By Carol Rushton
I recently had the opportunity to visit my former church here in Oklahoma City. While a member at that church. I sang in the choir and once made Chocolate Chip Banana Nut Bread for the choir director. He and his wife liked it so much, it became my annual Christmas present to them. Even though I am now a member of another church, I will still bake them a loaf for Christmas when I can and drop it off at the church.
I missed baking them anything for Christmas last year because I moved in December 2017. It was too chaotic to try to bake anything for anyone. I couldn’t find most of my baking things, including my mixer. Everything was buried under mountains of boxes. This year, I was determined to make sure I baked them the banana bread they loved. I picked a Wednesday evening to drop it off at the church because I knew they would be having a fellowship dinner before church services that night, as many churches do now. There would be plenty of people at the church that night I could give the bread to and ensure the choir director and his wife got it.
MY PREVIOUS CHURCH
When I drove into the church parking lot, I noticed the sign with the church name was different. It was new and much fancier than the former sign. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the sign as it was – it still had the rotating announcements about church activities, large and brilliant enough to be seen from the street – but evidently someone did.
The second thing I noticed was one of the announcements on the sign about Sunday Connect Groups. “What in the world are Connect Groups?” I wondered. “Is this something adopted from Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven church movement?” It certainly didn’t sound good to me. (I later went to the church’s website and discovered that Connect Groups had replaced Sunday school classes on Sunday mornings. The website informed me that the groups “meet weekly on Sunday mornings for accountability, prayer, sharing stories and studying the Bible” emphasis mine.)
I eventually found a place to park and headed for one of the side entrances. I knew the church had embarked on a building project after I left so I knew from two years ago which entrance to take to find the receptionist desk. What I was not prepared for was what I saw when I entered the building.
When I attended the church, and even two years ago, that particular side entrance led down a hall to the church receptionist and the church offices. Someone was always at the receptionist desk to direct you to where you needed to go or answer general questions. Two years ago that’s where I had left the banana bread with someone at the receptionist desk. Just beyond the receptionist desk was a stairway to the left where some of the Sunday school classrooms were. If you went to your right you would eventually find the fellowship hall. While not elaborate, everything was comfortable and functional.
Not anymore. The hallway was still there but it had been enlarged. The receptionist area was gone and so were the church offices. Instead it looked more like the lobby of a fancy hotel. To my right there was open space and a curved, floating stairway that led upstairs. A little beyond that was an area set up with round tables where people were seated. I could also see what looked like a place where people could stand in line and get their food for a meal. It reminded me more of an upscale restaurant than a church fellowship area.
I kept walking down the hall and eventually saw two women further down where a few people were standing in line. I approached the line and stood there waiting my turn. As I stood in line, I figured out this is why people pay for the Wednesday night meal. When I had a chance, I asked one of the ladies if she could take my bag and make sure that the choir director and his wife would get it. She assured me she would. I gave her the bag and walked back toward the entrance to leave. I had one last glimpse of the new fellowship hall before walking toward the door.
As I was leaving I thought about how much the church had changed since I had attended there. It was certainly a very resplendent church. And that was the problem.
There was nothing wrong with the previous structural arrangement the church had before. The church sanctuary was grand, with cushioned pews and a balcony. The Sunday school rooms and the fellowship hall weren’t lavish or ostentatious but they didn’t need to be. They were more than adequate for Sunday school classes, Bible studies, ministry events, conferences, or anything else the church needed. If the new fellowship hall displayed such opulence, I could only wonder about how the rest of the church looked now.
MY CURRENT CHURCH
In comparison, the church I attend currently doesn’t hold a candle to my former church in terms of facilities, programs, or staff. The building is very modest. The church also had a building program recently because we had run out of room for Sunday school classes, but the addition was very simple. We don’t have an orchestra, a 70-member choir, Beth Moore Bible studies, or a huge children’s ministry. The choir doesn’t have choir robes or even a separate room to practice in – we have to use the church sanctuary which is also used for dinners, conferences, and AWANA on Wednesday evenings. My former church has at least 33 full-time paid staff positions. My current church has 5 full-time paid staff positions, with two of them being appointments since I started attending in 2010. Even our choir director and youth pastor are non-paid volunteer positions that church members have to do on the side in additional to their regular full-time jobs and family responsibilities.
There are things I miss that my current church does not have: a large music program, a women’s ministry, the well-known Christian artists that come and put on concerts, just to name a few. I don’t miss the unwillingness to stand up for truth, virtue, and biblical values while at the same time refusing to confront an increasingly hostile secular society that abhors and persecutes Christians, the exact opposite of my current church.
I’m not saying that people aren’t being saved in my former church or that they don’t do a lot of good things. But they must have spent millions of dollars to make these changes to the church, changes that were completely unnecessary. It makes me wonder about their priorities.
My current church is a very simple, very humble church. I never thought I would say this, but I hope it always stays that way.