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I visited a church down South recently that left me starved and speechless. Immediately after the sermon, the pastor began baptisms. A parade of children, one after another, was immersed and toweled crisply and efficiently. I discovered later that the children were brought in on the church’s bus from some distance away.
At some point, the baptisms stopped, and the service ended with a prayer and a final hymn. People got up to go, but the pastor, inexplicably, returned to the baptismal and kept pumping more children through as if on a factory line. The congregants ignored the proceedings and lit out the door—late for a barbecue, maybe? They were too busy to witness baptisms or greet visitors. I left confused and disturbed by the whole show.
If I remembered the exact church, I would overnight a copy of Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison (InterVarsity Press). In fact, I’d like to send one to every church I know. I would highlight the chapters on hospitality, Sabbath, wholeness, and patience. I would do this gently, confessing my own sins of self-absorption and speed, because the book should not be wielded as a weapon or an accusation but rather given as a gift. Or, perhaps more apt, it’s an invitation to sit down for dinner after church (minus the takeout buckets of fried chicken).
Slow Church joins a host of movements inspired by the Slow Food revolt begun in the 1980s, a global coalition that resists the industrializing of all aspects of food. Not all churches have been seduced by what Smith and Pattison call “Franchise faith” or “McDonaldization.” Still, the authors say, at least some fast-food, consumer-culture values—an obsession with efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control—have unwittingly crept into many houses of worship.
Smith and Pattison contrast the dominant “attractional” ...