All our needs were met. Instructions were clear and signage was excellent. Gracious and competent attendants directed us through the gargantuan parking lot, waving us into a convenient spot. Greeters kindly showed us to waiting areas as the previous attendees streamed out.
We were cheerfully ushered inside where another team of greeters took over and did whatever was needed for us to find comfort.
The spacious gift shop featured t-shirts and sweaters emblazoned with a clearly professionally designed brand.
We experienced expert musicians with different venues for different age groups, keeping everyone happy and unchallenged by difference and change. More greeters offered abundant refreshments. We saw that children and youth had special activities with trained leaders geared to their age groups.
Time after time, we were invited to come again, to become a regular.
Now, the question: at this point, can you discern where I was? Church growth consultants advise every single one of these things. Nearly every mega-church I have visited offered all of the above.
Our actual venue: a passenger ship, setting off for a Caribbean cruise.
The parallels fascinated me all through this, my first-ever cruise. Both groups aim for my loyalty: they want me back and they don’t want me looking to any other place for my worship/cruise.The plethora of choices and the essential passivity of all activities are so much of what I’ve seen in very large church life. Which performance/worship service, all staffed by first-class musicians, do I want to attend? Don’t worry about your children–we’ll keep them happy and entertained the entire time–this (ship/church) will become their place to be.
Even the way the rich (generous donors) are treated just slightly differently paralleled each other. For this first cruise, we had opted for the concierge level where we received special attentions, better meal package, reserved seating and a reception with the Captain and main crew members. Try going to a prosperity mega-church like Elevate Life in Frisco. The big donors get extra time with the pastor; they are part of the inner-circle.
The branding: I’ve been to dozens of church gift shops/book stores in the last couple of years. The ship featured especially expensive jewelry and liquor; churches tend to feature the face of the lead pastor on books and DVD’s, but other than that, they have the same labeled products, clearly displaying their names and brands.
The separation of children from adults particularly intrigued me. At most mega-churches, children are simply not permitted in the main “worship/performance” times. They must be in the nursery/Sunday School. Youth go to their own services, sealed off from parents and younger siblings. I know there were a fair number of children on this cruise–and I caught a glimpse of them only once.
This is not a slam on all mega-churches here. I personally believe many do superb work and are necessary for the maintenance of the Christian message. I have long been concerned, however, that many have so been seduced by the standards of consumer Christianity that they are in long-term danger.
I have two main questions.
First, shouldn’t Christianity ask more of us that to be passive consumers of religious experiences?
Second, what happens when the newer, even more fancier cruise ships/worship venues are built, with even more luxury accouterments, even better services, more activities to keep children and youth engaged and out of their parent’s hair, slicker and quicker parking, richer food, more special privileges for the well-to-to?
It is so trite, of course, but what WOULD Jesus say about the way we do cruise ship worship these days?
While I was on the cruise, I read Jan Karski’s My Report to the World: Story of a Secret State. Karski was part of the Polish Underground resistance during the Nazi occupation of Poland. While he did not record much of his faith life, he was a deeply religious Roman Catholic. His courage, and the courage of so many unnamed ones, made it possible for Poland to be the only conquered nation that did not collaborate in any way with the Nazi occupiers.
It is a book I wish everyone would read. This is a life of true discipleship. And he spoke of many who labored, who suffered, who were horrifically tortured, who willingly gave their lives for the sake of freedom. He smuggled himself into a Jewish killing camp and witnessed thousands of starving and naked Jews shoved into cattle cars filled with quicklime that would burn the flesh off their feet and ultimately kill them.
As I listened to the dwindling outcries from the train, I thought of the destination toward which it was speeding. My informants had minutely described the entire journey. The train would travel about eighty miles and finally come to a halt in an empty, barren field Then nothing at all would happen. the train would stand stock-still, patiently waiting while death penetrated into every corner of its interior. This could take from two to four days. (Jan Karski, My Report to the World: Story of a Secret State, Georgetown University Press (c) 2013, p.330)
Is the church today preparing people who can stand up to such horrors? Can we soft, entertained, cosseted Christians, worshiping only when we feel like it and only with those who totally agree with us, possibly find the courage to stand up to real evil?
Evil is everywhere. Where’s our witness?
Just a few thoughts my this, my first-ever cruise. Which was absolutely wonderful, by the way!