The new facilities certainly were nice. We began the tour in what used to be called "the Atrium" when I attended this church. It had plants and skylights, so I suppose that name fit fairly well. Now the area has been renamed "Kid Zone," or something similar and equally catchy. Gone are the plain, light blue walls, plants, and skylights. Now the walls are covered in distinctly Disney-esque art work. The plants and skylight have been replaced by a mock tree house, which will eventually feature various platforms spiraling around it and the rest of the "Kid Zone." Down the hall, where I attended preschool through kindergarten sunday school, the walls have been painted a bright green color, and are adorned with large, 3'X 3' pictures of children of all races in poses which would indicate they are having a simply incredible amount of fun.
From the "Kid Zone" the tour continued up a stair well, painted in equally bright colors with even larger pictures of older kids having a (presumably) larger amount of fun. Once we topped the stairs, I was almost dismayed. The hallway and classrooms here looked almost exactly like they did when I attended first though fifth grade sunday school several years ago. Luckily the tour guide (the pastor of the church) assured us that this area would be decorated similarly to the "Kid Zone" below. *Whew* The theme up here would be "elementz" (all lower case, with a "z"). This is fortunate, because you and I both know how much modern first through fifth graders dig in-your-face misspellings.
Then we were guided through a set of double doors to the new sixth through twelfth grade facilities, named "The Factory." As that name would imply, the area looked much like a mock factory with exposed ducts and all that overhead. Hanging from this cleverly unfinished looking ceiling were several TVs. They displayed what I can only assume was the video portion of this morning's sunday school lesson...something relating Napoleon Dynamite to the Bible. The walls here are painted black, and they too have large pictures adorning them. Fittingly for the age group that meets in this area, these pictures are of racially diverse, distinctly urban looking teens, in poses that would indicate they are having the teenage equivalent of fun (angst). Up front was a moderately sized stage with amps and mics, and in back was a nice looking soundboard and computer to control everything. A little further into this area, there is a small table with a brand new Mac on top of it and an open room with several more TVs hooked to various video game consoles. Opposite the Mac table is a cafe type area with small, round tables, chairs, and what looked to be a counter from which food is likely served.
Through a couple more double doors we were guided to a wide-open reception area over looking a brand new gym. Underneath us is another area which will also be used for reception-like gatherings. From there people can access the new gym.
And what might all of this cost? In case the title of this article hasn't clued you in already, I'll tell you: $3,000,000.
Practically, I have at least one problem with all of this. At the moment, bright, ugly-ass green walls, large pictures, and the "street" look are all very in vogue. What happens when they fall out of vogue? Another $3,000,000 project?
Aside from that practical issue, I have other issues with all of this.
Why was all of this done? The primary reason given by the church leadership would be that this will attract unbelievers. They seem to be of the mentality that if you provide an incredibly fun, hip, and/or cool atmosphere, who wouldn't want to attend your church? I'm of the mentality that plenty of people wouldn't. While it certainly would be fun to go and listen to a live band, play some video games, and sip a latte from the cafe, the fact remains that this is a church, and people know it. They know that all of this comes at a cost of being preached at by someone, at least once. We're not going to fool anyone; they know that all of this amounts to bait. Even as a believer, I don't like feeling as though I'm being baited, and I have this suspicion that non-believers don't either. So the message that all of this sends to the unchurched isn't, "We love you, we care," it's "We're trying to trick you into something. Would you like to play our video games?"
Even if people don't get the impression that we're trying to bait them (which we are), they'll think we're lame for trying so damn hard to be edgy and cool. People who come to a church honestly seeking something aren't seeking to be a part of something edgy and cool. If they were, there are a number of places and groups that do it far better than we can. And if movies like "Saved!" are to be believed, quite a few unchurched people are pretty damn tired of us trying to be that way!
So all of this, I would argue, will be largely ineffective in actually helping anybody with anything...and we spent $3,000,000 on it. Meanwhile, my father and mother, members of this church, are teaching English to Spanish-speaking immigrants so that they can get better jobs with which to support their families. The church-owned building in which they do this is a ratty, dilapidated property with bathrooms that don't work and cause the entire place to reek of sewage. True, because the youth group of this church will move into part of the new facilities, their old meeting area will be used to host the Hispanic ministry. However, I imagine that a comparatively paltry $100,000 would have gone a long way to improve their old facilities and another $500,000 would have kept the youth group from feeling left out. But then again, while meeting Spanish-speaking people's needs is admirable, I suppose it lacks that in-your-face edge we so desperately crave.
Not surprisingly, the tour was ended with a prayer that God would help the people present to be faithful and obedient in giving to this endeavor so that God's work will be accomplished.
I realize I've done a lot of complaining and very little offering of alternatives or solutions. I don't have the answer. Certainly, I can see the need for a growing church to build new and larger facilities. And while I don't think that striving for edgy coolness will get us anywhere, I doubt that giving up and fully embracing boring, conservative "churchyness" will either. About the only thing I can think to suggest is that we just be honest with people and give up on trying to bait them into a church service. Then, when people come to our church honestly seeking whatever we have to offer, we should use our millions of dollars to help them, meet their needs, and then tell them why we're doing so. I doubt that would give us the rapid growth we seem to be seeking, but surely it would give us a more long-lasting growth that actually means something, presently and eternally.