The Entertainment Driven Church

I recently decided to follow my own oft given advice and venture out to other churches just to see what the cultural landscape looks like and to stretch myself a bit.

First, I went to an evangelical high Anglican church. I was wanting to see something a little more traditional. Plus, according to the latest news about red wine and health, I needed a shot of the real thing. It was a rewarding experience. It was also interesting to be at a church that was not to concerned about whether I was there or not. There were no greeters at the door, no one really noticed when I came in, and they did not say anything to me as I left. This is not a criticism, but just an observation. They did not let anything take them away from their reverential service in which things were done in a particular order. Because of this, it was not a primary purpose to fill the pews with guests. If a guest came in, great. They could stay and worship, but they were not going to do back flips and moonwalk for anyone but Christ.

Next, I went to a church that was just the opposite. It was a popular non-denominational Evangelical associated church. It was much more alluring in its style, having a much more amplified voice with regards to recognizing newcomers. From the moment we got in the parking lot, there were signs welcoming us along with parking lot attendants waving. These guys were so enthusiastic you would think that they had been trained at Disney World. The signs pointed to valet parking for first time guests. I would have taken them up on the offer, but pride always rules (oh . . . and then there is that awkward feeling that you are supposed to give them some money even when they say they don’t take it). We were greeted by another enthusiastic character, a very nice young man, who led us around. When we told him we were first time visitors, he said “Oh, VIPs?” We then were introduced everywhere we went under this title “VIPs” (Very Important Persons). When others would hear that we were VIPs, they would have a look of excitement mixed with anxiousness. The anxiousness seemed to come from an underlying understanding that their church was focused on bringing in newcomers. Then . . . they led us to the children’s area.

Here most of the kids were playing video games along a long wall which had the game consoles built into the wall. The room itself was huge. It must have been designed by the same person who designs Chuck-E-Cheese. Seriously! (Although this is not as cool as the church we went to a few months ago where you had to climb a jungle gym two stories high and then slide through the wall in the foyer into the children’s area!)

There was an elf that met the children at the door. Also in this room was a store that had Barbies, action figures, Brats Dolls, and all of the most popular items that you would find in a Toy-R-Us catalog the day after Thanksgiving. In order for kids to get the merchandise, they had to say a memory verse and earn store credits. The first thing my kids said to me when I went to pick them up was “Daddy, can we start going to this church?” Can you blame them? For kids, this was a dream church.

Well, I really try to keep an open mind about these things knowing that one persons church is not another’s. But I had yet to go to the main service. As we walked in, I had to dodge the camera and squint to see the stage. It was dark and there was production smoke everywhere. We sat down and listened to an incredible performance by the worship team who sang many songs I was very familiar with. They were Christ centered and I sang along. I even put my hands up in the air when the worship leader instructed us to (hey, when in Rome). My wife looked at me with the “I cannot believe that you are really doing that” smile/laugh. No really, she had the I-am-hiding-my-face-because-my-husband-is-in-one-of-those-weird-aggressive-moods-and-he-is-going-to-make-a-fool-of-me look. In reality, the worship was very well done. It could have been an opening act to a U2 concert.

After the worship, then came the announcements. That is where things really got interesting. Instead of the normal Baptist list of things giving from a random person from the pulpit, the lights went dark and there was silence. On the screens up above there were prerecorded announcement videos. These were not just your hey-I-got-a-new-digital-camera-and-I-am-now-a-professional-editor videos. No, these could have been aired during the Super Bowl. Yes, they were that good. And funny! They went through four separate announcements. The first was to welcome special guests. Then one for the men’s ministry, followed by one for the women’s ministry and one for a marriage seminar that was coming up. All the videos had a different theme and was a top rate production. They were funny enough to be on Saturday Night Live (ok, that is an exaggeration, but they were funny).

I could not believe how much time and energy must have gone into making these videos. And they do it each week! (I can’t even get one short promotional video for RMM—blast it!).

Then comes the sermon. The message itself was good and helpful, but better suited for a Zig Ziggler seminar on self-motivation. He used Mark 7:33 to teach that Christ wants to deal with us each individually and wants our words to be for edification because what we think, we are.

How did he get this you ask? Well, let me show you.

Mark 7:33 Jesus took him aside from the crowd, by himself, and put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting, He touched his tongue with the saliva.

“Jesus took him aside”=Jesus wants to deal with us each individually.

“Jesus spit”=Jesus had to form the saliva in his mouth before He spit, therefore, we are to let Him form our words.

“[He] put His fingers into his ears…He touched his tongue…and his ears were opened and his speech impediment was removed” (v. 35)=sometimes we don’t hear people rightly because we already have the wrong words in our mouth. Therefore, we have to have the right words in our mouth.

Well, at least the principles are true generally, even if it has nothing whatsoever to do with the text. God does want us to listen to others and he does want us to think about what we say. As well, I believe that there is an individualistic way in which God wants to relate to us.

Once the service was over, I went and drug my kids out of the amusement park (literally) and then began to reflect.

A few points of observation (the good, the bad, and the ugly):

The Good

  • I really think that these people have the best of intentions.
  • They did represent excellence in arts and entertainment and thereby bring glory to God.
  • They were very outreach oriented.
  • They had Starbucks.

The Bad

  • The focus on entertaining newcomers caused them to lose focus on truth.
  • The focus on entertainment took resources away from the training of the pastors to accurately handle the word of God–the very foundation of truth from where the idea of Church comes.
  • The focus on entertainment smacked of irreverence. I am not one of the high church mentality, but doesn’t the purpose of worship and study of God’s word call for seriousness at some point? There was never a time when I felt that these people knew what it meant to fear the Lord.

I want to make something really clear. I don’t have anything against amusement, entertainment, or fun. I don’t even mind it in church to some degree (I wish that some preachers would just try to entertain A LITTLE). If they had just called this an event rather than church, I would have been more at ease. Call it a Christian concert, carnival, parade, entertainment production, or whatever, but please don’t call it “church.”

The Ugly

The sad fact is that there was no educational program for people to grow deep in the faith. There were plenty of opportunities for service, outreach to the community, and fellowship, but nothing that helped these people understand the why of what they are doing. I don’t necessarily expect these type of churches to do church the exact way that I would tell them, but at least have as one of the involvement suggestions a program of theological discipleship or doctrine to encourage people to know the God they are serving.

These people had no connection to the past whatsoever. They would have no idea about the history of the church outside of the history of their local gathering. What are they connected to? What makes them think that they are qualified to bring in all these visitors? Don’t they feel the least bit of a need to have a heritage? Are they not accountable to anyone past or present?

The biggest fear that I have is that this is representative of so many well meaning people who start churches. I imagine the person who started this particular church grew up in a very boring church and set it as his primary goal to someday have a church that was fun. That is nice, but, more often than not, totally destructive. The pews are filled with people who are weak and totally unestablished in the faith. Most really don’t know what the Christian message is outside of “Jesus loves you and wants you to have a wonderful life.” Many claim Jesus, serve Him, and lift up their hands in praise, but what happens when someone or something challenges their faith? Where are they going to turn? To the shallowness of the entertaining commercials or out of context self-help lessons? Where will they go when the foundations are destroyed?

It is this type of context that gives unfortunate illustrations to books like Ruth Tucker’s Walking Away From the Faith. “I was a Christian who used to go to church every week, served on the welcoming team for years, lifted my hands in worship, went to other countries and built churches, but I came to find out that it was all false.” Really? What I want to know is did you ever find out that it was really true in the first place.

I could go on but this experience has confirmed to me the desperate shape that the modern church—the Evangelical church—is in and the need that we have for renewal. When things get tough (and they will), who will people turn to? Where will people go when the entrainment, laughter, and fun serve no purpose?

May God grant us a mindset to give people their true needs, not their felt needs.

Truth first, mission second, fellowship third, and if there is any room, throw in some entertainment.

21 Responses to “The Entertainment Driven Church”

  1. C. Michael,

    I recently left an evangelical church of the type you described (although, I admit, less so) for an Anglican high church.

    The reasons were because the anglican service, as you say, was concerned entirely with the worship. They worshipped in a certain way, and it was – in no way – about the congregation. Whilst there was a person who greeted you, there certainly were no ‘greeters’ of the kind in the evangelical churches, there was no amazing ‘kids ministry’, the worship wasn’t as spectacular (although, in a different way, it was – choir and organ classical music).

    And, as you say, the sermon actually is drawn from the biblical text. It was a truth first church – everything else was secondary.

    Obviously you come from a more middle of the line church, but you didn’t draw as many criticisms or praise for the anglican church – is this a sign you preferred the evangelical?

  2. Welcome to the direction that ECHO produces in churches. Churches, such as you described, generally have to restructure their building designs to accommodate “productions”. And, rely more heavily on home-groups for church function infrastructure.

    Current pastors are shoeless when it comes to incorporating media into worship, I mean clueless.

  3. While I thought the sermon on the healing of the blind man was cheesy, and agree that it didn’t really have anything to do with the actual text, I’m hesitant to reject this approach to faith.

    I know of people who sometimes read scriptures as more of a way to “get in the spirit” of scripture and let God speak to them in a sort of free-form way. Such people report receiving helpful and important inspiration from such an approach – even if it has nothing to do with the actual words of the text.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that the condemnation of this approach has more to do with a distinctly Protestant impulse to over-intellectualize the scriptures while discounting the feelings and intuition that also make a part of the biblical package of of faith.

    Faith isn’t a cold and cerebral mind game folks. There are other parts to it.

  4. From my point of view, the Word and all of the ministry that comes from our relationship with Jesus is food and strength for the soul. I don’t think that I would like the Word served with lots of whipped cream and caramel sauce every time I ate, neither would I like it cold and dry.
    At some point, we must not allow the sensual nature to dominate our church activites, or we run the risk of starving our souls and minimizing our solemn yet joyful commission from God to be pure and do good works. I mean, if I let my kids plan the dinner menu . . . !
    Other than that, I’d probably go to this service you described once in a while for a “pick-me-up”.
    Oh, by the way, lifting your hands once in a while is good for the circulation, and it proves you’re not asleep.

  5. “Because of this, it was not a primary purpose to fill the pews with guests.” As James White says and I paraphrase, “I really know how to keep people away.” When the primary purpose is the exaltation of God trhough the means he has provided it doesn’t attract a crowd.

    “I could not believe how much time and energy must have gone into making these videos. And they do it each week!” as opposed to: The sad fact is that there was no educational program for people to grow deep in the faith. There were plenty of opportunities for service, outreach to the community, and fellowship, but nothing that helped these people understand the why of what they are doing. I don’t necessarily expect these type of churches to do church the exact way that I would tell them, but at least have as one of the involvement suggestions a program of theological discipleship or doctrine to encourage people to know the God they are serving.

    These people had no connection to the past whatsoever. They would have no idea about the history of the church outside of the history of their local gathering. What are they connected to? What makes them think that they are qualified to bring in all these visitors? Don’t they feel the least bit of a need to have a heritage? Are they not accountable to anyone past or present?”

    The first is the why of the second. What do you think: Is ignorance just another form of control as Neo might ask? What if outreach was what was invested as education. How then might it look? My guess is that it would draw few interested persons.

    Can you imagine this kind of anouncement: Sunday Theology 9 to 11; Worhip and Ministry 11:15 to Noon. Open potluck to follow, be sure to invite those who cannot repay. Join us Sunday Evenings for More Theology at 6. And Be Sure to Check Out Our Bible Instruction Fellowships Monday thru Friday 7-9 pm taught by our Elders. The Seminary Instruction Weekday Schedule for the Summer Class can be found on the resourse table in the foyer. Thanks for your faithful giving, support and participation in this our mission. Share the good news: It’s free!

    Nah, forget it, there has to be clowns.

  6. C Michael Patton August 13, 2008 at 2:12 pm


  7. great post this one!! C Michael Patton I feel your pain!

    Whilst way south of the equator in Africa we don’t subscribe as yet to the extreme excesses of some part of American culture, we are fast following that path. I recently went to a similar service and both the entertainment culture and the theology in general where worrying to say the least.

    The aim seems to be that everything is about usleaving the “show” feeling good. And anything that might work against that ideal is weeded out. So we entertain mindlessly and sing shallowly and preach motivationally because that is what people need (we’ll that’s what keeps ’em coming anyhow!)

    It is sad. I serve a 160 member church. We have confession and intercession every Sunday. We read the apostles creed when we have baptisms (at least one a month at the moment – we have lots of young families) we have biblical preaching based in the text, not motivational talks. We worship in the most run down building for a 10 mile radius.

    Our biggest problem is space as people are streaming in to worship Jesus. Worship is only worship when it is about Jesus. Anything else is called consumerism and it will never lead people to real worship or real salvation.

    my 2 cents :)

  8. CMP–Pretty gutsy such a harsh judgement after just one visit. Wonder where you got your certainty that God wants us to listen to what others say, think about what we say, and deal with us on an individual basis? Actually–don’t answer that. I have no problems with you making your points that your kind of substance is vital to real faith but kindly do it without tearing apart another part of the body. Would hate to find out that God’s idea of hell is seating you next to the entertainment crowd in heaven…humm…

  9. I think that christians need to realise the reason thay came to Christ is for soul salvation. The bile teaches that one should flee from the lust of the eyes the lust of the flesh and the pride of life for these things passeth away. However today it seems as though the church sends the message “Come to Christ and he will will make you great he will satisfy all your wordly prides and pleasures”
    And that my fellow christians is really sad.

    Remember “if you use wordly things to attract a man you will attract a wordly man ” The same principles applies here

  10. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God.” The ‘general call’ to all men indiscrimately to repent and believe the gospel message is a commandment to the militan Church. The ‘effectual call’ is not dependent upon any man and is the sole responsibility of the Holy Spirit.

    When Jesus told the parable that bid his servants to go into the highways and byways and bid them to come to his banquet feast (Kingdom), doubtless this is an admonition to evangelize the lost (unable to find the Way), ignorant, poor, blind, and naked.

    But, what has happened in modern evangelical circles is that the externally invited have been addressed in a worldly, unbiblical fashion – a contextualization that is unsupported biblically and traditionally. The invited/bidden/evangelized were first only permitted to stand in the nartex and listen to the sermon and worship service. This mode of action was and served as a guard for the members already baptized and catechized.

    Nowadays the influence is from without and not conversely. Hence the instrusion of the various unseemly elements into the church from without which the Scriptures themselves foretell.

    Michel, you are correct to observe that the shallow acceptance and adoption of these quick to be pleased and entertained individuals is a sad/ugly blot on the present day church at large.

    When God instituted His worship in the OT as well as the NT, He was quite particular and demanding in HOW HE HIMSELF would be worshipped. It is after all that it is with HIM that we have to do.

    Majesty. Holy. Merciful. God.


  11. John from Down Under March 18, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    I’m catching up six months after the last post, having kind of a delayed reaction! Such well balanced observations!

    I’m a megachurch refugee who developed an allergic reaction to this type of ‘doing church’. It drained us and starved us.

    While we’re tucked away on the other side of the Pacific here, we take pride at importing American Christian ‘designer’ church models. Very ParisHiltonesque in nature; much notoriety and wild popularity, with the cerebral contributions of a filing cabinet. Practically devoid of substance.

  12. I googled “church entertainment” to get another view point on the seemingly “wordliness” of what is being done in some churches and what (to me) seems to dishonor scripture, disregard God’s purpose and intent for the Body of Christ. What Patton wrote was hilarious but sadly somewhat true, I know of a couple of ministries very similar to what he described!
    The point I make is, every believer is not on the same level of understanding. Many Christians are carnal minded and very comfortable in their ignorance of the Bible. I need a Word Based service, but someone else would possibly find what I need and enjoy very boring. However, when I sit and listen to an anointed, spirit filled, spirit led person (it does not have to be the Pastor) expound or open up the scriptures, giving revelation from God, I get very excited and my spirit leaps for joy! I personally don’t need to be entertained with singers, musicians, etc. I don’t need to be coaxed or coached into praise and worship. I go to “church” for the word and fellowship and if while there the Holy Spirit ministers individually, that is a blessed bonus! IF the singing and music is anointed and helps set the atmosphere for TRUE Worship John 4:23-24, then by all means go forth! I love to praise Him in song and dance!
    While I understand why all the hype is there, to draw people to their “church”, Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I’ll draw all men unto me.” This may be using the Word out of true context but it still is and forever will be about Jesus Christ and we are His body, left here to continue HIS ministry–why can’t we just do that??!!!

  13. Zakiyah – not only can we, but we must. I made the analogy before of not letting our children plan the dinner menu, or else we will almost never get the nutrition we need.
    My contention is that only the spiritually mature ought to lead in the church and those who need growth should allow the discipline of the Lord to guide them through those uncertain times in which we are drawn to the world, not having completely rejected all the glitz and glam that the world offers. But what happens in the “Purpose Driven” compromise is that everything eventually gets dragged down to a lowest common denominator, and noone really gets “lifted up” anymore.
    For example, I used to watch a lot of movies with violence and coarse language, but now that the Lord is opening my eyes, my tastes have changed! It’s not that I try to act better, I just want to do and see better things because of His presence in my life! To His glory, then, let us do these things.

  14. I blame it on the cafe culture.

    Christianity proper is like coffee, black, strong, no sugar. You brew it up, drink it down, and you are awake buzzed all night… well maybe not the last bit.

    Cafe culture Christianity is like espresso, a tiny bit of coffee and a lot of froth. If you’re really unlucky you get no coffee. It also costs a lot more.

    We just need to rip all the emasculated nonsense that has pervaded the Western culture. What we need is the West to become dominated by a bunch of God hating socialists who will institute anti-Christian policies and force people to actually make a choice…

    Isn’t that the West already?

  15. If by West, you mean the “civilized” western culture, including the UK and Europe, it is speeding headlong that way, as far as I can tell. The EU uses the tower of babel for their icon, and there are 665 seats in their congress – the 666th seat remains unoccupied, but probably not for long!!
    And this is the awesome message of Revelation: the Beast must be manifest on the earth and we who face him (if your theology permits this) must stand, and many will stand and die. “I do not bow to Ceasar, Jesus is Lord!”
    Remember that Jesus said the world at large is clamoring after food and clothing, and I would add money and security (peace) and purpose in life. But Jesus said that we already had all these things as heirs to God’s Kingdom, which is why I believe it is so important to be as charismatic (shining the miraculous life of Jesus out to others), so that the world can see the difference.
    Truly, man lives (in the Spirit) by the living Word of God. When God puts His Spirit in something, it has life!

  16. Your description of the Evangelical church just confirms more of what I’ve been thinking. Most prominent churches in my area are going towards such styles because church is a business for them.

    I don’t fully agree with your comment about worship. It’s on the edge to say that when worship leaders are skillfully putting on a production they are bringing glory to God. I would think the audience are in awe of the production and the performers and probably not thinking much of God at all. I think a worship leader should “lead” the worshipers to worship God and not bring much attention to themselves.

    One commenter said you were being too judgmental after only one visit, as if next week it would be any different. Amazing. Such mentality confirms they want any who cling to the truth should be immersed repeatedly and be brainwashed. Are we being judgmental or are we rebuking out of love?

  17. I googled “Church Entertainment” because of the concerns I have been having about the church I have attended for years now. Since becoming a church with a huge emphasis upon entertainment, I have noticed people my age (late 40’s) being left out of the “program,” so to speak. In reality, we have been the substance of the church; the folk that have wisdom, and have supported the church through it’s growth. While I love the youth, and have an 18 year old, and a 23 year old, even they have mentioned that the “entertainment” is beginning to be “just about the entertainers now.” We have some great artists with their own following. The pastor owns a recording company, which is well-known the world over; however, something is not right. Now there are 12 people on the stage singing, or rather entertaining us. Those that were a vital aspect of the body are now asked to step aside.I want to be mature and prayerful about the changes. I love new things. But not at such a sacrifice of…

  18. Absolutely superb review. Two things I noticed.
    They could stay and worship, but they were not going to do back flips and moonwalk for anyone but Christ. (Full of reverence)

    Popular non-denominational Evangelical associated church:
    These guys were so enthusiastic you would think that they had been trained at Disney World. (Theologically gutless!)

    I’ve got news for my hip-hop evangelicals, particularly the charismatics. It ain’t gonna work in the long run.

    My particular denomination unfortunately decided (consciously or unconsciously, I am not sure) somewhere along the journey to hop on the “Cum’on let’s get excited and shout all about it” roller coaster and ride it for all it was worth. The results? These new rock-a-billy jazzed up Christians are peeling off by the scads. Furthermore, what was once a thriving missions program has been reduced to potlucks, raffle sells, and “get out you handkerchief and let’s cry a little” over some malnutritioned kid’s picture that has been either taken off the internet or clicked by some professional photographer. Why? In my opinion: the lack of a sound, well rounded theology! It is sad to say the least.

    So back to your observations. Give me the Anglican service anytime. I can easily ‘get all excited and shout all about it’ on my own.

    I’m just saying . . .

  19. Part of the issue is that the Entertainment church has decided that its mission is to gather people in as a crowd. That’s great for a concert, but don’t call it Sunday worship. In my opinion, Sunday morning is about worshipping God, making disciples, and providing opportunity to serve. Have other meetings to bring in the world. I eventually left a large entertainment based church because it got to the point where you couldn’t differentiate our church services from a nightclub scene.


  1. *be a forerunner* » Blog Archive » A journey through my blog travels… - August 13, 2008

    […] just me, or does it seem like more and more people are focused on entertainment within the church? Michael Patton’s thoughts at the Parchment and Pen Blog are hilarious. Patton attended an Anglican service and […]

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