The first question that you get when you move to Peachtree City, Georgia is "What church do you go to?" If your answer is "I don't", you'll get a lot of odd expressions and whispers wondering if you should be reported to DFACS because of the horrible abuse this may be putting upon your children.
I've got one friend who is actually quite spiritual and is searching for what she believes but every time she gets this question, the responses drive her further and further away from any kind of organized religion. In fact she's gone so far as to tell people that she "home churches" the kids. Home schooling seems to be an acceptable practice (compared to putting your children in non-spiritual government schools) so she thought the "home church" idea might at least confuse people enough to stay off her back for a while.
My friend (see Turff's blog linked below) brought up the news that came out recently that Willow Creek (a mega-church) did a study to see if the enormous amount of money they spent on their programs really did any good. The short answer was - it didn't. I'm sure its more complicated than that, but the reality was that the programs they have (children's, youth, music etc) while they drew large crowds weren't really effective in helping people reach spiritual maturity.
In a way I find it funny that so many in the Bible Belt seem to find a disconnect between science and religion. Then Willow Creek applies the idea of scientific research data and it creates a large debate about programming.
I'm fascinated by mega-churches and what makes them tick. I think Jesus is about numbers (feeding the 5000, thousands converted after Peter's sermon at Pentecost etc) but the Bible doesn't measure the spiritual maturity in these cases. In fact I remember some arguments in Paul's letters about who is more spiritually mature. So my guess is that this is an age old debate.
I read the blog Turff referenced but was really bothered by one thing. The author said that the church should exist for people to become spiritually mature. I disagree. I think that spiritual maturity is secondary. If the church is the body of Christ that means they are doing Christ's work. Healing the sick, feeding the poor etc And doing these things will often encourage spiritual maturity.
I do think he got it right in one area. The crisis of "the church that gives me what I ask for"!! If I gave my kids everything they asked for they would never learn how to do things for themselves. Same goes for church. If we give people everything they ask for instead of teaching them how to do it for themselves the OF COURSE they'll NEVER mature.
That doesn't mean I don't have programs for my kids. I sign them up for soccer camp, piano lessons, VBS, etc. But most of those things are to give them an experience of something new, different, fun, and good for them. My expectation is that they will practice these things at home and make them a part of who they are. I DON'T expect them to make this leap all by themselves so I encourage them to practice. I play soccer with them. I go to piano recitals. I play VBS songs throughout the year.
I (and their father) also try and model a lifestyle for them. I exercise. I read for pleasure. I am part of my own adult small group. I play music just for me. I feel that the programs, practice, and modeling are all important for them to become mature men someday.
Perhaps the problem isn't the programming. Perhaps it is in the extention of programming into practice and also into mentoring. There are so many more Biblical examples of Christian practice and mentoring but I'm really at a loss to think of any programs.
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