Culture At Large

Sapping the Volunteers

Chris Salzman

This is a quotation from Christine Walker's The Fall of the Evangelical Nation that I found via this post on The Suburban Christian:

A large reason megachurches grow is because of where they usually locate--in burgeoning suburbs. Young families, attracted to the suburbs' less-expensive housing, want religion for their children. They're energetic, and they have rising incomes. Megachurches have enormous overhead and a huge need for volunteers. Burned-out megachurch staff members sometimes complain that they spend more time "feeding the beast" than feeding the flock. Feeding the beast requires a constant hunt for "good" families. To the dismay of the more idealistic, good families don't mean those who need God the most but those who are committed, able, energetic, and prosperous.

The post is worth reading, but I'd like to focus on what Walker talks about in this quotation; namely, the idea of "feeding the beast."

One of the traits that I grew up thinking was most worthwhile was a servant's heart. An attitude of being willing to serve my church in whatever capacity it needed, which in turn leads to a sort of hierarchy of church attendance and leadership. The closer you can get to the pastor on the org-chart of servanthood, the better you are seen in the church.

But where I differ from much of the commentary on this particular issue is the fact that I think this is inbred into church culture across the spectrum of Christianity (at least in the United States). I have worshiped in myriad styles of evangelical churches and about the only things they have in common are their ability to convince themselves they need to get bigger while denying that numbers matter and their ability to make it seem that spiritual development is directly tied to volunteerism.

It's a shame really.

In my mind, what this leads to is the continuation of programs and 'ministries' that no longer serve any purpose in a church, or are no longer worthwhile. Since, as Bill Kinnon puts it, "many megachurches seem to be nothing more than the equivalent of a big box store - delivering goods and services to the religious consumer" we've made tidy contractual ways to be spiritually fulfilled that are fundamentally sound, but pragmatically devoid of Jesus.

I think we can all cite examples of ministries we shook are heads at, disbelieving their effectiveness and their necessity. Some of us have been a part of them. And the thing that raises my ire is not that they exist, but that so many people devote massive amounts of time into seeing them continue to limp along because they are a part of this massive conglomerate called a church.

It's sad to see people unfulfilled, doing something just because, by golly, if they don't do it no one will! Well, what would happen if we took all the time we spent doing organized ministry and instead spent it focusing on serving our next door neighbors? Or, on loving our friends? It's sad to me how many well-meaning Christians rarely make time for their friends because of ministry obligations. Seems counterintuitive to me.

So, as we continue to sap our volunteers, churning through their good-will and their aplomb what do we create? A church that sustains itself financially or numerically for another few decades instead of a church based upon being Jesus' bride.


Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, News & Politics, Social Trends