4 Church Trends that Make Me Uncomfortable

Church Steeple

I’ve thought about publishing this post for several months. However, I have not hit the publish button until today. I have several reasons for my hesitancy. One, I don’t want to write a post that suggests I have all the answers to how autonomous congregations “do church.” Two, I don’t want to write a post that looks down on other pastors in a condescending way. Three, I don’t want to write a post that is belligerent or that is intentionally provocative. Four, I don’t want to write a post that singles out one specific church as an example of what not to do.

For all these reasons, I’ve not published this post until today … but today’s the day. In what follows, I want to share 4 church trends that make me uncomfortable.

Admittedly. my usage of the word “trend” is highly subjective. I have no statistical support to prove these 4 practices are in fact “trends” among churches today. My list is based purely on my limited experience and limited observation. Additionally, in titling this post I intentionally chose the word “uncomfortable.” In my mind, these 4 trends are not practices that automatically make a church a “bad” church. However, these are trends I don’t quite understand. They’re trends I would not want to uncritically embrace at Immanuel. And if I were searching for a church for my family, these practices would probably prevent me from joining a particular church.

Enough disclaimers and explanations. Here are 4 church trends that make me uncomfortable:

  • Multi-campus churches with video preaching. I understand a pastor wanting to reach more people, and I agree that technology is a tool we ought to use for gospel advance. However, I’m not sure you can separate the message from the medium. I’m not sure it’s a good thing that so much of our lives already revolve around screens. I’m not sure it’s wise to completely separate the rolls of preacher and pastor (as is also done at many large single campus churches). I’m not sure you can escape the mentality of “celebrity pastor” when one man needs to be broadcast in multiple locations. I’m not sure this approach is going to be good for the long term health of a church (who will replace these uniquely gifted communicators?).
  • Ear plugs provided because the music is too loud. I should start with a confession. Last week a woman visited our church for the first time. She called the church office Monday morning to inform us that she would not be returning to our church because the music was too loud. I admit, the Sunday she visited we had a sound board issue that resulted in some loud moments. I also realize that volume level is a relative issue. What’s too loud for some is just right for others, and what’s just right for some is too loud for others. Nevertheless, I don’t see how the necessity of ear plugs invites people across generations to participate in corporate worship. I don’t see how you avoid a performance approach to church music when many of the people in the room need protection for their ears.
  • Sermon series based on popular movies and TV shows. If any “trend” on my list were a deal-breaker, it might be this one. Because I believe in the necessity of expository preaching, I just can’t embrace the trend of using popular movies and TV shows as the starting point for a sermon. I regularly use movies and TV shows as sermon illustrations, but this is entirely different than using a movie or a TV show as the basis for a sermon or a series. I understand the appeal of popular culture and the desire to be relevant. However, I don’t understand why preachers need to use movies and TV shows as the basis for a talk when we have 66 inspired books that most of our people need to understand and live out in a deeper way.
  • Multi-campus churches in different regions. I’m not opposed to churches having multiple campuses. Honestly, I don’t see the difference in a church having multiple campuses and a church having multiple services, especially when those services meet in different venues on the same campus. However, I’m not sure I understand the need for a church to have multiple campuses in different regions. How am I defining “region?” I’m not. An example that does make me uncomfortable would be a church in Texas that had a “campus” in California and a campus in “Jamaica.” Those are obviously different regions, but I think the mileage threshold in my mind is smaller than across the country or across an ocean. Other than a desire to be bigger, I don’t understand the motivation here. Why not plant churches or partner to revitalize churches rather than establishing a new “campus?”

I really would love to hear your thoughts about this post. Am I overreacting? Am I being a curmudgeon? Do I need to get with the times? Or do these trends make you uncomfortable, too? What would you add to this list?

43 Comments

  1. The earplug one blows my mind. I can get around video preacher and multi-venue, kind of. At least I get it and know of churches working hard at providing the “pastoral” side to the equation. My brother preaches in that kind of environment and it’s working, but I see the concern. Sermon series with TV shows or Movies as the central piece is beyond me for the reasons you stated. But Earplugs? You’re kidding me! There are actually churches passing out ear plugs because the music is so loud?

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    1. I’ve seen the ear plug thing in places I expected to see it, and places I did not expect to see it. You’re right, I know most of those who do video preaching work hard to provide pastoral care. I just get uneasy separating preacher and pastor. I know preacher can’t always be pastor to every member (unless you cap church size at a dozen). But I think the connection is important.

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  2. Maybe I would add that churches, some that I have visited, are not only jumping on the ‘celebrity pastor’ bandwagon and the laser light show concert bandwagon…all of that is somewhat acceptable to certain extents…but the usage and preaching of the pastiche that is philosophy/psychology/media mob mentality to the exclusion of the Bible and the ‘recreation’ of the Creator is unacceptable, unhelpful and a downright heresy.
    In essence, Jesus is not welcome in these churches. Jesus is too dirty, too simple, not cool enough and too paradoxical. He doesn’t come in a box labeled, ‘The Next Big Thing’. He is just not as exciting as the new movements and definitely not tweet-able or hashtag-able. So, churches try to reinvent Jesus, the Holy Christ, to be their ‘homie’, to become the best of the super heroes on a t-shirt, and someone that they wouldn’t mind creeping behind them in their selfie. I digress…
    I think that this has bothered me for a while because my very cool friends, admittedly cooler than I, have been so very excited to share the newest pastor sharing the newest idea (‘from the Bible’) that no one has taught before…some new angle or trend that they are all excited about. However, when I watch the same videos, I see what reeks of man’s philosophies and human reasoning and logic. They share parodies and satire – that is great until it steps on their toes – that I just can’t follow. Maybe I am too fundamental…maybe I’m the curmudgeon.
    I think that these disillusionments will hurt those who are already Christian who will not find healing, teaching or solace in these places. They will find that faith has been revised, recreated, reinvented, into something that the Bible does not describe as faith at all.
    New members will be dazzled, then bored, then move on to another show…and miss it…miss what God is speaking to them. Although God can and will find another way to speak to them, isn’t our charge, by command in the Bible, to speak true the God of the Bible, and to live out His testimony in our lives and not to gather at church simply to entertain the masses? Churches are full of people TOO concerned about creature comforts to the exclusion of being uncomfortable in their sin. Likewise, churches are full of people TOO concerned about church growth, (proof positive that they are doing ‘good’ by the number of satellite churches they begin), to the exclusion of growing the heart of the Church that is inside the walls of the building that they are in.

    This is a good discussion to have. I may be a bit over passionate about it at times. Thanks for bringing it up.

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    1. I think you’ve hit on a major issue, and it’s more than an issue that makes me uncomfortable. It’s a deal breaker for me. Innovative, hip, cool preaching that isn’t text based is a deal breaker.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is on point, conforming I believe would change us from a biblical-view to a world-view. Videoing preaching, I feel is not treating the church as the Bride of Christ. Who wants their husband to video themselves in. God’s Word is Enough it’s very Powerful, no need for a TV show to help get the message across.

    I Think something Church’s need to avoid is making their church music like a rock concert with lights and smoke and this big production.

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    1. My first experience with this was going to a church extension because My husband had been asked to play drums in the band. I eagerly awaited the pastors message but I was mortified when I saw that we were just watching the home church pastor speak. It is probably silly but I was completely spooked by that. My first, Holy Cow, what am I apart of moment!

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  4. Yeah. Not sure how what was established in Acts is modeled by a campus video satellite led church. Deal breakers. Sound is hard to manage. Not a deal breaker.

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  5. 100% overreacting in my opinion. 🙂 We are a young church and for 8 years we were in a TINY facility and had a hard time controlling the sound. We finally had older people coming because they loved the youth and young people worshipping and loved their energy. So we started offering ear plugs. We recently moved in a new building where it’s easier to control the sound but we are still loud. We continue to offer ear plugs but now, not just for elderly people who think the music is too loud but now we have teenagers with autism and Asperger’s.
    Respectfully, I feel that articles like this only cause more division than unification.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Autism issue is legit. Of course I want to help those kids participate! Hope you could hear my ‘tone’ in expressing concerns about things I struggle to understand. As I said in the article, most of these are not ‘deal breakers,’ but things I’m unsure about.

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  6. I’m continuously amazed that we as Christians will take time and effort to criticize other Christians and churches when there is a hurt and dying world full of lost people Out there.

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  7. Really confused as to to why ear plugs would be a deal breaker? Why automatically is the worship not genuine just because it’s too loud for certain people?

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    1. Didn’t say they were a deal breaker. Did say I think the line between congregational worship and performance seems (to me) like it’s being blurred.

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  8. Interesting observations. Your hesitation to publish was warranted:) Some churches seem to be marketing a “brand” – campuses in other regions and video preaching. The brand is the draw, so maybe more people are reached… Sound issues are right out the “touring world” where spl levels, for some reason, need to be ear-shattering. Dynamic range can be achieved at lower levels, they just don’t want too. At some point, though, it comes down to: aren’t you glad there are so many choices today?

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    1. Agree that a ‘brand’ is being marketed. But again, I’m not sure all ‘choices’ are good choices. I don’t like the ‘choice’ of going to church to hear someone exegete a movie.

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  9. There are a few trends that trouble me also:

    1) Pastors who think only they should be preaching. I actually consider it selfish to preach multiple sermons or to multiple locations. Effective for attracting butts and bucks but bad for the Body. It assumes that God hasn’t gifted ‘enough’ pastors, teachers, evangelists and it further ‘teaches’ that there is a big difference between the benchwarmers and the ‘called’.

    2)The assumption that music = worship = music. Music is not mentioned in Romans 12:1,2 (I did not say that music cannot be present amongst those who worship)

    3) Churches that think it’s even about attracting people to come on Sunday. It’s about equipping the Body to go OUT and reach their world. Preaching to the Body on Sunday (cuz, you know, SOMEBODY might be there who needs to hear the Gospel) is somewhat misguided. It’s not so much the Gospel that believers need to hear as it is to be taught and equipped to share (preach even?) that same Gospel the other 6 days of the week.

    4) The total and complete ignoring of I Cor 14:26 about what our gatherings should look like. We learn much better through interacting, experiencing and being encouraged by the stories and learnings of fellow believers. Oh, right, that’s not ‘efficient’, oops. Maybe efficiency isn’t the objective. Leaving 99 to go find 1 wasn’t efficient either…. (and no, Groups, Life Groups, small groups, etc are not where this happens for the most part. I’ll accept that when the local church budget is at least 50% dedicated to leading, teaching, training, overseeing groups and leaders. Sadly it’s usually less than 1% of the budget, effort and energy because an hour or so on Sunday consumes 95% of the budget, effort, staffing and energy…)

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  10. It’s funny that two of your four “uncomfortable” trends make me uncomfortable too. The first is churches that have multiple campuses that simulcast from the one site to all campuses. I truly question this on many levels. One is that the “Pastor” of these satellite campuses, in my opinion, aren’t really Pastors. Maybe a councillor , but not a Pastor in the true sense of the title. They don’t have to spend time putting together sermons through hours of prep and redos. I feel that a sermon direction and content is going to be different from church to church based on the particular needs each congregation has as known by the Holy Spirit. I also feel the Pastor preaching has some issues with control and feelings that others can’t do it as well as they can. It robs leaders of the other campuses from being all Hod wants them to be, unless their call is to be a councillor. The second concern is the churches that, much like your first concern, is having multiple sites states apart. As I already articulated, I feel that Scripture lays out that each site should have it’s own leadership team headed by a Preaching Pastor. The greatest concern I see in these satellite churches is that they do their research and only plant in areas that have higher income levels and where a larger portion of the city attends church. There is the greatest issue. I know a person that was placed as the team leader of one of these church plants. They came to a large city in the Bible Belt and built a multimillion dollar facility. They met at a rented location for a short time while the facility was being built. They came in with very highly trained and gifted worship teams, Sunday school teachers etc. They have the light shows and smoke. The local Pastors that have been laboring over their flocks for years with tight budgets and low salaries can’t compete with the “shows” and children’s teachers etc that these churches provide. So now the Pastors that have truly served Jesus with all they had end up loosing their flock to these plants that are only interested in numbers and dollars. Needless to say, I don’t feel these multi site, simulcast churches that plant only where the money, not the needs are, are in line with the peoples or other churches best interest in mind.

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  11. I am a Baby Boomer and I damaged my hearing at rock concerts in the 1960s and 1970s. When I attend a worship gathering in which the music is very loud, so loud that I can feel the music in my chest, it causes me pain in my ears. If you take a sound meter and measure the noise level of music at such gatherings, it is in the decibel range where it can permanently damage the hearing. of those attending the worship gathering.

    At my former church I first sat in the back of the room with the sound team. But later I had to give up being in the room during the “praise set.” I was at that church for more than 9 years but for the last 5 of those 9 years I served as a hospitality volunteer and listened to podcasts of the sermons.

    Among the reasons that I was given for the loudness of the music is that it was the younger age echelons are accustomed to from the concerts they attend and what they prefer. It covers the singing of those in attendance at the worship gathering and spared them from the embarrassment of comparing their own singing with that of the semi-professional vocalists in the band. They also did not have to listen to the poor singing of those around them at the worship gathering. But one explanation that I was not offered is that it was more conducive to the worship of God,, that it enables those present to join their voices in praise and adoration of God. The few times the latter happened was when sound equipment broke and the band went acoustic.

    My experience and the experience of others is that if you want to encourage those present at a worship gathering to participate in the singing, you lower the volume of music so their voices can be heard. The band supports their singing instead of singing for them.

    On the other hand, if you are interested in attracting a large crowd with a “great band,” you turn up the volume of the music. You cannot have it both ways.

    My former church adopted the second approach . It quickly discovered that the “great band” was not the draw for the university students that it was trying to reach. The university students were not going to pass up sleeping in on Sunday to listen to a “great band.” My former church has stuck with the second approach. It still draws a large crowd from the community. But most of this crowd do not come to worship God in song but to listen to the “great band” and the preaching. Is that worship? Or is it something else?

    Over the years I have been involved in music ministry myself – as a member of a choir, a soloist, and a vocalist in a “praise and magnification team.” I have sung just about the whole range of worship music. I have learned what you can do to encourage a congregation to sing and what you can do discourage them from singing. What I have observed in a number of churches is the latter.

    Where the Scripture tells us we should sing hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs, it not talking about the band or the choir or a combination of the two but the whole Christian assembly. The Scriptures also talking about praising God with one heart and voice. Is using songs that only the vocalists in the band can sing, changing the songs so often that the congregation cannot not learn them, and turning up the volume so loud that congregation cannot unite their voices in song consistent with what the Scriptures teach? This is a question we need to ask ourselves.

    No, I’m not for passing out ear plugs. I am for passing out brightly colored, highly visible ear muffs and turning up the lights. May be those responsible for planning the worship gathering will get the message. .

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  12. I too am concerned about the show. On one hand I want the service to be done well (good sound, orderedly). But in the other hand I want it to be of substance. I personally do not like using a lot of the world to make a point when the scriptures are full of examples to make your point. I’m not saying never but it should be limited

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  13. Thanks for posting this, Landon. In my part of the world, I can say we definitely see the multi-campus scenarios and I’d be very surprised if we didn’t have pastors preach series based on TV and movies. But I don’t think we have broken through to earplugs yet. And, yes, “celebritism” and hi-tech laser shows do occur here.
    I have always felt it is matter of misplaced priorities. We pastors seem to often be concerned about having one for the money and two for the show at the expense of making sure we are about doing three to get our people ready so that they’re equipped there”four” (therefore) to go. 🙂

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  14. First, I could not agree more with the comment by Heartspeak above. Evangelicals now treat the corporate worship as a big top circus to attract unbelievers in hopes of getting them saved by exposure to the Gospel. I think we have it reversed in that we are to be the ones daily going outside the church with the Gospel and bringing back regenerate sheep, not wolves, into our fold. The other point I have is regarding the music. I think that perhaps no other single thing has contributed to the trend of Christians no longer attending local fellowships due to the loud, rocking, praise bands singing nonsense “christian” music that are virtually mantras at volumes so loud no one can hear themselves or others singing around them. If it is hurting people physically, it is for a fact too loud and to just disregard that is definitely NOT a loving or charitable attitude in considering another person’s needs over our own. There have been far too many times I wish I had earplugs during a praise band performance but had to use my fingers, as did many around me. There is another aspect of this to consider, which is a high view of worship v. a low view. Most of these songs are not only loud, but virtually devoid of anything that we would call “christian” and most could be sung without objection at any LDS or JW worship service. Where is irch doctrinal and Gospel content that drives our hearts and minds upward rather than just elate our own feelings? Where is the idea that the music is to be background to the voices rather than the contrary? And what has happened to a sense of preparing ourselves for worship before and while we enter the sanctuary, long before the service actually begins? Too may times I have tried sitting there quietly by myself, praying and preparing my heart for the corporate worship only to have people around me talking of their latest haird styles, showing off their newest tatoos, talking about the game yesterday, or pushing me on the shoulder and then joking that I can’t fall asleep until after the service starts! I have digressed a bit but this all really makes me wonder when the last time we ever heard a sermon on just what worship is, and corporate worship specifically as well? Time to rethink some things.

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  15. Absolutely would not attend a church that did the video church thing (or any of these). I was looking for one trend I didn’t find in your list: the trend away from church membership.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I have been pondering where the line is between being culturally relevant and transitioning to culture being the authority (rather than Scripture). Certainly this applies to these four areas, as well as any other trends in our Christian culture.I can’t help but wonder if the most beneficial thing isn’t so much studying the culture, as it is studying the Scriptures first in order to gain revelation and Divine authority first, and then approach culture from that perspective. As was mentioned, perhaps a study on worship is in order as a first step, as well as the local church, pastor, etc.

    Another thought tied to the movement in the church: why is it that the idealism of the young is valued over the wisdom of the old? Why must the old wear ear plugs to be able to worship with the young and not the other way around? Certainly mutual consideration and respect should be kept in order, but also should the Scriptural admonition for the old to teach the young. Any thoughts?

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  17. Overreaction. Every church I have been to that did all those were very driven to reach lost people in their community. They were being the church in their community.

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    1. May be overreaction, and I don’t question the motive behind most of these things is ‘reaching’ people. I know many who use these methods and do it in the name of reaching folks. I am concerned when we can do anything in the name of reaching people, and I think some of these decisions / issues, while not clear cut right or wrong show me a verse issues, have consequences that aren’t helpful for long term discipleship. Thanks for reading.

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    2. Is there any other group that focuses more attention on people outside its group and what they might theoretically like than on their purpose and the group itself?

      In other words, evangelism is good and necessary . . . but when we come together to worship God and fellowship with our brothers and sisters, what we think unbelievers might like is an odd choice to drive what we do in that worship service.

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  18. Thank you for the thoughtful post, Landon… One issue inherent in the points you mention is the reality that almost always, we have a lack of shepherding where these practices exist… we do see a prevalence of “corporate” think and practice. You mention “celebrity pastors”… the terms “celebrity” and “faithful shepherd” are so very hard to use in the same sentence with scriptural fidelity.

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  19. Ok, just had to comment. Great post, and I fully understand your reason for being hesitant to post. I have a post that I’ve been sitting on for some while now and may never post it. Who knows. But back to your post.
    1: Like you, I do not agree with video preaching. If you can’t get them all in the building, then either build bigger or better yet, split off a section of the congregation and help them plant a church (not a second ‘campus’ in another area.
    2: I’ve never heard of a church supplying earplugs but I do not attend a ‘seeker’ style church with a ‘worship team’ as many seem to be these days. I’ve visited a few but have never been put of by the sound.
    3: And, I agree with your statements on movie/TV based sermons. Base the sermon on the Bible and you cannot go wrong.
    4: I’ve saved this one for last since I disagree with what you said or at least what I ‘think’ you said. God called me to preach many years ago but He never called me to be a Pastor and there is a difference. The Pastor/Elder/Bishop is a shepherd. The preacher is a herald. The pastors (the word is never used in the singular) look after the flock, the preacher heralds the Good News of Gospel. Now while the Pastor/Elder may be a preacher and the preacher may be a Pastor/Elder, the two are distinctively different offices. If we do not separate the roles, we end up like most Baptist churches where one man who is Pastor/Preacher governs the congregation.

    Jerry White
    http://www.e-vangelist.org

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    1. Thanks for reading and responding. I think we’re tracking, except for #4 … I’m Baptist, so I do see an inherent connection between the role of shepherding and proclamation for those who are elders. I don’t think one man should carry that alone, as is the case in many Baptist churches. And even if we disagree on how to assign the roles of an elder, I think we both agree that an elder who has no responsibility for his people because he only exists on a screen is not quite right. Thanks again for your thoughts.

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