When I first saw the North Point Media team’s satire on the formula of attractional worship I went into shock (you can watch it here http://vimeo.com/11501569). I felt like someone had openly shared a deep dark family secret. As if my brother had made a joke at the thanksgiving dinner table about “in-the-closet” Uncle Billy being gay.
Or as if my sister had just complimented Cousin Jim at the family Christmas party on being a great dad, only for it to be revealed that she was the lone family member unaware that Jim had just left his wife and kids for another woman…who was at the party.
Grandma starts crying. Awkward silence takes over. Mean looks are shot across the room.
I get this feeling when I watch the Office. Before I see Michael Scott do something that makes me incredibly uncomfortable, I cover my face with a pillow. Like the episode in which it was revealed he had told a group of young kids years ago he was going to pay for their college but then he didn’t have the money, so he had to go stand in front of them and explain why he lied…yeah…I didn’t actually “see” any of that episode.
That’s how the North Point video made me feel.
Now that the shock has cleared, I can clearly explain my feelings. It’s all about church systems. The “truth” in the North Point video is not a problem of motivation. No one is intentionally manipulating anyone. The video revealed major problems in the system of the attractional church model.
Quickly, what do I mean by “church system”?
Every church has one. Simply, a system is the way things run. It is the culmination of all the activity of the church. Some systems are well designed, intentional, and focused. Other systems are redundant, accidental, and messy. Regardless, every church has a system. And like systems guru Andy Stanley once said (ironic), “It’s not what’s written on the wall. It’s what’s happening down the hall that matters.”
You see, it’s not the quality of a church’s mission statement, core values, vision, and intentions are all well and good…but it is the system in operation that matters. Even if the leadership doesn’t talk about or understand their system, their people do. A church’s system is like an invisible hand that shapes the culture of the congregation.
And every system has negative by-products. EVERY system. We never plan these. They just happen. It all starts with a wonderful goal, an amazing vision. North Point (we will continue to use them since it was their video that started the conversation and since they have publically shared their story) started with the vision of “creating a church unchurched people love to attend.”
Wonderful goal right? I don’t think anyone would argue with creating a church that reaches the lost. They designed their systems around this goal; and they have been incredibly successful. So successful that many other churches around the country have also adopted North Point’s system. It is no longer a simple system; now its a model (which many have begun to call “attractional church” – to be totally fair, North Point is not the only ones that developed the model…it was a group effort).
Just to be clear. I have no doubt the North Point team is chasing Jesus. They are passionate Christ followers who are seeking to be in tune with the Holy Spirit. Lives have been changed. People have come to Jesus. I would go so far as to even say they have shaped a generations understanding of worship, “church,” and leadership. I am an obbessive student of Andy Stanley’s leadership…it verges on idol worship at times.
But every system has bad by-products. North Points system, for example, unintentionally encourages the congregation to become consumers, the church to become an institution, and makes worship to feel like a professionally scripted show. That last one is what the video makes fun of.
The question we church leaders must always keep in-front of ourselves is “Are the negative by-products out weighing the positive results?” When it comes to the attractional model of church, I believe many leaders in the country now believe “Yes, the bad has begun to over shadow the good.”
But we love the good stuff. We love the numbers the model draws. We love the amazing speaking the model encourages. We love the powerful worship. We love the environments it creates. We love the intentionality the model demands. We love the good stuff.
That is why the video was so painful for me. I love the good stuff, but the bad by-products make me sad because I’ve come to a place in life in which I believe the bad by-products of the attractional church have begun to outweigh the good stuff it accomplishes. The video brought all that clearly into perspective.
So while it was funny. It made me cringe.