Commercialized Church

“Christmas at [name of church]! Merry Christmas! We can’t wait to see you! Ride our horse carriages, take a photo at the snow booth, stop by the indoor photo booth, grab some hot chocolate or apple cider, coffee or refreshments and enjoy the trumpets in the balcony! Then join us for a great message and music in the auditorium at 10:30am!”

My heart and stomach sank when I saw this Christmas service promotional for a church. I’m also sad that “promotional” is the best word I can think of at the moment. Can we all just admit that there’s a problem when churches look more like commercialized department stores rather than places of worship, and more like places of entertainment than houses of God? Not just this particular church, but any church that feels the need to commercialize. Unfortunately, it’s occurring in many churches.

Every Barna Group and Pew Research study I’ve ever read on the topic makes it very clear that Millennials are leaving the church in droves, and Generation Z is following. Most of the younger members of Gen Z aren’t being brought up in church at all. One would think the first step to take regarding this issue would be to ask Millennials and Gen Z why it is that they’re leaving the church or are uninterested in beginning attendance.

I’ve also read many articles published where these generations were asked about the reasons for leaving and/or not attending a church. From the information I’ve gathered, the main reason is that our generations are not interested in being entertained by the church. If entertainment is what we wanted, we have a whole plethora of options besides church.

We want authenticity. Real authenticity. We want a real relationship with God. We want to be able to question and explore spirituality. We want real relationships and community with other people; not some shallow experience that begins and ends with a Sunday morning greeting.

It is my opinion that if a church has to dig this deep into the sphere of commercialism and entertainment in order to attempt to attract guests, the church seriously needs to reevaluate its strategy. If a church is this reliant on attractions and novelties, it becomes difficult to view what goes on onstage as anything other than a show. It’s distracting. Whatever happened to Jesus and the Gospel being enough? If Jesus and the Gospel aren’t enough for you, dear church, just close your doors because you’re missing the only mark that matters.

Look at the advertisement: “…in the auditorium…” Of course it’s all semantics, but when I think of an auditorium, I think of a place to go see entertainment. A sanctuary is a place where we go to worship and revere our Lord. I point that out only to demonstrate how even language is being selected in a manner to make church more appealing.

Whatever happened to Jesus and the Gospel being enough? If Jesus and the Gospel aren’t enough for you, dear church, just close your doors because you’re missing the only mark that matters.

Church, keep your glitz and novelty acts. If Jesus, the King of kings, came down to earth quietly in the night, surely you don’t need heralding trumpets. If Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, you don’t need horse and chariot escorts in the parking lot. Church, if your elaborate and extravagant schemes are one-upping the Jesus you plan to speak of, it shows that you do not truly understand what the meekness and humility of Jesusfrom birth to death and resurrectionis truly about.

A Whisper in a Manger

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1, NIV).

This is the very Word that spoke the universe, and all of creation, into existence. For some reason, I have a difficult time picturing that moment as being anything other than loud and explosive and filled with majesty. I imagine God’s voice booming and things coming into existence almost as quickly as He speaks. It is the voice of God thundering throughout an empty void while creation obeys His words. The Word shouted and creation bowed in worship.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14a).

The same Word that once echoed throughout creation now quietly, in the still of the night, made His way down to earth and became Immanuel—God with us. The Word that once shouted everything into being came to earth as a human being, and I imagine this time was more of a whisper. The Son of God came quietly in the night, swaddled in cloth, and whimpered the soft cries of an infant. The Christ child made an entrance into the very world He had spoken into existence, and His entrance was anything other than mighty and majestic. It was meek and humble, where the only room for Him to even lay His head was in a stable manger. God leaned down from His throne in Heaven and whispered intimately to earth. God whispered salvation to all of humanity through a baby—Jesus, the Son of God.

Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all of His love into the womb of a young girl? —Madeleine L’Engle

“We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14b).

The thing about whispering is that it requires intimacy. It requires one to be up close and personal with another. When the Father sent His Son to earth, He chose the most intimate way—through the whisper of a baby born in Bethlehem. This shows just how intimate and close God was willing to bring His creation to Him. Or, rather, how God so yearned for intimacy with His creation that He left His heavenly throne, took on flesh, and went to earth to dwell among them as one of them.

One might expect a king to come with horse and chariot and trumpets heralding; with his full majesty on display. However, our King chose to come lowly, humbly, and quietly. All of His glory and majesty was tucked away—covered by flesh—blending Him in with sinful humanity. God came down to earth, to an insignificant city called Bethlehem, to a manger in a stable; and to the baby lying there, God whispered salvation’s name: Jesus. He is the One who will save His people from their sins (Matt 1:21).

When someone speaks in a whisper, you have to get very close to hear. In fact, you have to put your ear near the person’s mouth. We lean toward a whisper, and that’s what God wants. The goal of hearing the heavenly Father’s voice isn’t just hearing His voice; it’s intimacy with Him. That’s why He speaks in a whisper. He wants to be as close to us as is divinely possible! He loves us, likes us, that much. —Mark Batterson

Still today, I believe that God is more interested in whispering to us rather than shouting at us. God wants to have the kind of intimate relationship with us that allows Him to lean in closely and whisper softly into our hearts. We should yearn for a relationship with God that allows us to feel that still, small voice and know that it is from our heavenly Father. It is a connection between His love and our hearts. After all, this is the entire reason for the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us—to allow us a connection with God like never before.

Merry Christmas!