Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Regarding Evangelical Youth Cults

AlterNet has posted a very informative essay about "Megachurches Court Cool to Attract Teens" that analyzes the techniques some Evangelical megachurches are using to reach teenagers. Here's an excerpt:

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.

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.
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.

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?

6 comments:

Hepneck said...

There is a local church here in Waco, Antioch Community Church,

Hepneck said...

We have a church here in Waco (Antioch Community Church) that specializes in recruiting young people (college aged) and in giving them lite church. Unfortunatley they have a missions agenda that is designed to create martyrs (they came close with Curry and Mercer in Afganistan, prior to 911). My friends and I joke that some churches provide spiritual milk, while some provide spiritual food. And, unfortunately, churches like ACC provide spiritual crack. It sounds like the churches that you are addressing practice the same type of abuse.

Anonymous said...

Hello,
I ran upon your blog by accident. I was saddened by what you said about my former church (Antioch Community Church) because I see it very differently. I attended the church in 2001-2002 when I was a student at Baylor. I grew up the daughter of a Baptist preacher and missionary, and I knew the Bible and Jesus. It wasn't until I met some passionate people from Antioch that I came to see Jesus as my heart's true desire and the only thing worth living for. Over the course of a couple of years I decided that I did indeed want to go overseas to do ministry. Not because of any pressure from anyone in the church, but because I wanted to be where the hurting people and people who don't know Christ are. I know this is where God would have me. I left Baylor to attend Moody Bible Institute in Chicago for further Bible training. I than finished my degree in Intercultural Studies at Biola University in California in preparation for work overseas. My husband (a Moody grad) and I are headed to South America in about a year. All that to say. I don't think the church "creates martyrs." I know they believe that living for Christ at times means facing persecution and even death. But they also promote wisdom. To go overseas longterm without cultural and biblical training is not wise, and I have never heard any leader advocate for that. I think this is likely the reason they began their missions training program. BTW, Heather and Dana both have stated that their experience was worth it and God would be no less good and in control if they had died in prison. Furthermore, ACC is not a "lite church." I learned more there in two years than I did the first 18 years of my life. In addition to solid teaching (even heavy teaching), ACC l;eadership promotes a lifestyle of biblical disciplines: prayer, Bible study, meditation, fasting, giving, service etc. Maybe you find these things simple, but I am just thankful for grace because they are an impossible standard (as they should be. THey are what our perfect Jesus lived up to). ACC is passionate yes, but how is that a bad thing? Passion with wisdom is just what this world (and my generation) needs. We are broken and needy people that just need the love of Jesus. I for one am thankful for the ministry of ACC that challanges young people to -with wisdom of course - count the cost of taking the good news all over the world. Thanks and God bless!-maygrrl

BeLiftedHigher said...

Hi, my name is Sarah Hedrick. I'm a student in Waco as well, and I would love to talk with you, Hepneck. You have been sorely misinformed about the mission and purpose of Antioch Community Church. A lot of Christians (yes, Christians) are frightened by the passion and down-to-earth Bible teaching that our pastor, Jimmy, practices.

It's very interesting how the Devil can take such a phenomenal church that is reaching thousands of people (monthly, mind you) with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It's not about anything else except Jesus. Not "being cool" -- which is ridiculous, Mainstream Baptist, to put the Lord in such a tiny box and judge and assume that He can't teach and use, yes, college students for His purposes on the earth -- or any other worldly standard.

We are running the race that is set before us in such a way as to obtain the prize (oh, yes, that is Biblical. Jesus, eternal life, Heaven is our prize [and yours, too]. Check out Hebrews. Or 1 Corinthians. Or Phillipians. Or 2 Timothy. Or... well, you get the point.)

I can assure you, Hepneck, that when you attack Antioch Community Church, you are attacking Jesus Himself, and I challenge you to attend a service there. If what you find is not solid, Biblical teaching and Jesus-following, then I'll be glad to speak or pray with you further. I'll be there this next Sunday, June 14th, 2009. I hope I see you there and I encourage you to come. Prove me wrong, if that'll encourage you further.

Mike said...

I am an Antiocher as well; I just wanted to address this:

"I can assure you, Hepneck, that when you attack Antioch Community Church, you are attacking Jesus Himself"

While the church is the body of Christ, and I believe Antioch is very much apart of the church, the tone of this comment is not at all necessary. There is generally idle talk about Antioch among freshman at Baylor, but the majority of people that actually attend service either like it and stay or don't like it and look elsewhere - just like with any other church. I have many friends who have attended Antioch a few times and decided to go to another local church - I would like to believe that if they thought it was just "spiritual crack" they would have said something to me :)

I was wary of Antioch prior to coming (thanks to comments from both sides; similar to both Hepneck's & BeLiftedHigher's), but all I found was a church that did an especially good job of following Jesus as revealed through scripture. I gave my life to Christ while living in community with them, and I have seen people in Texas, Mexico, China, and elsewhere give their lives to Jesus and His Teachings because of these people who give and receive His Love so exceptionally.

AJ Pena said...

I too attend ACC. I grew up a conservative baptist attending mostly spiritually dead churches filled with passionless people gathering more to check an item off a list than to worship the Almighty. I came to Antioch and quickly noticed the majority of people are well grounded in the Bible's teachings and have a truly rare "passion for Jesus and His purposes in the earth." Although I don't with everything some of the leaders believe, (gift of tongues for example, which we can disagree about) I have never found anything said or done that I could definitively say is Biblically wrong. ACC critics are typically ignorant of what the church is really teaching and only repeat what they've heard from other ignorant people. I've been through ACC's church-plant training school. Even a stuffy old southern baptist would agree with everything being taught.