www.telegraph.co.uk., 24/01/2004: The latest religious phenomenon to hit the US is one that is being viewed as the most significant since the advent of televangelism in the 1980s, writes Oliver Poole.
An advertisement for the Saddleback Church invites congregants to attend “God’s Extreme Makeover”—a revival of Christ in their hearts named after the latest television fad, in which volunteers undergo plastic surgery.
Leaflets at the door to the main hall proclaim “You Can Bring Your Coffee Into Any Venue.” The thousands inside are able to sing along to spiritual songs—not traditional hymns—from the words on giant karaoke screens suspended above a light rock band.
This is the United States’ latest religious phenomenon. As Americans like going to shopping malls for all their consumer needs in one spot, so self-styled “megachurches”....offer a one-stop spiritual supermarket. At the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest just outside Los Angeles County, there are not only four main Sunday services but 18 small ones.
A cafe sells food and drinks. Baptisms are conducted at a pool to one side where “warm water” is promised. There are picnic spots and walks through manicured gardens in addition to church softball and basketball teams. Parties are held for singles to meet fellow believers.
At Saddleback’s 11:30 am Sunday service there is talk of love and togetherness. The pastors wear microphone headsets and chinos, use slang in their sermons and certainly avoid anything that resembles “thee” or “thou.”
Eddie Gibbs, a professor at the Fuller Theological Seminary, has described it as a conscious process to “remove every obstacle that keeps people from coming into the Christian Church.” Reed Cougeau, 49, said, “It makes you feel good about yourself.”
Rick Muchow, the church’s Pastor of Greater Arts—which means that his guitar leads the singing—defends the approach adopted. The church’s target market is the thirtysomethings, many now with young children, who are seeking to return to religion. Having grown up in an era of consumerism they are looking not only for God in a church, but also a variety of facilities.
“We are trying to get the people in so that we can then process them towards a greater understanding of the faith, which we do through smaller discussion groups for those that want to further examine their spiritual path,” he said.
“Don’t forget Christ used user-friendly language. He spoke to his followers in parables.”
[TBC: 1) On the contrary, Matthew:13:10,11 indicates that parables were not intended to be “user friendly.” 2) The maxim, “That which brings them in, keeps them in,” applies here. If people are attracted to a church because of its worldly goodies, that insatiable appetite has to be continually fed. On the other hand, if they are drawn in because of God’s Word, that’s hunger every pastor should delight in helping to satisfy.]