A Year of Sundays

A couple of atheists in Portland are running around visiting and writing reviews of local churches for their blog - A Year of Sundays.

They offer a particularly scathing review of Beaverton Four$quare Church.

But Foursquare seems to be praying upon the mediocre. Church for the American consumer. You’re buying an experience that FEELS like spirituality because it’s prettily packaged and perfectly delivered, not because it’s real. It reminds me of the last meal I ate at Olive Garden. You might not find any real FOOD in that all-you-can-eat soup, salad and bread sticks deal, but it still fills you up. Foursquare feels similarly overpriced.

I’m not sure there’s a better way for me to say this, but I feel a genuine sadness for the people who attend this church. They are being bamboozled. But here’s the thing – I honestly and truly believe that they all BELIEVE it, the enigmatic Rick Fry included. It’s a collective bamboozlement. As an outsider looking in, I watched a short line of parishioners approach the pastor after the service to ask for specific prayers. They would throw their arms around each other, butt their heads together in a circle and pray.

Besides the completely uncalled for attack on Olive Garden, the whole review is quite good. They hit upon a key aspect of these mega churches that really bugs me: they're completely fake.

21 thoughts on “A Year of Sundays

  1. I got to sit in on the behind the scenes staff meeting for a few months at a big Foursquare Church and was shocked at what I found. It was very much like the MFI stuff I had been in for years. The Senior Pastor is the King and his staff ask how high when he said jump. I’ll never forget how we would talk for almost two hours and pray for like 5 minutes. Most of the time it would simply be a gab session about how the Senior pastor saw the world and he would tell stories and cuss like a sailor. (sorry if I offended any sailors ;) ) You should have heard how they talked about the congregation… unbelievable. They literally held the lives of these folks in their hands. At least they thought they did. If folks bought in and jumped through the hoops, they were in their good graces. BUT God forbid you do something outside their “vision” you were cut off and talked about like you were scum behind the scenes.

    The big emphasis was on how to make the services user friendly and polished. So they come off really cool and spiritual, but believe me, behind the scenes, it wasn’t. It was a scam. When the church I was going to wanted to become Foursquare I got out as quick as I could. I have seen what it is really like, and behind the scenes it was like being in a used car salesman meeting. (again no offense to car salesmen) I don’t want to go to church and be sold a compromised lie and get the wool pulled over my eyes each week.

    They have turned church into a business with CEO’s running the show. All flash, no heart. BUt what a great show it is. SO Spiritual looking. And yes, they all believe what they are doing is a God thing. So if it is questioned, then we are rebelious and defiant… gee whiz.

    I think the thing that most puzzled and shocked me is that the folks I was with would literally lie to the congregation and completely justify it. Like that had now problem at all. It really is a class system. The pastors know everything the congregation are simply stupid sheep that can “advise” them, but in the end they do what they want. SO SAD! When confronted with it, they deny it. Somehow telling the truth is not appreciated, but spin is.

    No wonder I don’t want to go to church anymore. ugh.

  2. “But the Gospel was another matter.
    The Gospel is the insanity of a God who is always losing, who gets himself crucified to save humanity.
    The Gospel is the madness of people who, in the midst of tears, need and persecution still cry out that they are blessed.
    I had grasped all athis, and I understood why the wise and the well-balanced would have destroyed me. So I appealed to insanity, in order to save myself.
    And I was happy to have found the true madness, the saving madness of the Gospel.”
    From the book, “I, Francis” by Carlo Carretto

    I have found reading about St. Francis is a good counter balance to all the years I have spent hearing the prosperity gospel.

  3. Meh, it’s hard for me to take seriously the words of atheists when they deign to mock the church. Not because I’m so offended, because, let’s be honest, some churches probably deserve it, but because of this statement right here:

    But Foursquare seems to be praying upon the mediocre. Church for the American consumer. You’re buying an experience that FEELS like spirituality because it’s prettily packaged and perfectly delivered, not because it’s real.

    Real? Come on, who are they to call spirituality real or fake? By definition they don’t believe in God, so if the Spirit of the Lord was moving or not they would call it hype and pass it off as “fake.” I agree that many mega churches seem to act more like hype than substance, but at the same time, how the hell would these guys know? They’ve never experienced the real thing, so how could they tell the difference?

    On a separate note, what audience are they targeting? I hope no Christians are actually using this site as a true review of a church.

  4. They’ve never experienced the real thing, so how could they tell the difference?

    PJD,
    Something tells me they will be able to tell what’s real when it’s their time for salvation.

    When you and I became Christians it was because we felt the realness of the Lord – we were ready. But think of all the times before we were ready and doubted the reality of Christ. I can’t help but wonder if these ppl may come to know the Lord by the end of the year despite the craziness they may come across in the body of Christ on their quest to reveal all our obsurdities. We could pray toward that end. We can look to Paul as a prime example. He was on a quest to purge the world of Christianity and look what happened to him. Let this be a Damascas Road for them.

    I don’t mind if they uncover the wac stuff in churches, I just only hope that the Lord can reveal himself to them anyhow. Where else are they supposed to search if they don’t start in churches. It’s the obvious beginning place.

    On a separate note, what audience are they targeting? I hope no Christians are actually using this site as a true review of a church.

    You’d have to be a brand new Christian to use them as a guide! Unfortunately it will probably just give lots of non Christian ppl reason to stay away from the church. I don’t think they are targetting Christians, I think they want to prove we are bunch of crazies.

    That’s why it would be so ironic if they found Jesus somewhere along the road of this. It seems like something the Holy Spirit would be into don’t you think? What could be better than a testimony that separates the Love of Jesus from the weirdness his church has morphed into!? What the enemy does to try to keep the true gospel down backfires once again! hehe

  5. I generally agree with your sentiment Detox, the problem is that people “find God” when they actually search for him. If you’re going just to mock, my guess is the real thing could punch you in the face and it wouldn’t matter. Jeremiah 29:13 doesn’t say, “You will find me when you mock the way I work.” I wish they were going around TRYING to find God, but if they’re just going around hoping NOT to, they’ll probably be right.

  6. [Comment ID #40182 Will Be Quoted Here]

    I would think that’d just a challenge for God to prove how far he would go to show his love.

    Paul himself might not have been mocking God in his mind but destroying Christians could be right up there with mocking as far as self righteous audacious sin goes.

    Time will tell. Instead of writing them off as hopeless, we can still pray in faith for them, no harm in that.

  7. [Comment ID #40185 Will Be Quoted Here]

    Very true. As C.S. Lewis so eloquently put it: “It’s not as though He is a tame lion.”

  8. @Catalyst
    Although the knock on Mega-Churches has been, and remains true in many cases, it’s not always true. My mega-church experience has varied considerably. When I lived in Vancouver I attended City Bible Church. Having been raised in an MFI church I thought that CBC would be a great fit! Turned out that CBC was unwelcoming and felt like a huge social club with some bits of spirituality thrown in to make it seem “real.” CBC is theologically liberal, Armenian, and although they deny it, teach a works based, “you can become holy and deserve God’s grace” doctrine.

    The City Church (Kirkland, WA ), felt and teaches the same way. I checked them out when I moved to Seattle. A big club filled with people who didn’t need me, and quite frankly, didn’t look like they needed God.

    I’ve been at Mars Hill Church for the past 5 years. It’s unlike any mega-church I’ve ever attended or visited. My wife and I are members and plugged into our local community group. Mars is theologically conservative (read leans-Calvinist) while being culturally liberal (gasp!). In other words, you won’t find a more conservative, true to the bible doctrine, while having an “atypical” Sunday morning/evening presentation of the gospel. A large percentage of our body is made up by new converts.

    I have a few knocks against “small” churches. The members of small churches are always going around with a self-righteous attitude condemning large churches. Typically those condemnations are coming from the member’s own pride and lack of humility. I say this because most small churches are dying and the only people who are left are those who are causing it’s death by sitting in the dusty pew arguing over how “wrong” the mega-church guys are…

    There will always be knocks against “mega” churches. Most of those knocks aren’t based on the important parts. The knocks are usually, “they weren’t very friendly,” or “all they talk about is money.” Maybe both of those are true, but I’d encourage you to check out EVERY church’s doctrine. Is it based on what the Bible says or what they think society wants the church to look like? Is it based on a desire to preach that God is Love or that Love is god?

    Those are my thoughts, for what it’s worth.

  9. * “made up OF new converts.”

    Hahaha, kind of sounds like I was saying that we have the new converts make up numbers… :)

  10. A big club filled with people who didn’t need me, and quite frankly, didn’t look like they needed God.

    That’s an excellent description of the MFI church.

    I say this because most small churches are dying and the only people who are left are those who are causing it’s death by sitting in the dusty pew arguing over how “wrong” the mega-church guys are…

    You sound a little defensive here. I don’t think small churches are dying. I think there is plenty of room in the Christian community for both mega-churches and small home churches. To each his own.

    I don’t have a problem with mega-churches or small churches. Because I don’t think you need church to serve God. Go wherever you feel you are needed, loved and being blessed.

  11. You sound a little defensive here.

    Thanks for the check on my pride. You’re right, I was being defensive. I apologize.

    My whole comment was based on your final remark in the original post:

    “They hit upon a key aspect of these mega churches that really bugs me: they’re completely fake.”

    That’s a broad statement you’re throwin down. Perhaps you meant that specifically directed at a few large churches in the PDX region, but it sounded like a blanket “Mega churches: They are completely fake.”

    And you’re certainly right: some small churches are fulfilling the great commission. Unfortunately, my experience has been that many times smaller congregations have the same tendency that mega-churches have: become “seeker sensitive” to draw in more folks, or become religious to keep the status quo.

    There is nothing inherently holy/unholy about a small church and nothing inherently holy/unholy about a large church.

  12. That’s a broad statement you’re throwin down. Perhaps you meant that specifically directed at a few large churches in the PDX region, but it sounded like a blanket “Mega churches: They are completely fake.”

    Oh, okay. Yeah, what I really meant was the MFI style mega-church.

  13. Small versus large is an interestingl topic though. I’ve spent a lot of years in both. The small kind, though you feel more needed, can also feel like you’re always struggling and it can have it’s own click or social club too,

    But the big ones I think are always going to have that temptation to be prideful, “look what we have built.” The funny thing was when I hobknobbed in pastor/elder circles, it seemed most pastors were at least a little envious of the guy who’s church was larger than theirs. The church with 50 wished they had a 100, the church with 100 wished they had 200, the 200 wished they were 3, 4 or 500, the 4 or 500 envied the 1000 plus, etc. It seems pretty vain, but maybe too there’s that human thing of just not wanting to be a failure.

  14. Now this is a discussion I can get with.

    Thanks for the input Seattle guy. I agree that there are some good quality mega-churches, but that percentage is very small. I would say less than 10% (maybe even 5%) of the hundreds of mainstream mega-churches in America are not “off” with their theology. Why? Because it’s a false doctrine that usually has to be preached to keep people in the seats. Most mega-churches (and my definition of mega is 1,000+) are about the show. Worship is a show. The worship leader is trying to sell CD’s and become a star in Christian music. The preaching is a show. The pastor is a local celebrity trying to get rich from books and conferences. Attendance is on a “look at me” basis. People are their to see and be seen. Now some of this is not the fault of the pastor or any of the leaders, generally it just happens. After years of 1, 2, 3 thousand members people just become arrogant and prideful in what they got, how much they are making, how big an influence they have, and well, people are sinful humans who slide down the slippery slope of abuse and control. The longer a person is in power of a place like this, the more dangerous they become. And death is about the only thing that will force them to give it up.

    Now does this happen in small churches? Of course. Pride is EVERYWHERE. However, the percentages are much smaller. There is a genuine family and community feel among churches with 100 to 600 members. There is more opportunity to interact, meet people, be involved. There is less star power and more people power. There are fewer “look at me” performances and needs for more money.

    I’ve been to Mars Hill as well and I agree with their doctrine and believe they preach a true gospel of grace and forgiveness. But even that church is nowhere near the place of humility and love of people that it had when it first started. Mark Driscoll appears to be heading down the road of needing more attention upon himself. I’ve never met the guy but I’m hearing stories that he is really turning into a “look at me” type leader. His associations with certain prosperity churches up in the Seattle area should be alarming to anyone who remembers what he used to be like.

    But Cat is right. There is a place for both small, medium and large churches in America. They each reach a different audience and appeal to different types of people. Just be careful of saying that one is better then the other. Money, power, and position corrupt almost everyone. People generally lose sight of what’s really important in their lives and why they are doing what they do once they get a little fame and fortune under their belt (regardless of how little or big that is).

    The true test for any church is to ask itself, “would Jesus go here?” A Jesus who was all about humility. All about the first being last and the last being first. A Jesus who did not preach about money, but rather serving, orphans, widows and the poor. Remember He did not come for the healthy but the sick. The church should be a hospital, not an exclusive country club. And as hard as they may try, many mega-churches turn into country clubs.

  15. Reformer,
    I’m happy to participate, and thank you for your kind words. Just have a couple things to nitpick. Sorry in advance.

    I’ve been to Mars Hill as well and I agree with their doctrine and believe they preach a true gospel of grace and forgiveness. But even that church is nowhere near the place of humility and love of people that it had when it first started.

    Happy to hear that you’ve visited Mars! May I ask when that was? I would actually disagree with your second sentence entirely. No church is perfect on this account, whether a “house church” or a MC. Mars Hill goes far beyond the small church’s that I grew up in when it comes to community involvement and caring for the needy. I just got back from a Mars Hill Men’s Advance where the whole idea was caring for our family’s and communities. I could tell you story after story of couples who are choosing to bring foster kids into their homes, or countless volunteer hours given by single-men and women at hospitals, just spending time with the sick and forgotten. Hours spent caring for the needy and the single mothers (my wife makes a meal a week for a single-mother from India), the immigrants who are poor or simply don’t understand how to pay their bills. To facilitate that, the unique part of Mars Hill (unlike the other MC’s [megachurch's] that I’ve been to) is that we have a VERY effective small group ministry (we call them Community Groups). The CG’s are based in an attendee’s actual home community (or as close as possible) so we get to know and form community with others who live around us. In fact, CG organization is more effective than any of the small (50-150 attendee) churches that I grew up in. The whole idea is that we get to know each other, hold each other accountable regarding sin issues, etc, and get deeply involved with the community around us. You know, get to know our actual neighbors, etc. It’s refreshing to go to a church that strongly encourages that kind of outreach. Like we say, if we read the Bible and really believe what it says, there is no way that we can sit on our hands and keep our mouth’s shut. But I/we also know that this isn’t enough! There is a dying world all around us and we all need to be much more effective when it comes to spreading the gospel.

    Mark Driscoll appears to be heading down the road of needing more attention upon himself. I’ve never met the guy but I’m hearing stories that he is really turning into a “look at me” type leader.

    Not sure which Mark Driscoll you’re describing because as I’ve attended for the last 5 years he’s actually become less of “that guy” than he was when I first came to Mars. That’s just my experience from attending Sunday service, listening to Mark’s sermons, being plugged into community group, pursuing membership and serving in the church for 5 years.

    His associations with certain prosperity churches up in the Seattle area should be alarming to anyone who remembers what he used to be like.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I assume that you’re referring to the fact that Mark was present when Judah was installed as the senior pastor over at the City Church.

    The fact is, The City Church is a very large congregation, with multiple campuses in the Puget Sound/Seattle region and Mars Hill has been growing by leaps and bounds. My understanding is that Mark met with Wendell and Judah several years ago because they are Christian brothers and leaders of a large church in the same area in which Mars was/has been/is expanding. They have serious doctrinal differences, but they asked Mark to speak and pray at Judah’s installation. They also asked other noteworthy local evangelical leaders to attend/speak, which they did. I believe the idea was to show unity and show that the Church (big C) is moving forward in the region.

    Or perhaps you were referring to Mark’s involvement with Antioch? Well as Mark puts it, he left Antioch as a cocky young evangelical, thinking that he knew how to do this “church thing.”

    Although I didn’t know him then, I believe Mark was far more cocky/arrogant during the first 4-6 years of Mars Hill’s growth than he is today.

    However, it’s not about Mark, or Frank, or any of these guys. At least it shouldn’t be. They are sinful men who God chooses to use for His glory as He sees fit.

    It’s really all about Jesus.

  16. They have serious doctrinal differences, but they asked Mark to speak and pray at Judah’s installation. They also asked other noteworthy local evangelical leaders to attend/speak, which they did.

    Wendell was 400% into name dropping and having “big names” on his letterhead/repertoire. And he carried that to his death with all the video ta’tas at his funeral. Also.. the bigger the better as far as having other noteworthy people at the “installation”

    I would guess Judah is into names too….

    Bunch of hogwash if ya ask me

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