Saturday, February 11, 2006

EBAY Atheist Visits Church: Willow Creek

A few days ago, I noted that Hemant Mehta, a self-professing atheist, put his body/mind/soul up for sale to the highest bidder on EBAY. He promised that he would go to a church once for every ten dollars of bid money. The winning bid was $504, which means he will attend 50 church services in the next year. Jim Henderson posted the winning bid. He lives near Chicago and is a Christian. Mehta wrote that Henderson:
would like me to go to a variety of different churches in and around Chicago. This is for a number of different reasons, the main one being that he would like me to fill out surveys for him about my observations on the different churches for his website. That information can be used to help Christians get a better understanding of what non-Christians think about their church and the way they show their faith.
I am especially interested in this research-oriented aspect of the event. I am very curious as to the thoughts of a man with no religious background entering local churches and giving honest evaluations of what he sees. (not unbiased, it turns out - but honest). Of course, I am also interested in watching the Holy Spirit deal with this young man in the upcoming year. I believe we will see ample proof of Jesus' words in John 6 in this man's life: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him."

Mehta is writing some about his experiences on his blog but is chronicling his thoughts and observations about the churches he attends on Henderson's blog - Off The Map.

Mehta's first visit was to a small Roman Catholic Church on February 7 and he left confused (just like I think I would). However, on his second church visit, he went to Willow Creek Community Church on February 8. WCCC is quite possibly the most well-known of America's mega-churches and also one of the oldest. He went to WCCC on a Wednesday night and heard associate staff member Randy Frazee preach. According to the WCCC website, Frazee is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and is the "newest Teaching Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in June, 2005. He was senior pastor at Pantego Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas for 15 years."

Mehta made several comments about his visit that pique my interest:
  • His first impression that he notes is "the parking lot." It was FULL. On a Wednesday night.
  • He was amazed that a church had escalators. I guess I would be, as well.
  • He was amazed at the sheer number of white people.
  • He was impressed with Frazee's communication skills although he admits that he didn't believe Frazee's message for one moment (hence the bias).
  • He took in his surroundings and said, "The megachurch had everything seemingly taken care of. From my vantage point, there were 4 huge television screens to watch the service. (There were many more everywhere else in the building.) When Frazee recited scripture, it was up on the screen. The broadcasting-aspect of the service was extremely professional. There was a soundproof area in the back where people with crying babies could listen to the service. There was a sign-language section. A separate handicapped section. Outside the auditorium, there was a cafe, another cafeteria, a bookstore, a prayer room… It was impressive. It’s not hard to see how people could spend their whole lives *in* this church. And I can understand why it’s so popular."
  • He noticed that WCCC "took in" over a half million dollars last week alone.
  • He finally admitted that IF he were a believer, he would come to this church.
  • One funny point that also made me cringe because I see it happening in the church I attend: "As soon as the sermon ended and the singing began, I could see a good number of people begin to leave. It’s like they were at a sports game and the final score was already decided. They wanted to leave early to avoid the traffic. I didn’t know that was permitted at church." It shouldn't be!
That next to last point made me think about how "appealing" the church is supposed to be. This man is a gentleman and doesn't seem to be very antagonistic towards Christians. However, the Bible describes him as a hater of God and a being upon whom the holy wrath of God resides. This man is on the broad road towards destruction and truly wants to be there. Yet, he comes into a church and feels so comfortable!

I don't think he should hear "sinner" and "you're going to hell" every minute he's in the building but it seems the "seeker-sensitve" model has gone too far the other direction. This makes me want to discern exactly where that line between the two extremes should be drawn.

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