Saturday, June 04, 2005

Rome of the evangelical movement: Colorado Springs? :: Harpers

Looks like required reading for the blog with the subtitle "whither the church."

Here's a snippet that's up my economist's alley:

In fact, the analogy with free-market economics holds up quite neatly. Stark is an economist of religion; his theory tells him with confidence that unfettered markets will lead to competition, diversity, pluralism, a hundred flowers blooming. His fundamentalist adherents, by contrast, are like businessmen, who understand and approve of where the theory leads in practice: toward consolidation, toward control, toward manufacture of demand. What the most farsighted are doing—Pastor Ted chief among them—is fostering something like Stark’s spectrum of “niches,” but all within the confines of their individual megachurches. They are building aisles and aisles in which everyone can find something, but behind it all a single corporate entity persists, and with it an ideology.

In devising New Life’s small-group system, Pastor Ted says that he asked himself and his staff a simple question: Do you like your neighbors? And, for that matter, do you even know your neighbors? The answers he got—the Golden Rule to the contrary—were “Not really” and “No.” Okay, said Pastor Ted, so why would you want to be in a small group with them? His point was that arbitrary small groups would make less sense than self-selected groups organized around common interests. Hence New Life members can choose among small groups dedicated to motorcycles, or rock climbing, or homeschooling, or protesting outside abortion clinics.

But Pastor Ted’s true genius lies in his organizational hierarchy, which ensures ideological rigidity even as it allows for individual expression. Not just anyone can lead a small group, much less a section; a battery of personality and spiritual tests must be undergone first, as well as an official background check.

I'll have to ponder the bit about "where the theory leads in practice: toward consolidation, toward control" since that tendency is not inevitable in all (or most) markets. But it could be in this one. But certainly, Stark's theory that denominations have self destructive tendencies doesn't not preclude churches from recognizing those tendencies and working to overcome them.

Thanks to a fine human browser, Scott of Hybla, for the link.

No comments: