The New Life Church has made God a man to both fear and love, a classic example of what George Lakoff calls the "strict father" model. For the New Life Church, worship is both a mandate and an individual expression, contemporary culture is both an evil and a celebration. But unlike the brand of confusion produced by electoral politics that promises a "stronger America" or health care for all, New Life Church promises concrete rewards. Both pastors spoke often about the payoff for those who are faithful; Pastor Ted even referred to "the toys" that those who pray will undoubtedly receive, holding up Sam Walton of the Wal-Mart fortune as the quintessential example.All I would add is that the strategies of these megachurches remind me of the methods that youth cults like Sung Myung Moon's Unification Church employed to attract teens in the 1970's. They targeted all their efforts on meeting the emotional needs of teenagers. That made full service churches that were meeting the needs of people of all ages and stages of maturity seem out-of-touch.
For teenagers, unlike aging adults, the ultimate reward is not yet heaven -- it is being "cool," being entertained, being inspired. The teenspeak-talking evangelists assure these insecure kids that if they pray hard enough, they will not only be loved, but rich. Unlike the hell that is junior high, at New Life, they are resolutely on the side of the powerful and popular.
As Pastor Ross looked around at the nodding, foot-tapping teenagers filling the stadium seating, he triumphantly shouted, "We are growing the church young!" Unless progressives can figure out a way to reach that same audience, I fear he is right.
Evangelical megachurches that deliberately market themselves to an audience of 13 to 30 year olds are employing the same tactics and methods with similar results.
Sooner or later, teenagers and twenty-somethings grow up.
Will these churches help them grow to spiritual maturity? Or, will they just modify the emotions they manipulate in order to hold onto the spell of never, never land?