Now your first reaction (if you are Christian and value church) might be to get all defensive, and I can understand that position. (In fact that was my initial reaction, but then I thought on it some more) Before you react from that defensive position I wanted to really engage with what the video was saying so I wrote down all the statements from the video:
- In America, church is serious business and business is good.
- In 1960 there were 16 megachurches across the country.
- Now there are more than 1401.
- The most profitable makes over 70 million a year.
- 63 Million Americans attended a church service last week.
- 21 million tithed at least 10% of their income.
- And churches just don’t sell hope, they also sell coffee and DVDs and books and private education.
- How much money is this? Nobody Knows.
- Church income is not taxed and most churches don’t even file a return.
- Nearly half of Americans (48%) believe that the federal government should advocate Christian values.
- The federal government has obliged.
- In 2004, faith based organizations received up to 40,000,000,000 in federal grants.
- While many other federal programs had their budgets slashed.
- What are they doing with all this money? (picture of mansions/wealth)
- Aren’t there more worthy causes?
- Causes that don’t mask their motives in a shroud of holiness?
- Causes that don’t manipulate the penitence of their disciples for the lining of their pockets?
- You don’t need Church to give.
- Give directly to a cause dear to your heart essential to your community worthy of your support: education, art, music, shelter, amnesty, clean energy, community garden, yoga, animal rescue, elderly care.
- 10% where it counts
I don’t think it is actually too hard to poke holes in the argument (in fact there is so much conflation that one could say the video is a total red herring argument…they have created a picture of “church” that is easy to attack). The video conflates megachurches and faith-based organizations into one unified whole. They create a picture that the church is “selling” a product and that its existence is to fleece you out of your 10%. And so on and so on. One could spend countless sentences, paragraphs, and posts deconstructing the argument and showing its logical errors. However, that wouldn’t really do any good. Why do I say that? Because church we have a problem.
A quote from Francis Chan in his book Crazy Love has continued to haunt my thoughts:
We need to stop giving people excuses not to believe in God. You’ve probably heard the expression “I believe in God, just not organized religion.” I don’t think people would say that if the church truly lived like we are called to live. The expression would change to “I can’t deny what the church does, but I don’t believe in their God.” At least then they’d address their rejection of God rather than use the church as a scapegoat. (pgs 21-22)
I think if we seriously look at the two (the video and the quote) we can look and see they are getting at the same things. The church has a problem and both outsiders and insiders are saying it. Wouldn’t it be so easy to just blame the megachurches, but reality is the whole institution has a problem. We have lost our purpose and our heart. Too many churches have stopped being agents of change in society by radically living out the Gospel through their corporate lives and instead have done just what the video says and become sellers of hope for consumers to buy.
If we think about the church as stewards of God’s gift (you know that 10% that is meant for God and given to the church to steward), are we being good stewards? Is that “tithe” being used to maintain staffing, programming, and buildings mostly? How much of that is being used to provide for those in need (a redistribution sort of thing like in Acts)? If we follow the money is it being used to transform lives? If it is whose lives is it transforming? Are we a beacon of God’s light?
Let me frame this another way: do we look at the money we are receiving and entrusted to by God’s people and asking the question of how we can transform the world with this? I wonder what the world might look like if we did, would red herring videos have as much impact/influence? Would people be able to look at the Church and really see the incarnational Body of Christ?
What do you think? Do we have a problem?