Archive for October 17, 2008

The Dow Jones is a virtual roller coaster with enough ups and downs to make the snarkiest broker hurl in dolor and agony. The gas prices finally have reasonable “per barrel prices” yet we are still having to pawn gold just to fill a tank.

And Christmas retail has yet to hit the toilet… but wait, their time is coming unfortunately.

But now, we have another victim – no one is tithing and the churches are getting pinched, thanks to this story from the Christian Post.

The level of activity in U.S. churches when it comes to monetary giving and displaying care for others in need is “lukewarm,” authors of a new report state…

A survey of a group of 34 Protestant denominations found that, on average, two cents of each dollar donated to their affiliated congregations in 2006 funded international missions through the denominations – a level of support for overseas missions that was lower than that in the 1920s.

Furthermore, the total portion of per capita income given to churches in 2006 was lower than in the worst year of the Great Depression.

The rest of the story is alarming, but it raises one stark question: “What some folk call lukewarm giving, I call people frozen with fear about paying the light bill… you know, just in case they don’t want to read their Bible by candlelight.”

For decades, fans of the “Ol’ Rugged Cross” have questioned motives of megachurches. For years, these edifices of ecumenicism have becoming more like big business every day… and now there’s proof.

Meet Thomas Harrison, a former pastor from Tulsa, Okla. and a – wait for it – “professional mystery worshipper.”

Read the story and pick up your teeth for Pete’s sake. Yes, “mystery worshippers” as in folk PAID by marketing firms to visit the “competition” and discover how to retool the Sunday experience and package it better. Or how to expose the pastor down the block for what kind of a warehouse he is running.

So, in jaunts Harrison, acting the stereotypical “first-time visitor” – wide-eyed, grimacing, carefully inspecting each ministry, mentally checking how many folk did, or did NOT, greet him and of course, scurrying to an off-beat seat in the back where he can simply congregate and not participate.

His critiques can be bruising, pastors say. “Thomas hits you with the faded stripes in the parking lot,” says Stan Toler, pastor of Trinity Church of the Nazarene in Oklahoma City, who hires a secret shopper every quarter. “If you’ve got cobwebs, if you’ve got ceiling panels that leak, he’s going to find it.”

Hi ho, Jehovah?!

Hi ho, Jehovah?!

Good! Because as much as we just want to go about church as usual, saints don’t go for that any more. As much as the Bible is age-less, the churches that house them are most certainly not! Look at the latest malls, movie theatres and restaurants. Why do they attract folk – they are NEW… or at least have a slick remodeling package.

And so, there’s the rub.

Churches must approach the “Sunday experience” as a matter of business indeed. You know, clean up once in a while, look for new methods to attract new people, make an investment in technology and possibly use some of that fancy-shmancy feng shui stuff. These days, you are no longer judged by the marquee, but rather by the aesthetics. If it looks good, they MUST have a great children’s ministry. If it has a big stage and some big screens, the music MUST rock.

Now, I know, stupid logic… but that’s how they think. And at least that gets them in the door.

What’chu got? A fancy bulletin you printed off Word and some sweet Old English to polish up those wooden pews?! Don’t get me wrong, I love that stuff. But you are thinking and acting like your church is looking, your weekly attendance will resemble somewhere in-between how your couch looks when you aren’t home and the grandstands at a synchronizing swimming match. And the feeling is catchy. Listen to a progressive pastor and all-around smart guy, Pete Wilson, pastor of CrossPoint Church in Nashville, Tenn.

Others say that church shopping has become necessary for churches seeking to compete in an increasingly mobile and consumer-oriented society. “My competition is Cracker Barrel restaurant down the street,” says Pete Wilson, pastor of CrossPoint Church in Nashville, Tenn., who regularly enlists a secret shopper to evaluate his 2,000-person congregation. “If they go in there and are treated more like family than when they come to CrossPoint Church, then it’s lights out for me.”

By jove. I think he’s – and apparent many more like him – got it!

Meet Reverend Rob Hamby, a campus minister at Texas Christian University. Last week, he was the visiting pastor at Fort Worth Presbyterian on Sunday where he would preach on showing others mercy.

While stoically delivering the message mid-homiletics, two fools walked into the church, past anyone noticing, into the pastor’s office, STOLE HAMBY’S BAG and went on a $7,600 shopping spree throughout Fort Worth!

The newspaper [Dallas Morning News] reported that about $2,000 in purchases were made on his credit and debit cards before he finished preaching, including the purchase of a $676 diamond ring. In addition to his wallet, Hamby’s computer valued at $2,600 was taken.

Well, that’s sweet because I suppose when you steal a pastor’s wallet, you want to get inspired with your hawk so buy an engagement ring. Why not? I mean, at least this way the man will not forget the anniversary. Good on ya’, girl… out think that dude.

You think Jesus and his turf is exempt from wolves in sheep’s clothing?! Um, ever heard of a fake televangelist? If the flippin’ pulpit isn’t safe, what makes you think demons can’t roam in the back of the house?! Not so much. However, in the event Hamby meets a demon strolling the halls lurking for an open wallet and some unattended bling, he demands manners.

Hamby says he believes in helping those less fortunate – when they ask. “The thing that saddens me is that rather than come to the church and meet face to face about providing for a need that they… they would steal from somebody,” he said.

Makes sense. Because a swarthy spirit likes a little “Emily Post” with his soul- and goods-stealing. Talk about an illustrated sermon, eh?