I heard it said once by a band manager in the Christian music industry years ago… that you “fake it until you make it”. His point was if you appear bigger and more important than you are, then people will take you that way. It is all about perception….and the perception you want, if you are attracting people, is the “Appearance of Prosperity”. I have also heard this spoken by church leaders and church employees. “If we want to be successful, then we must appear the way our potential clients want to perceive us” . Unfortunately, this mentality plagues our churches today.
One of the main things that has been a huge distraction, but is the main key of success for churches is the buildings. The buildings are not the only issue, like salaries, benefits, and such, but are a huge one. Now I know that this creates a huge controversy, especially among those with agendas, but it is a huge deal and the justifications for building them are weak and down right worldly. The Appearance of Prosperity is the reason for these huge buildings. The bigger the building, the more prosperity is imagined by the client. In my opinion, no one can justify the money poured in to these buildings as a place of worship of Jesus Christ when Christ Himself said to sell all that is above your needs and give to the poor, widowed, and orphaned.
To paraphrase, Roger Waters once said that for every dollar that is spent on an aircraft carrier, plane, tank, or gun, it is food stolen from the mouths of the poor. Regardless of if you are a liberal or conservative politically and whether you agree or disagree with Mr. waters, the point is made that priority of perception is valued more than human life. It is no difference with churches that build huge buildings and scrap 40, 50, or 60% off the top of tithing to pay for the principle, interest, and utilities to maintain it. Here are just 3 examples to add strength to my point:
- Willow Creek –
Willow Creek’s state-of-the-art Worship Center (completed in 2004 at an estimated cost of $73 million) seats over 7,200 people, making it over twice as large as the Kodak Theater in Hollywood and the largest theater in the United States.
It was the first church in the world to make use of two Mitsubishi Diamond Vision high-definition LED screens 14′ x 24′ in size, usually seen in new sports stadiums. Each screen is movable on its own track system and can be combined into one giant screen. The Worship Center also has innovative dual, stacked-deck balconies.
- Lakewood Church – Renovations to create the new Lakewood Church are estimated at $75 million. The church was required to pay $11.8 million in rent in advance for the first 30 years of the lease.
In 2007, Lakewood reported spending nearly $30 million every year on its television ministry.
- City Harvest Church –
The church building located at Jurong West Street 91 was completed in 2002. Construction of the building costs S$48 million (US$26.6 million) and seats up to 2,300 attendees.
Of course my point is, what kind of money could have been poured into the poor if these churches would have stayed small, planted multiple churches and continued to focus on human beings and not the Appearance of Prosperity? Now we can all argue over whether or not this money is well spent based off of what people perceive is going on with in these churches. I understand that. I have heard them on my own local level. However, I believe we all need to revisit this mentality of opulence that is so prevalent in churches today. What is more important, the comfort of Christians in seats at churches with the emotional atmosphere created by multi-million dollar sound and light systems or the pouring in of every dime of extra money we all have into the poor and outcast? It is an outlandish question for sure, but it needs to be asked over and over again. What has more eternal value, people or possessions?
“Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we were encouraged to give to those in need instead of being shamed into paying for these overbearing buildings, salaries, benefits, and flashy programs to appear as prosperous. It ‘s not hard to see that these facilities are the desires of men’s hearts. Jesus also said,
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
These verses, in my opinion, apply to the desire to own these expensive churches. These buildings are being served as a prideful declaration of success…..so is there a difference than slaving for these and slaving for money? Opulent churches are not in need, but the poor are. Wouldn’t it be more effective to give where the need is? Wouldn’t it be nice to store up treasures in Heaven that are eternal if we gave to the poor and needy and stopped supporting the money sucking facilities that are run like businesses and appeal to clients? Wouldn’t it be nice if we relied on Christ to nudge us to give to those that we are effected by everyday? And to believe that our possessions, including expensive buildings, are meaningless and human life is so much greater. Christ was very adamant that the only way to show you believe in Him is to demonstrate it in our lives. If possessions do not control us, then we will not have them. We need to stop the Appearance of Prosperity, destroy its effect in our lives, and see that equality through sacrifice of ourselves, as Jesus Christ demonstrated, is all that matters. Jesus is the point and His love for others, displayed through us, is the Kingdom of God. It is here and very much alive!