The Danger of Building a Church on Spectacle

Sam Rainer

September 11, 2016


I’ve witnessed some spectacular church productions. I’ll never forget the Easter play I watched when I was a child. Jesus just ascended right into the church rafters. I remember wondering how he would get down, but Acts 1 is clear: “This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen Him going . . .” Sure enough, he rappelled right back down after the performance. The real second coming won’t be nearly as anti-climactic.

When a big event is done well, a church can draw a lot of people, which means more have the opportunity to hear the gospel. Using spectacle for gospel opportunities is good. If a church has enough gifted people to pull off such a show, go for it. Spectacle is simply a striking performance with a large visual impact. God can use these efforts just like anything else.

The danger lies not in building a church with spectacle but rather in building a church on spectacle. I’m not just parsing prepositions; there is a difference. A church built on spectacle makes the show the foundation. The big and loud can get attention, but when spectacle becomes the main means for growth, the main ministry strategy, or the main way in which church resources and energy are spent, it becomes dangerous. Here’s why.

It creates a fragile church. A congregation built on spectacle is like a trapeze performer. It’s breathtaking and gets everyone’s attention, but the potential downside is enormous. One wrong move and everything crashes. Spectacle is not a foundation; it’s a trapeze performance without a net. Such a church is in a precarious place.

It creates a culture of one-upmanship. It’s one thing to one-up the church down the road, which is not recommended. It’s something else to have to one-up yourself, which is disastrous. A church built on spectacle creates a system in which the goal becomes bigger, better, and more outrageous. The competition is last year, last month, and last week. Every church should work to improve. A spectacle-driven church gets caught in a vicious cycle of one-upmanship with itself that can only end in disappointment. At some point the creative ideas—or the money—will stop flowing in. Then what?

It neglects the beauty of small things. When spectacle is the foundation, no room is left for smallness. When the only goal is “big,” then you won’t take the time for two mites and mustard seeds. Maybe it’s just me, but I see more of God’s sovereignty in small than I do big. There is such a beauty of seeing God in the small things of life.

Enjoy the show. Throw a giant party. Send Jesus into the rafters. Just don’t build a church on these things. Spectacle is one tool of many, and it’s certainly not the foundation of your church.


2 comments on “The Danger of Building a Church on Spectacle”

  1. Roberta Jones says:

    I’ve enjoyed looking at various articles. In particular, I appreciate your comment, “Avoiding hardship is not strength.” Selma Wilson’s writing, about emotional work, contains many relevant points. Sadly, the article about child abuse in churches also fits with current culture. Thanks for offering such diverse and timely resources, in a neat and compact format!

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