Is the Corporate Church fading in the Internet Age?

Muppet has raised an interesting question, particularly for those of us who include a blogging community and teaching available over the internet as part of our Christian lives.

Muppet commented:

“But instead sold a product that is most advantageous to the advisor” [-RP, earlier, commenting on moral hazard]

This has been the basis of business for the last few decades. We package a product, and market it, convincing the consumer of their need for it.

The game is now changed. Consumers are more educated and aware. They have access to a wide range of information. It’s no good coming up with a product like Coco Pops and spending loads of money to convince me that it is what I need. I want a particular blend of oats and fruit that is particular to my dietry needs. I have the ability now to access exactly what I need. It’s irrelevent how clever the TV advert for Coco Pops is – I wont buy them.

Marketing Jesus and selling the Gospel as a product will become less effective. What do we do now? How do we recognise what God is doing in an individuals life, and how do we help them move towards Him even if we can’t relate to their individual experience of Him?

Megachurches (and others) have been set up in recent decades along a corporate business model, with modern marketing methods. Even to the point of replacing elders with board members. They market the Gospel as their product, and we become the sales agents, in some churches even to the point of being encouraged to conform to an image that is attractive to non-members. Seeker sensitive methods drive marketing appeal.

Will these methods become less effective as consumers are faced with infinite information and choice over the internet? Some churches have moved their model to the internet, encouraging those who regard them as their home church, to tithe to them. Can churches still convince people that they have what people need, distinct from other churches, when as Muppet says, the consumer can now go out and find exactly the teaching that caters to their need?

We’ve all probably heard church pastors warning people of the dangers of blogging! Are they perceiving this potential for shift?

Does the consumer risk just satisfying their desire for whatever agrees with their viewpoint – it will be somewhere on the internet? Or does the megachurch preacher face the dilemma of aware consumers, who know that there is a world outside the limits of the menu on offer in the building, and can disagree and be educated beyond the boundaries of what is preached on a Sunday? Has the corporate model for the megachurch with all its hierarchies been effectively superseded by the flatness and spread of the internet – and if so, what is emerging in its place?

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RavingPente


28 thoughts on “Is the Corporate Church fading in the Internet Age?

  1. yes, but it’s only just begun.

    In 20 years (2029) they’ll all be just like the old churches … 3/4 empty.

    The internet church will be thriving. Even where Christians are being persecuted. However, messages will be coded around the underground church.

  2. I think the relationships towards the buildings are already changing. I know a portion of the congregation of Hillsong (particularly evening services) belong to other churches but come along to hear different preaching and enjoy the worship.

    Maybe the large churches / convention centres will just resource the larger body (ie numerous small gatherings) and operate more as businesses (which they more or less do now – but peoples perception of what the entity Hillsong is changes).

    Maybe this way larger organisations will have a function within the cross-network developing amongst smaller congregations?

  3. I think that building campaigns will continue, but ultimately, bricks ‘n’ mortar will become an albatross as churches get forced underground.
    This won’t happen for a couple of decades, and the Lord could return before then anyway! At which point, why raise all this money and spend it on ourselves?

    However, having been that cynical, the Lord told me to tell my church “start a building fund”. He didn’t say what for. But we haven’t started a building fund …

    The bottom line is, while we are busy building a ‘church’, both building and people, we aren’t building THE church. We get most growth from transfers from other churches. C3 claim to discourage transfers in Bath, UK. Good.
    They are attracting people from all over the south west of England though. So, quite a big church drawing from a very large geographical area.

    What am I trying to say? Essentially, we do lots of things, and spend lots of money. The building fund becomes the goal, the focus, the end in itself.

    It’s a distraction unless God has specifically said that the church needs a fund for the future. In my case, I don’t know why he said it. It is sufficient to know that it’s needed. We have been given early warning. My church isn’t taking it seriously … I haven’t had any feedback on it either. Was it God, or not?

    Silence.

    That’s pretty annoying and depressing.

    Shalom

  4. I think it is definitely a good thing when we see the larger churches with big buildings allowing other groups to use their premises (including both when they charge a nominal rent to offset costs, and when it is free out of love for another group). Near where I live there are also quite a few traditional church buildings that house services for different church groups at different times – maybe Korean church at 9am, Pente church at 11, Deaf church at 4pm or whatever.

    There is a place for building funds when there are no suitable premises available for a group, I think, or when its actually more economical to build than to continue to hire something. Unfortunately building funds have also led the demise of some churches, or really changed the nature and focus of them when people become obsessed with that vision and think that it will be the cause of their future growth. Also, I think sometimes they don’t want to face up to what they are committing to – maintenance costs, replacement costs, etc, on a long term basis that must be sustainable.

    Where God clearly says to start a building fund, one ought to do it though! (A bit like Noah.) Hopefully, Bull, if it is from God, He will confirm it through other members of your congregation. If it is of Him, it can be started, and there will be no need to pressure people to give, since it will sit in their hearts as something they wish to give to.

    However, I also think that many times homes can be the main gathering place for God’s people, with hired buildings for occasional larger gatherings. There are no rules regarding this – we can’t be legalistic about it either way, just go with what is right for our group and not be misled into building empires.

  5. totally agree RP.

    Many years ago we had a vision of planting 7 congregations out of our fellowship.

    We planted 1.

    I guess that was seen to be too difficult. The people with passion went to set up the new church. Those left behind didn’t want to leave … setting up another 6 would have to wait.

    Now, I expect everyone apart from me has forgotten the original vision for church planting. Mentioning it in the members meeting is bound to embarrass some leaders though.

    😦

  6. Well, it doesn’t hurt to ask whatever happened to the vision. How much of it was God inspired, and how much enthusiasm? Or how much was missed through some other focus? Perhaps something could be learnt.

    I went to a church that planted several congregations – each time it grew to a certain amount, filling its hall, it would plant a congregation elsewhere, with those who had a heart for it moving on. It grew several times, enough to plant I think at least 3 congregations that way. It initially grew itself from a bible study group. Took a number of years between plants.

    I’ve also been a part of a failed church plant – I was there for a few months, fortunately during the good times; shortly after I left, the downhill slide began (my leaving was unconnected of course). It was the most painful thing for everyone involved. Some of the events were just tragic. Marriages collapsing, people burning out, and all good people. It’s very important when planting churches out of another church, that people are given enough support, so that that sort of thing doesn’t happen. It might in other words have been a good thing only 1 church was planted, if the resources weren’t there to support more plants, and if the congregation hadn’t grown to replace those who left.

  7. Bull, you might enjoy reading this.

    “Church Planters: Stop Wasting God’s Money” Bob Thune

    If you’re a church planter, chances are you’re wasting money.

    The Sales Pitch
    Let’s be honest: this is America, home of free-market capitalism. There is money to be made from church planters. And so a whole church-planting industry is ready to tell you that if you’re going to do it right, you probably need:

    *a club-ready sound-and-light system
    *a few Macs with top-of-the-line video editing software (might as well throw in an iPhone so you can Twitter your sermon prep)
    *a top-end website with content management
    *a children’s ministry setup that rivals a corporate daycare
    *a trade-show-style display booth for all your visitors’ information
    industrial signage for both the inside and the outside of your venue
    *a custom trailer to haul it all in

    Most new church planters fall for this sales pitch like Tony Romo in the playoffs.

    “Don’t Believe the Hype”

    But in case you haven’t yet spent $100k on your “startup costs,” let me suggest that you hit the brakes and consider a crucial point: That’s GOD’S money that you’re spending. You’re going to stand before Jesus and answer for every dime. When many church planters in Africa don’t even own a Bible dictionary, do you really want to argue that the lighting rack was a “must-have?”

    Don’t believe the hype. You can plant a missional church with next to nothing. We forked out only $19,000 in startup costs and got everything we needed. Sound system? We bought the most basic thing that would get the job done. Children’s ministry? We asked for donations from Christians and other churches in our city and got almost everything for free. Website? We bought a template for $50, tweaked it a little to make it our own, and hosted it with a local provider for a fraction of the cost of the turn-key church-planting web solutions. Computer and projector? We worked through the IT director at a local university who included our order in his volume purchase and passed the discount along to us.

    Don’t Be a Statistic
    You know the stats: 80% of church plants fail. Of course I hope your church isn’t one of them. But in your budgeting decisions, you should act as though it could be. If you had to shut things down, would you feel okay about how you’d spent the Lord’s money? Would any of your donors have reason to question your expenses as frivolous? Can you stand eye-to-eye with the family in your church who’s struggling financially and tell them with integrity that you’re spending only what’s necessary?

    Don’t Take the Bait
    A few months ago a church planter I know had to close up shop. As I scrolled through his fire-sale ad on Craigslist, I couldn’t help but wonder: did he really need all this stuff? If he had allocated funds differently, could he have stayed in the game a little longer and reached a place of viability? It’s not my place to question his decisions; “before his own master he stands or falls” (Romans 14:4). But I’m concerned that lots of young, starry-eyed church planters are easy prey for the salesmen of church-plant capitalism.

    You don’t have to be. Stand firm, church planter, and don’t take the bait. We’re 4 years in, and I just now ordered business

  8. Here’s the end of the article Bull.

    You don’t have to be. Stand firm, church planter, and don’t take the bait. We’re 4 years in, and I just now ordered business cards. Letterhead? Maybe next year.

  9. That’s great Teddy.

    I really liked the Article. 🙂

    In our case, I would say that the parent Church mothered the startup for maybe a little too long but I don’t think money was wasted. In fact, they are probably in a better place at the moment.

    While there were lessons to be learnt, the fact that we now have 2 congregations meeting in the Parent church would indicate it was past time to plant another church.

    We’ll see in the fullness of time.

    I think though that there is something we have missed in Church, and I happen to think that C3 has actually learnt something positive and useful … maybe I’ll get shot down in flames …

    They are closer to having a community/family thing going on in Bath than any other church I’ve been to, even though they meet in a school every sunday.

    Our Local Church needs to recover what it has lost … being the focal point of the local community.

    Well then … any comments?

  10. How is the gospel presented in C3 Bath? If it’s following the C3 model, I would seriously have my doubts. Didn’t someone challenge their stance on some issues, from memory (here or other at Groupsects)?

  11. When it was going well, the church plant I was involved with was a wonderful experience. No money was wasted; (it was small and pretty poor) a hall was hired and a few microphones bought; a speaker, and that was about it. I definitely think it needed more support at a pastoral level to survive.

    Re C3 in Bath – has it many Australian ex-pats there? Ex-pats can become like eachother’s family when overseas, in a way that doesn’t happen in your home land. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if that occured, and affected the whole church community.

    Church plants in their early stages can be wonderful in that way. It was like that in my experience.

    Meeting in a school may even help – people aren’t distracted from their community by a vision for building, and rely upon one another every week to get things set up. Plus they meet at one another’s houses a lot, the rest of the time, which also helps build community in a way that doesn’t happen if a central building is the main place used over the week as well.

  12. I’ve only been there a few times so I can’t really say what the Gospel presentation is like.

    I would have been the one that made commenst some time back.

    There may be a few ex-pats around but not many. The leaders are sincere but they have bought into prosperity theology and replacement theology (which is very John Stott of course)

    😦

    They love PP and PP’s kid is doing a concert very soon. Nepotism doesn’t really work for me … know what I mean?

  13. Well its good that it must be mainly locals. More sustainable if its good.

    Know what you mean about nepotism. OK if the kid is genuinely gifted of course. It must be difficult for some PK’s to do anything outside the church as sometimes the church culture often doesn’t place much value on things outside its walls, except for the purposes of raising funds for giving, or for ‘witnessing’/evangelism. Unless perhaps they choose a service to people, such as a medical profession.

  14. BTW – I did love Bath when I visited years ago. But then everyone must. Would love to go back one day.

  15. Bull – Try getting your head around the fact that PP’s younger son was going to live in LA (to further his music career) so PP thinks it’s just fine to take up a love offering for him even though he’s not going as church planter or whatever!

    It’s a bit like saying “we are not taking a wage anymore but if you to partner with us (PP & CP), there’s offering envelopes on your seats.” It’s all on video. Bit naughty.

  16. Oh, that would have put people in a strange situation. You can’t arrange that kind of privilege for every kid in the church. Many leaders wouldn’t choose to do that, for that reason. What about all those bible college students trying to pay their fees for example?

  17. Can any of the other pastors make the same appeal – their wages are minimal. If they don’t get a preaching “gig”, life can be really tough.

  18. Hmm – I can imagine appeals for crisis situations, and one would need to be willing to do that for anyone in the church – does that happen?

    Yes, pastors wages would typically be minimal, and unlike the traditional churches, they wouldn’t receive help with housing I imagine unless members of the congregation choose to help them out in some way.

  19. Offerings taken up in recent years have been for local fire services, lifesavers, medical reasons i.e. someone is nominated who has a medical need and offerings taken. A good cause but often used to yet again promote C3″s “good works”

    Since we left, instead of monthly missionary offerings, I believe it’s a one off yearly appeal. A large amount is raised but some of those funds are now used for conferences and that’s not the right way to use what was formerly missionary funding.

    There’s some pretty upmarket hotel accomodation for conferences thrown in even if you’re local (pastors).

    One sad situation we saw, was a young woman with four children suddenly widowed but nothing was done for her (apart from helpful congregants privately). There is a clear mandate in the Bible, to look after widows and orphans.

  20. 😦

    I think that we (the body of Christ in the western world) are really rubbish at being family. We don’t tell it like it really is. (Usually so that we don’t offend anyone!)

    We are not honest with one another. We don’t ask difficult questions, unless we don’t know it’s a difficult question. We definitely don’t confess our sins either. (Fear that we will no longer be taken seriously.)

    “How are you and the family?” is an essay question.

    The answer we should come up with should start “How long have you got?”

    Our usual answer is “We’re fine.”

    I have concerns about prosperity theology, contemplative spirituality and other things we have discussed on Signposts. But I think we are not qualified to really go for these things unless we deal with the fundamental question “How do we AGAPE one another in Spirit and in Truth?”

    Mrs Bull has a lump in her breast. We believe it to be benign as she has had benign lumps before. However, she had the last of them removed more than ten years ago.
    We are not telling others in the church about this.

    Why not? It’s private. It’s personal. Mrs Bull doesn’t want to be judged and in truth she is very relaxed about it and isn’t thinking about it. We’ve been referred but the NHS being what it is, it’ll probably be months before we have an examination.

    I am not worried about it either. However, I mention it as a real life example about how we completely shut other people out of our lives.

    The example of the widow above could be symptomatic of many things. But one of those things is likely to be ignorance. “Well, we haven’t made a big thing about it in the church and she’s probably all right with life insurance etc.”

    and

    “I’m sure that her friends are providing all the emotional support she needs at this difficult time … and we are praying for the family of course.”

    None of that is practical help but hey … if the Pastor hasn’t directed us, then all we can do is chuck money at the building fund.

  21. That is very sad. To have an offering to send a young person to LA, but not to have one for the young woman with 4 kids…

    That biblical mandate is unmistakable. Looking after the poor and needy, particularly within the gathering one is a part of, has to be a higher priority than giving to anything else. When James, Peter and John agreed with Paul preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, the only extra thing they requested was that Paul remember the poor – it is no less important than preaching the gospel.

    Plus Jesus did say that when we give to the poor, we shouldn’t trumpet it.

    I guess we have to ask whether someone who is the sort of person Jesus is would publicise their big gifts to the Salvo’s. I can understand publicising an appeal for gifts, however, and letting the participants know how it went.

  22. Bull, is it OK if I turn part of your previous comment into a new post? I think its a topic well worth looking at.

  23. That’s a tough call Bull, we went through something similar with one of our daughters recently – it really throws us back to the only One we can trust. Will be praying for you both.

    Regarding the young widow, she had minimal insurance but it was just that amount that wouldn’t allow government benefits but not enough to survive the next 15 or so years raising those children, the youngest only 4. It’s a crazy scheme.

    I laughed re your comments about “how’s the family? etc” – PP would ask us how we’re going and you wouldn’t dare take up his time with an honest reply!
    Funny thing, he would be discerning enough to pick up on something but not willing to take the time to minister. “It’s all good”, that’s the usual closing remark. I hate that expression almost as much as I hate the overused “awesome”!

    A young girl was killed a few years ago under tragic circumstances – her mum only wanted to talk to PP, she was so distraught. It wasn’t happening so the counselling dept intervened. The only response was from the pulpit.

    “So sorry she died, but she was doing Christian Essentials so she’s in heaven. Guess who just got engaged?”

    We were there at the time and remember those comments. Mum left the church, took a few years to recover and I just found out today, she’s finally in a good place emotionally and a good church spiritually.

    How do you think a senior pastor should handle such things? Is it their responsibility? These tragedies are mostly rare occurences so should it be difficult to pay a pastoral visit even in a large congregation?

  24. I don’t think PP is typical of all C3 pastors in this area. Perhaps he doesn’t connect well with people on a one to one basis? That comment shows a strange lack of empathy and sensitivity, but a kind of clumsy desire to comfort.

    In my smaller C3 church, there is no way that someone who had experienced a death in the family would not have had direct contact with the senior pastors, who I am sure would have done whatever they could within their abilities to serve in a time like that.

  25. I think that if a senior pastor doesn’t have any contact with a congregation member, you wouldn’t expect them to have much of a role in comforting that member after a tragedy. However, that doesn’t mean they should have no role. If it would help the congregation member, then you would hope that the senior pastor would do what they could even if it was just a one off visit or comforting word. If they don’t have the personal skills, then they perhaps should reconsider a shepherding role!

  26. As a group gets larger, it is bound to be difficult for Pastors to know everyone. It can then be difficult for direct one-to-ones.

    However, it sounds really off for PP to be so disrespectful. A couple of hours of talking through things with the mum would have helped the Mum. However, maybe PP can’t deal with negative circumstances too well. How does that fit in with “It’s all good” ?

    PP is a flawed creation, just like me.

    “How are you?” is really just a polite greeting. Well, we should be honest with each other. Maybe we would then see Pastors not asking the question … 😉

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