The Church Franchise Trend OR Church Locavores Unite!!

I’m wondering what happened to local congregations being led by people who live there.

Anyone else noticed this trend for churches to get big and then plant additional “campuses”? What are we, a state university system? What happened to sending out missionaries to plant local churches? Why are mega-churches planting campuses? Is this compatible with the New Testament church, or Paul’s missionary/church planting approach? I’m just wondering.

Because it sounds suspiciously like a franchise to me.

Look at the similarities:

Starbucks pretty much worldwide:

  • Same coffee
  • Same tea
  • Same pastries
  • Same sandwiches
  • Free wi-fi
  • Same décor (and lack of sufficient comfortable seats)
  • Same condiment/creamer counter
  • Same cups, mugs, and small appliances for sale

This is all well and good for a mongo coffee franchise. When you walk into a Starbucks, whether it be Manhattan, Seattle, or Bangkok, you’re not looking for local flavor. You’re looking for familiar, dependable, no surprises.

Multi-campus churches:

  • Same logo
  • Same style of décor
  • Same “feel” – style of music, methods of outreach and community service, flow of worship service, approach to child care and age-graded Bible study/small groups
  • Same DNA as the “main” campus

Is this really a local community of faith? Nah, it’s a branch of the main campus, as surely as the University of South Carolina has a main campus and branch campuses. You can start your studies at the branch campus, but at some point you’re gonna have to make the pilgrimage to the main campus if you ever expect to earn a degree. Apparently higher level teaching can only occur where the message is closely watched by central command. It seems like main campus leadership is afraid of local leadership getting off-message.

Here’s what I want to say to that “senior” pastor: It’s great God called you to City A, and planted you there in that church to lead it in service to the Kingdom and its community. That’s awesome. You’re obviously doing a good job, and my hat is off to you. Do keep it up. But if God wanted you in City B as the teacher in its church, don’t you think he would have put you there? This isn’t the Billy Graham Evangelism Association. You’ve been called to pastor a local congregation. DO THAT.

Am I old-fashioned to want the dude who’s teaching the Word to me on a weekly basis to be a dude who lives in my community? I want to be able to run into my pastor at the grocery store, at the downtown park, at the movie theater, at the Starbucks out in our slice of suburbia. I want my pastor to know what’s going on in my community because he lives there.

I want my church leaders to be personally invested in the life of my community and our congregation. Simultaneously, I want to be personally invested in their lives, too.

The late and great missionary Roland Allen, in his classic Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?, puts it better: “The elders were really of the church to which they ministered. They were at home…Thus the bond between the elders and the church to which they ministered was extremely close.”

Earlier in the book, speaking of Paul’s tendency to plant a church and then skedaddle (my paraphrase), Allen writes, “By leaving them quickly St. Paul gave the local leaders the opportunity to take their proper place, and forced the church to realize that it could not depend upon him, but must depend upon its own resources.”

What a brilliant strategy – let the local believers, whom God has called and gifted with precisely the gifts needed for that local church, lead, and thereby grow in their giftings, while the church grows in faith.

Kinda different from a franchise, eh?

Published in: on August 16, 2011 at 1:06 am  Comments (4)  

An Ode in Prose to the Southern Summer Night

Hannah with the ultimate Southern summer fruit (the BEST are from S.C.)

There is no night like a Southern summer night. It’s more a sensation than a sound: cicadas, crickets, and grasshoppers, constant as tide, webbed things in and out of the water, dusky air heavy with wetness, a cloistered heaviness that, paradoxically, calls to mind the oxygen-deprived air of higher altitudes as it greedily absorbs your warm breath.

Sometimes there are bona fide sensations that leave a proof of purchase: the no-see-um pricks of coastal pests, shallow pale welts from thirsty mosquitoes, a sheen of delicate sweat where skin folds upon skin – at the elbows, knees, neck, armpits, between your feet and your $3.99 flip-flops.

There is no night like a Southern summer night. It conjures the memory of lukewarm water flowing over pitch black dirt, weaving over bottomland and lapping witch hat cypress knees. It speaks of hot humid air made no less hot or humid by your rolled-down window going 65 miles per hour on rural blacktops. It hems you in on a front porch rocker, a paper plate with peanut butter-covered pound cake in your hand, a floor fan oscillating among the forest of woven chairs and bare legs. Its insect roar lullabies you to sleep with windows open and ceiling fans whirring.

Southern summer nights sing out the sweet strings of “Tara’s Theme.” They grate the coarse steel guitar of “Hold on Loosely.” They fiddle the quick fingers of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Then they pause in their insect chorus just long enough for you to recall your grandmother’s voice retelling the tales of your crazy Uncle Ben – mixing fact and fiction, bequeathing a tight, if not-quite-seamless, weave of family ties.

Southern summer nights are pregnant with memory – is it perhaps only here, bafflingly, that a state of expectancy is defined by what was, not what is or will be? So warm you are transported to childhood and adolescence, as though reaching back through time for the warmth of your mother when you were new to her. So warm you sit still and think, and your thoughts go not to grand plans for future days, but rather to rock in the gentle warm waters of yesterday, and yesterday’s ease and slowness, its familiar places and paces.

Summer nights are dark elsewhere, of course. Summer nights are hot and humid elsewhere, too. But they do not carry the weight, the volume, the sheer enormity of memory that a Southern summer night carries so effortlessly in its cricket arms, so buoyantly in its humid breath. They cannot compare with its dark, rich, potent sound or sensation. There just is no night like a Southern summer night.

Samuel, transferring mud from the beach to the lake; undoubtedly a brilliance to this we cannot see

Published in: on June 1, 2011 at 12:19 am  Leave a Comment