Three! Two! One! The countdown timer hits 00:00. The house lights go down. The stage lights go up. The screens flash an intro scene, and with a powerful riff from the amped-up band, the show has begun! Dozens of lights start criss-cross the stage with electrifying movement. Colors undulate with the jolting syncopation of the drums. Spot lights blaze on the audience with blinding force. The pulsing rhythm, wild dancing, and screaming musicians have whipped the crowd into a frenzy.
But the show has just got started. Still to come..a comedy shtick from a funny guy, a dance lesson, a hilarious drama with a self-help theme, a few object lessons, and finally…the pastor comes whizzing in across the crowd from a zip line rigged from the rafters.
Welcome to Entertainment Church.
Many churches today have turned worship on its head. Gone are the days of reverent reflection. Instead, it’s been replaced with bigger and louder. The funnier, the more entertaining, the more shocking, the more in-your-face that the church can get, the better. Some nebulous concept called “relevance” is pulling churches away from core truth and toward the abyss of cultural degradation. Maybe it’s secular movie clips, K.I.S.S. songs during the intro, a car-bashing show on the stage, or simply a pastor who has more rib-splitting one-liners than Cupertino has iPads.
Contemporary-styled churches are most vulnerable to the temptation to give in to an entertainment mindset. While traditional and emerging churches have their own propensity to strain for some level of entertainment high, the problem seems to fester in big-budget, big-attendance megachurches with a contemporary tilt. If the church can feature a better rock concert, a slicker drama, or a funnier speaker, people will start pouring in.
And there’s nothing wrong with people pouring in! But when the church must dip its creative scoop in the cesspools of culture to get those bigger congregations, something has gone wrong. And many churches have gone way too far. It’s not that there is anything wrong with a talented band, a good object lesson, an expensive sound system, or even a joke now and then. Here’s where it’s gone wrong–when the church’s pursuit of entertainment eclipses their passion for Jesus.
Many of today’s churches are eager to produce a good show, but in order for entertainment to be in the spotlight, it means that Jesus isn’t in the spotlight. 2 Timothy 4:3 says, “For the time will come when people will not tolerate healthy doctrine, but with itching ears will surround themselves with teachers who cater to their people’s own desires.” It’s a pretty accurate description of where many churches are today. The antidote, as Paul exhorts Timothy is to “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”
Do you sense the entertainment-oriented distraction exhibited in this church advertisement?
While I’m sure that the ministry featured in the video above has some great qualities, it seems that their focus is off. The narrator said, “It’s great to see the church’s work receive the same notoriety as the secular productions.” Let’s stop and ask why? Are we competing with the world’s entertainment and advertising? Are we trying to match what they do? Do we consider it an achievement when we get a nod from a secular awards agency for our cool productions?
Jud Wilhite, pastor of a gigachurch (a church with over 10,000 members) in Las Vegas recently told a gathering of pastors that his church had once gotten to the point where they had the best show in town. People were flocking in to see the great object lessons, the powerful music, and the stunning production. However, when people were leaving at the end of the service, nobody was talking about what they had learned about Jesus. They were talking about the awesome show. That was a problem. Jud made a 180˚ turnaround. “What we have is the power of the gospel,” he said, “which is better than the coolest show.” His advice to the pastors was this: “Don’t try to be cool. Don’t try to be creative. Try to tell the truth.”
“The truth?! Sure, but our culture doesn’t go for that!” some people may object. “We’re going to lose people!”
Jud responds, “Our culture is wide open to the message of the gospel of Jesus.” It’s inherently relevant, because it meets man’s deepest need. It meets the needs that no religious talent show could ever meet. Jud exhorts pastors, “Reach out to the broken, and you will always have an audience.”
Jesse Bryan is the media director at Mars Hill Church, a church that has been called “The Most Innovative Church in America.” In a recent interview, he said, “I would rather our emphasis be on communicating clearly and not putting on some type of a show…The biggest problem with emphasizing relevance is that its easy to slip into watering down the gospel.”
Paul discussed his church planting strategy in a church that he started in Corinth: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Chances are, there was nothing inherently entertaining about that. But it is the gospel. The gospel is what is needed, not someone’s idea of what is going to be cool, popular, funny, or entertaining. Preach Christ and Him crucified.