Sunday, October 12, 2008

Church Shopping (continued)

So, for those of you who remember my church shopping series, Joni and I officially settled on "the second church," which I will call Church B. It's a traditional church with paid staff. We've gotten involved in a small group primarily with people our age with infants.

While people in Bolivar think there's a big difference between Church A and Church B, I don't really see it. Perhaps there used to be a huge difference but competition does that-- it makes competing churches offer similar (and higher quality) services or else lose customers (members).

Church A started in someone's house and had a groundswell of people who were looking for something different. It was big on small groups and not very big on money going to pay for professional clergy-- instead directing all funds toward ministry. It was big on singing praise choruses and having a non-traditional praise band. But it got big and started doing more traditional church-- it built a building with maintenance costs, had the large corporate worship service, amenities, etc.

Sitting in Church A recently my feeling was "This church should have multiplied a few hundred people ago. It is essentially seeing the same thing that I write about, trying to leverage economies of scale. And it's probably lost its original edge." For example, the unpaid staff have a hard time keeping up with their growing congregation and providing the teaching, counseling, and discipling that it needs. One of their pastors remarked that the model was sustainable at the beginning, but now it's quite taxing on the bi-vocational staff to produce quality teaching and discipleship while working 40 hour weeks elsewhere. Becoming a traditional church means you need traditional paid staff-- it's the only proven sustainable equilibrium (which is why almost every large church has paid staff).

And Church A has the same unfriendly, impersonal feel that Church B has. (The Sunday School classes we visited at both church were the same size [huge] and impersonal in nature).

Church B now offers several contemporary services and also now projects praise choruses and hymns on the wall (something that apparently Church A did that was considered radical at the time). It also now has a small-group focus and gives some direction to its small-group leaders to keep them serious. So, it has mostly "caught up" with Church A.

I think Church A still has an advantage in its attitude toward corporate worship. People there are more enthusiastic about it and more likely to sit up front in the flagship Sunday morning service. But, Church B has some contemporary prayer & praise services where people's attitudes are pretty intense (from what we hear, anyway). And its body has been studying for a year different ways to change the corporate worship service-- it's been wrestling with "what is worship?"-- which can only lead to change and better things. It's apparently going to introduce some changes very soon. (But really, the differences between the two services are kind of minor-- Church A has a small praise band that sings songs from 15 years ago. Church B has a choir and orchestra that plays songs from 200 years ago or from this month-- it's more flexible than Church A due to leveraging its economies of scale to produce professional music).

Church B's schedule really just fit in better with ours-- that's what the decision came down to in the end. That and the small group that didn't mind incorporating us in immediately.

Note: I find that in this small town you're sort of defined by what church you go to. People assume certain things about me when I tell them I attend Church B because they assume certain stereotypes about Church B that may not apply anymore.

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