Friday, June 13, 2008

Church Franchises

This evening my wife brought home the "Weekend Journal"  section of today's Wall Street Journal from work.  The cover story imagewas on "Church Franchises."  They use as their model Troy Gramling the pastor of the Flamingo Road Church in Cooper City, FL and specifically his church franchise in Lima, Peru. (They also several times reference our geographical neighbor to the north, Living Hope Church in Vancouver, WA...just across the Columbia River from Portland.)

It wasn't a bad article, journalistically.  But I will admit reading it in increasing horror.  Listen to a few of the quotes from the article: 

    • Rather than seeking converts to a mainstream denomination, these independent churches are forming global organizations anchored by a single leader. 
    • Mr Gramling is thinking big.  His goal is 50 churched world-wide, 100,000 members and a $150 million-a-year budget. 
    • If Starbucks can start four stores a day, why can't churches?" --John Bishop of Living Hope Church.
    • "The religious market in saturated in the U.S", says Manual Vasquez, co-author of Globalizing the Sacred: Religion Across the Americas. "There is a sense how that you have to go international to expand your reach if you want to be a player."
    • [At the Lima church] "there was a sign-up sheet for baptisms during an upcoming visit by Mr. Gramling, and DVD copies of his past sermons."
    • "Mr. Bishop of Living Hope Church, says he is expanding abroad in part because of demands: Christians in other countries invite him to launch Living Hope churches. "It's like they're asking us, 'Can we please sell Nikes in our country/"  Mr. Bishop says.  "They just love the brand."
    • The article notes that "some of Mr. Gramling's sermons fail to translate well [culturally].  He uses concepts that are culturally confusing or offensive to people in the recipient culture. 
    • "Mr. Guschov [the on-site manager of the Peru franchise of Flamingo Road church] inspected a hotel conference room that overlooked the Amazon. There was a big screen to show a sermon, and room for 150 chairs.  It would do for now.  "When it comes to Flamingo Road, because of the brand, we need large campuses." Mr. Gramling says.  "We're not going to be satisfied with a campus running at 300."

I am not going to comment a lot on the above quotes. I thought about putting a snide rejoinder under each one, but chose not to do so. I am presuming that the quotes are relatively accurate and fairly reflect what the quoted people say. (I have been quoted enough by the media to know that that is often NOT the case).  But the quotes are consistent enough to lead me to think they are relatively accurate. 

As I am preaching/studying through the book of Acts this year, I see NOTHING of the book of Acts in these quotes. I see nothing of Jesus, of discipleship, of humility, of servant leadership.  I see American marketing and franchising at its smarmiest.  God help us if this is the future of the church in North America.

You should be able to access the article here.

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