I am from Texas. I love Texas. I get Texas.
I lived half my life in Texas, grew up in Texas churches, ministered in 3 of them, accepted the gospel of Willow Creek (which is from Chicago but is Texas-sized) in one of them, and know full well what Jesus meant when he said a prophet is not accepted in his hometown.
Most every time I talk “church” with Texas folk who are still in Texas, the leading question is “How many are you running?” or “How big is your building?” It would be an exaggeration to say every conversation begins this way but it would not be an exaggeration to say most of them do. I have been in Tennessee for the last 12 years, and the Bible Belt is in full cinch there, along with its focus on bigger, better, and faster. Your church is not taken seriously by most in Nashville if you’re not big. But nobody makes bigness the looming necessity that Texan evangelicals make it. In Nashville, the bigness is an unspoken rule while people are talking about small groups and spiritual formation and music, but in Texas they talk about bigness without apology, without any trace of irony, without any sense that it’s utterly ridiculous to assume the church growth movement. Most of them don’t know what irony is or what the “church growth movement” is. But they know what church is, and it’s big, dang it. Or else you’re not doing something right. Or, bless your little heart, you sure are giving it a go.
In Nashville, the people might think your small church is cute but in Houston they will tell you it is, as if this is a compliment and not a condescension. The second pastor I was a youth minister for planted his church in 1995 in Houston. He’s been there 15 years now with a regular attendance of about 100 for the last decade, and our mutual friends consider this as “Hanging in there.” As if 15 years of existence with 100 people constitutes the verge of death.
This isn’t just a Texas problem, but it is a Texas-sized problem in evangelicalism. Enter First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas and their new $130 million building campaign. Normally I don’t give one whit about how much a pastor is being paid or how much a church spends on whatever; I get my ire raised more by other things. And what FBC Dallas is doing doesn’t really raise my ire. But it is reflective of something that, yes, is bigger than FBC Dallas, bigger than $130 million.
Do we even know what $130 million looks like? Well, we do, actually. It looks like this.
What is at stake is what church is. In the building Q&A linked above, we find this gem: “[T]he glass walls have an evangelistic effect: people walking by have a view in from the street and feel drawn in.”
In the same way a hobo on the sidewalk might press his face against the window of a fancy restaurant in a Norman Rockwell painting, no doubt.
Nobody should fault FBC Dallas or anybody else for building a building. But this isn’t a building. This, and a bunch of other stuff, is Bible Belt Disneyland. This is evangelicalism with more cowbell. This is Field of Dreams attractional church. And it stinks to high heaven. I was directed to a church website once while doing some research that had in its mission statement this sentence: “We will be a missional church, reaching out to the community to invite them to come see what we’re doing at ___________.”
Not go and tell. Come and see is the “mission” of megachurchianity. Which is why you need evangelistic windows.
(Ever heard of Francis Chan? May his tribe increase.)