Friday, November 23, 2007

overheard: megachurches add local economy to their mission

one of the persistent criticisms of megachurches has been that the tax-exempt facilities they own as well as the strain such facilities put on local utilities leads to a drain on the church's local economies. in fact, a few weeks ago reported* that a few counties in florida are starting to limit the number of churches that can be incorporated within their jurisdictions due to the demand such facilities put on local resources.

for these reasons, i was surprised to click open the new york times this morning and find a well balanced consideration of the positive and negative influences american megachurches are having on their local economies. one of the churches that is featured has developed a sports dome that is the largest inflatable sports facility not only in anchorage, where the church is located, but in north america. other churches, such as t.d. jakes' potter's house in dallas are in the midst of building mixed-use residential communities that are inspired by the new urbanism movement in architecture.

as the article explains in much greater detail, the sports facilities, shopping centers, credit unions, western inspired theme parks and neighborhoods that these churches are birthing raise thorny questions about the relationship between tax-exempt organizations and for-profit corporations in any given community. however, if these new initiatives create jobs, serve the needs of the people, revitalize underutilized facilities and expand the tax base in local communities, i can see their value. of course, far too many of these initiatives are probably adding to urban sprawl, carefully skirting property taxes and demanding a disproportionate allocation of their church's budget, but in an economy that is trending downward i am more open to such developments than i have been previously.

so that's my opinion, not that it matters. if you are not interested in reading the article, check out the nifty slide show that accompanies the article.

* i tried to locate the CT article that discussed these matters but was unable to do so.


james said...

Very interesting and rather quite fascinating article. Sounds like there's definitely some positive aspects to this. In regard to the following quote however:

The sports dome, for example, is a way to draw the attention of young families to the church’s religious programs. “We don’t look at this as economics; we look at it as our mission,” Pastor Clauson said.

I still can't help but ask...if the church were just out there doing what the church was supposed to do, would they really need to spend all the money they do on stuff like this? If the church just committed to being the church, and doing what the church does by its nature...wouldn't people just show up?

Very fascinating article.

Agent B said...

This "we're doing this for the economy" is bullshit.

Mega churches are doing big visual things to a) build their own little kingdom on earth and b) be seen by men.

Or, so my cynicism tells me...

g13 said...

thanks for the comments guys.

james, at times i wonder what exactly the church does do "by its nature." ideally, i would think that an impassioned commitment to its roots would lead the church to declare freedom to the captives, sight for the blind and the year of the Lord's favor to one and all, but throughout the centuries we've made the waters of our purpose so murky. that being said, i really like the fact that your comment reveals a deep and abiding faith in the attractive nature and transformative power of the way of Jesus.

agent b, glad to hear your voice on this one as i knew you would have something to say. i don't think any of the pastors in the article - the pastor from alaska explicitly said as much in either the article or the slideshow - would say that "we are doing this for the economy. however, i do think there are expressions of Christian mission that would serve the needs of the community, create jobs for the local economy and be a locus for Christian mission. i am also cynical when i think about evangelicals attempting such endeavors, but early christians with their hostels, medieval christians with their universities and modern christians with their orphanages, hospitals and hospices have shown that such endeavors are indeed possible.

but of course, that's only my opinion, i could be wrong. i'm more than wiling to continue this conversation.


Agent B said...

Well admittedly, my last comment was a from the hip, I'm at mom's house for thanksgiving, I don't really want to think and digest on this - kind of response.

Like you, I'm cynical too about those kinds of things.

I guess I'd be more impressed and taken aback if I stumbled upon a church that was doing something like that without the press coverage.

You know...maybe, undercover-like...?