Churches have these huge expensive meetings in big expensive cities. Of course, huge expensive meetings require similarly huge advertising too. The only way to get advertising is buy it, and it's broadly more effective to go with the eager sponsors in the corporate setting. How much do we sacrifice spiritually? To what degree do we prostitute ourselves when we use the ways of the world because they are “smart” in the business sense? If, as Barna says, church and the gospel are merely a matter of marketing, then it's all good.
I would suggest Barna is speaking for Satan. Satan has no problem with the Word as long as he is the one speaking it, ensuring it has no power.
Setting aside for a moment the question of whether these conferences serve any real need, how would we do them if holiness wasn't measured in terms of mere cultural window dressing? I don't mean literal clothing — Conservative Baptists and Pentecostals in their suits, and Contemporaries in their casual, but still stylish middle class, attire. I mean all the nice, comfy stuff we add in to make it like a vacation. When was the last time you had a real retreat in a genuine wilderness setting? You know: tents, hiking gear, cooking over a fire whatever you could bring and keep without refrigeration. No, that's too trendy. How about we pick some smaller town, offering adequate but simpler facilities? What's wrong with meeting in an empty warehouse on folding chairs, without an expensive sound system, without high-end musical instruments, etc.? Instead of $200/night hotels, how about the local flea-bag motel, a rooming house, or temporary big sleeping tents in an open field? What a blessing it would be to the local economy there! Choose a place with no ability to repay you fiscally or politically.
God help us — did I actually have to mention “politics”? Try just once to do a conference without politics getting in the way. Organizing is no sin, but human organization is the enemy of the Spirit. Favoritism is so rife in the Christian Conference Industry, it stinks to Heaven. And let's not forget it's all about profit and the hideous worldly greed of the Pharisees coming back right into the worship. We make all those deals and contracts with “the right” organization, the right brother or sister, and giving due honor to some local hypocrite or another. Try to get speakers or musicians who will volunteer. Try not to make this or that ministry an expensive road-show. How about just spend time together in the Spirit with local believers?
Don't advertise it as “life changing” and “earth shaking” — that happened already back at the Cross and at Pentecost. Tone it down. Let the very real changes in your life be the advertising. We can't use the old street preaching to any effect as they did in those days. What would we do these days instead? Once we figure out what today serves the same place as street preaching in that culture, we might actually have a clue how to minister. And while we're at it, how about actually having something to say? Not the Barna/Warren/Schuller flavored coolade human religion. Real faith in Christ brings us into conflict with our world, not worldly comfort and success. It causes you to abandon your worldly comforts, to toss aside all the middle class dreams of a college degree at some choice university, of a good paying job, of a nice suburban home and SUV. Instead, you invest your resources in living a radical, other-worldly spiritual life. Okay, maybe it is earth-shaking.
“You have not resisted sin to the point of bloodshed in resisting sin” (Hebrews 12:4). The context of that verse is discipline from the hand of God. He has to carve out of your life all the stuff He didn't put there so He can get you focussed on things that really matter to His Kingdom. I'm pretty sure investing your church offerings in pricey real estate and fancy facilities was not included in that. Nor all the other expensive Laodecian snobbery that goes with that. We don't officially have slaves in the US these days, but I wonder how many street sleepers feel comfortable visiting your monster church facility (unless they expect a bigger handout). How about you buy your church a couple of buses and go out to where they sleep and hold worship there? Until He has carved out of our lives all the massive burden of material goods, we aren't really serving Him.
So how about a conference in an empty parking lot? Is what conferences do so tightly bound into the setting the same result can't be had in a different setting? Then we are not conferring over the gospel.
Ed Hurst is Associate Editor of Open for Business.