Monday, November 19, 2007


In his While We're At It section of the current First Things issue, the always interesting Richard John Neuhaus has this to say:
"A megachurch in Redmond, Washington, has come on hard times. Overlake Christian Church was booming a decade ago and put up a $37 million building. Now attendance is down by half, it has a mortgage of $9.2 million, and income is way below budget. But it was this that caught my eye: 'The church plans to cut back the number of Sunday services. Currently it has four services: two with a contemporary worship style, called Celebration, and two with an edgier, hipper style to appeal to younger churchgoers, called Illuminate.'
The choice is between the contemporary and the edgy. And you thought you were bearing your cross by putting up with the guitar at the five o'clock Mass."
So, a couple of things. First, why is the attendance down by half? Has one half of the congregation opted for something liturgical, God forbid? Or have they moved on to greener pastures, where a more charismatic, more entertaining, more lively and hip worship experience awaits? And what would you call that?

And second,....what would you call that?

Submissions are hereby being accepted for a NAME for the latest, hippest, edgiest worship THANG, something edgier than edgy; something that will appeal to the hippest youngster. And yes, Gottesdienst is already taken.

And to think, if they'd only built a megachurch that cost $27.8 million, they'd have it paid off by now.


Anonymous said...


Hmm, if this was a southern baptist church, should that be iSing instead?
:-) :-)

Bruce Gee said...

Ooh, that's clever. Variations:


Anonymous said...

A couple of answers and comments:

Attendance came down at Overlake (from where it was a decade ago at least -- it has been going up again the last couple of years -- and I have no idea if "by half" is accurate) almost exclusively due to a rather public scandal back then, when the 30-year church founder was accused of some past inappropriate sexual advances. A lot of people left at that point, and his replacement, while wonderful at helping the church heal from such a massive wound, was not there to bring in more people -- and he didn't.

Also, I should point out that Neuhaus' quote describing the different services is from a historically antagonistic local press, that misses the mark every time they try to report on what happens at Overlake. Illuminate isn't there to be "edgy" or "hip" nor to just appeal to youngsters -- although I think it does those things -- those are really just buzzwords the press uses.

scott said...

Clearly illuminate isn't there for the young hipsters, that's what, as Bruce said, the new "J-THANG" is all about.

Anonymous said...

Ah, I blame lack of coffee. ;)

Regardless, attendance at OCC overall has gone up significantly since Illuminate started, so whatever they're doing is working. It began as an experimental alternative service with 30 people two years ago and now gets about 2,500 a week. They're not back up to the heights of ten years ago (that necessitated a 5000+ seat main auditorium) yet, but they're getting there, and personally I think they're doing it right.


Bruce Gee said...

Anonymous: "Whatever they're doing is working" , eh? It is clear to me that in order to "work", a church has to practically stand on its head to attract people. The question that goes begging is: when does the marketing tail start wagging the scriptural dog?
I think there is probably some sort of inverse relationship between the degree of people-pleasing and the purity of doctrine in a church. That is how it appears to me. But I could be wrong.

So a church is "working" when more people attend? What if the church is teaching heresy? Attendance, it seems to me, is a shaky grounds for evaluating a church.

Anyway, since you seem to know: where did all those former members go? To other megachurches? Are they worshipping St. Mattress on Sunday mornings? Or are they becoming Catholics?

Anonymous said...

The "mega-church" movement (i.e. Willow Creek) had an interesting development this year.

Their own research has confirmed that what they are doing, for the most part, does not work. The assumptions they had been making (and marketing to thousands of other churches) were wrong.

Here is the video:

Mike Baker said...

They should just do what all failed/defeated initiatives do:

Put the word "neo-" at the beginning of the old name and try the same failed thinking again with no new insight or variation.

...what is that old definition of insanity again?

Anonymous said...

Bruce: Well, my point was never that "numbers = success", (although my dad used to say "Of course numbers are important, there's a whole book of the Bible named after them! ;-) ) and more just to clarify that the reported huge decline in attendance at OCC was not as a result of these "edgy"/"hip" services, which are a fairly new thing that have actually had the opposite effect.

There's no doubt that a lot of churches have abandoned doctrine in favor of people-pleasing though, and have seen big "results" in terms of numbers. Joel Osteen comes to mind, but even Robert Schueller's similar self-esteem-driven church did that sort of thing.

As for where they all went? I don't think there is one answer for that. Given the nature of the aforementioned scandal, I'm sure there were people who got so disillusioned with church that they never set foot in another one. Others, I'm sure, simply migrated to other churches in the area.