Razzmatazz or Ragamuffins?
Two non-Christians paid to visit churches are impressed with charity not facilities.

It's been done before. A non-Christian is paid to attend church and provide their honest feedback about the experience. The latest rendition of this experiment is occurring north of the border in Canada. Christian talk show host Drew Marshall has paid two college students, one male and one female, to attend five different churches in the Toronto area. Their observations can be read on Marshall's website, but below are a few highlights from their excursion into Christendom.

The two students visited one of the fastest growing mega-churches in Toronto. Like many megas it has positioned itself as "the church for people who aren't into church." On this Sunday the pastor spoke about wealth and possessions. What did Drew Marshall's guinea pigs think?

Why is it that I should not seek out possessions and money, but the church is permitted to do just that? Does taking 10% of every congregant's income not count as seeking out money? Why should the institution be rich, and the congregation not? If you really believe you should be living the aesthetic life led by Christ and his apostles, why aren't you doing it? If money and possessions aren't important, why aren't you meeting to discuss the meaning of Christ's ideas and life in the local park? Notwithstanding the need to broadcast to your rather large congregation, and obviously you'd have to come up with a solution during the winter months, but really: why the son et lumiere? I found the medium more than a bit out of whack with the message.
Which brings me to another point: all that razzmatazz kind of unsettles me. We live in a culture where distraction is often misdirection - like a magician who gets you to look at his left hand while he's disappearing something with his right. I found myself wondering why a group that liked its preacher so straightforward felt most at home in a medium of flashing lights and sound. Read more.

The paid church visitors also made a stop at the Sanctuary, a downtown congregation with deep involvement in the community - particularly with the homeless and poor. The Sanctuary provides free meals and cloths as well as medical care to those in need. One visitor's first impression was telling:

I could tell then and there we had found what this experiment was set out to accomplish, a church that saw past the money, power and the heighten sense of moral superiority that we have grown accustomed to. Charity, real charity. About time.

He continues?

I was floored, for close to a month now I have been told of all the wonderful things the Christian church provides without any physical evidence of its truth, but here it is, in the flesh. I have to smile, we have traveled to the city's massive churches where thousands worship and yet we find what we are looking for in a turnout of 35 on Sunday. Read more.
July 23, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 21 comments


August 04, 2007  1:40am

Lets stop for a moment. there is a reason that one chirch has thirty five members, and another church has a thousand. Thats the way most people (and I includes the leaders of most evangelical denominations) Want it. Most people dont have the energy to go to the thirty five member church. Whenn they go to church they want there seats comfy, and an up and running childerns ministry.

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July 31, 2007  4:34pm

Wow, a lot of good stuff being said here, but I have to ditto what Trisha said and I've been saying it to our leadership for years...why spend money to send them so far away when they are right down the street. AMEN to that!

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July 31, 2007  2:23pm

I am wondering if we are focuing too much on the venue/money. I wonder if what these two young people found really attractive was the fact the 30 people were actually "doing" the work. They didn't write a check, pay someone else, do it once a quarter so they can feel good about themselves, but truly did it sunday after sunday after sunday. There was no hiding from the poor and if you went to their church, you interacted with poor people. The money did not exist to build " a church", the money existed to "be" a church. I feel somewhat the same way about all the money we spend on summer mission trips for our youth-so they can have a "spiritual experience" to fuel their lives. Seems so ironice we send them so far away and the poor live just down the street.

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J. W.

July 26, 2007  8:45am

I am certain that there are relatively few churches who don't have some degree of charitableness. Even the ones that the 2 non-believers examined, which received their bad reviews, probably have charitable programs. But, from my experience, most of that benevolence is but a token acknowledgment of their social duties as a religious institution when compared with the amount of energy that is spent on the physical plant and attractional programs. Seriously, I have found no better teacher for learning to become the hands and feet of Jesus to our communities and to the world than for us to get out there and use our hands and feet. There is no more effective way to learn to love than to love. The "Sanctuary" which was the one picked by the two non-believers as being the most authentic representation of Jesus, is obviously a church that has little regard for external appearances, but rather they find their spiritual fulfillment by loving and helping people in need. I have met very few church leaders in my day who had no interest in extending the grace of our Lord to their communities. The problem as I see it is not from the heart, but from relying on institutional modes of extending that grace which have grown inefficient at best, and which bear little relevance to the our changing culture, and that can no longer keep up with the mounting social needs that exist globally.

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Robert Hosken

July 26, 2007  6:40am

Jesus preached the Gospel of the Kingdom and ministered to the poor, lame, maimed and blind. Then He selected twelve apprentices, showed them how to do these same two things. Next He sent them out to preach the Gospel and heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, care for widows and orphans, etc. The religious powers-that-were didn't go for that, so they had Him killed, but He rose from the dead, and just as He was about to ascend into Heaven He commanded those twelve apprentices to make more apprentices, teaching them to "observe" (DO in plain English, not "be spectators of") everything He'd taught the twelve to DO. What was that? Hmm... maybe it was to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom and heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, etc.? "Winston Churchill once said, 'We shape our buildings, and then they shape us.' Too often a congregation is so anxious to have a nice building that the members spend more than they can afford. Paying for and maintaining the building becomes the biggest budget item. Funds needed to operate ministries must be diverted to pay the mortgage, and the actual ministry of the church suffers. The tail ends up wagging the dog." So wrote Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Church. This raises the question, "What's the purpose of the church, anyway?" And if it is to DO the things that Jesus did as well as to speak God-talk, then the next question is: what's the shape of the building that best shapes us? See my book The Ministry Driven Church at agape-biblia.org/ministry.

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Dan Wilt

July 26, 2007  6:03am

To see oneself from within, this is spirituality. To see oneself from without, this is clarity.

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July 25, 2007  7:45am

Firts off, the assumption mega churches do not spend money on outside ministry is off. I have been involved with several mega churches and these have all given amazing ammounts to external ministry. In addition to that they have been huge labor forces in their community and in other places of need through short term and long term missions. Another "off" assumption is that mega churches are run by ego-driven, type A, power hungry people. This is also not true in my expereince. Are some? Sure but in 27 years of ministry 99% of the mega church pastors I meet are just real guys, amazed by God's goodness. Finally, in every mega church I know personally, people are coming to know Jesus. This is huge and very impacting on the kingdom of God and the community surrounding the church. I am certainly willing to allow and invite input from those who do not yet know Christ and from those who have are not apart of the church in which I pastor I am not however inclined to let the assessment of my churches mission and ministry fall into the hands of people not open enough to the Gospel to give Christ a chance to redeem and change their life. Unwillingness to surrender to the authortiy of God and the love of God is not high on the list of traits that make for wisdom and discernment.

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July 24, 2007  9:19pm

I agree that is a real challenge to build relationships in a large church. However, most big churches have a system of connecting people with small groups during the week. It must also be remembered that many of the so-called 'Mega churches' have mega programs in the community such as specific ministries for drug addicts, single parents, abused and poor. Some large churches have house building programs or give cars to single Mums. (Riverview church in Perth Western Australia.) Others sponsor hundreds of children in developing countries. A large church in Perth has established a children's home in Cambodia. Another gives $30,000 a year for another program in Cambodia. (NB a large church in Perth is only 1500 people). Money spent on technical equipment is usually only so a quality program can be presented, although I do agree that sometimes it could be achieved on a lower budget. Why should God's house not have the best though? Was Solomon's temple built with the cheapest materials? A church building should glorify God and be designed to bring people to Him and keep them there! I grew up in a small church - no-one knew we existed! I am now in a growing church of about 100. We have stepped out in faith, demolished all our existing buildings and built a community centre to share with the community.

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July 24, 2007  4:48pm

Haha, Barbi, I'm surprised anybody got anything out of that mess I posted yesterday. I must've needed more coffee cuz it's nigh incomprehensible. I am confused though... You write: "we all heard you the first time, a couple weeks ago." The blog post I responded to originated on the 7/23. I posted on that day. So pray tell where did you hear me on this subject a couple weeks ago? And, if it was on a blog other than this one, why would it be redundant for me to enter the conversation here (however poorly phrased – gad, i still can't believe I posted that yesterday without proofing)?

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July 24, 2007  2:09pm

As much as I agree with the idea that money would be better spent on widows and orphans than on multi-million dollar facilities, I wonder if the choice is that simple. Would the money be present at all if not for the facility? In other words, is having a "flashy" show necessary to attract many of the people who have the money? Take Willow Creek in suburban Chicago, for example. Hybels and company have been attracting Chicago businessman for 25 years now with a carefully crafted blend of entertainment and truth. It costs a lot of money to maintain–there is no doubt about that. But the facility doesn't absorb all of the money. Willow sends millions back into the community. In fact, a few small groups at Willow contribute more (financially speaking) individually than entire inner-city churches. But I don't think you can say that, if Willow didn't exist, the money used to build its facilities would have instead gone to the poor. More likely, it would have gone to Jaguars, Chop House steaks, and Chicago Bears season tickets.

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