're trying to reach people who want a lovely church-lite commodity to consume. Seriously, church should be easy? 'Cause loving your enemy, that's easy stuff, right? Why should difficult or perplexing truth get in the way of enjoying your mocha? Just how long should I attend a church where I'm never challenged to learn words I've never heard before or grapple with difficult texts or wrestle with the perplexities of living in the kingdom and the world simultaneously? How many non-perplexing sermons do I need to hear before I realize that this Christianity thing is so easy I don't even need to go to church to get what this church wants me to have? At what point should it occur to me that the leadership actually believes their own advertising? Once I do, I should run, fast, someplace else where the people are confused about life and faith at least sometimes. However, if life gets too complex I have all the makings of a good church at home: coffee, iTunes, and an Internet connection.
Here's what occurred to me at the consumerism conference in Minneapolis this weekend, and it certainly applies to this ad (an ad I used in my breakout session, by the way). Churches like our local hydra-headed mega believe they have to embrace cultural forms to transform people, but I think we're supposed to help people resist the forms so they can be transformed. At the very least, we should be helping them know how to participate in cultural forms with wisdom and discernment, but that's complicated, and we all know people are too stupid for that sort of thinking; they prefer fancy shmancy coffee drinks and smoke machines.