The Church Has Shifted from Religious Outreach to Religious Profit

Dear Church,
Find a way to spend more money on your outreach and less on your facilities.
Sincerely,
An Uncomfortable Christian

1Recently I purchased tickets to attend a comedy show at a church. It was weird. I didn’t want to go, but I did. We did. My wife and I joined some friends and had a good time, but I betrayed my instincts for the sake of a good time. I was uncertain of the motives behind this event designed for Christians. The bottom line was that this was a for-profit comedy show facilitated at a house of worship for the primary purpose of personal financial gains by the comedian putting on the show.

 

12 And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, 13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.  (Matthew 21:12-13 KJV)

There is a long history within myself to question one’s motives of achieving a profit on church property.  I don’t find it appropriate or biblical for any justification of such actions.

I entered this particular evening with a predetermined outlook of how I would interpret the performance based solely on the choice of venue, and for the fact that tickets ranged from $25 to $75. Yes, you read that right – $75! The heels on my feet were already beginning to dig deep into the ground as I considered going to this event knowing the huge amount of profit that would take place. The math speaks for itself. Let’s assume that the only tickets purchased were $25 ones.  Next let’s estimate roughly 1,000 people were in attendance at my event which puts the conservative estimated amount of USD collected at the door nearly $25,000. Multiply that by this particular comedian’s 60 stop tour this year and you are left with a rough estimate of about $1.5 million from just ticket sales.

Keep in mind that this particular hypothetical math equation does not include the higher, more glamorous ticket option or the merchandise for sale that was heavily promoted before, during, and after the event inside the church.

The doors to the show opened 45 minutes prior to any of the jokes, so I was able to do all this math in my head before I even laughed at the first bad one. As I considered the comedian’s net income for 2016 from ticket sales alone, I began to realize several other uncomfortable facts that related in some way.

How much is this church charging him to hold this event here?  If the justification were that its existence was to spread the love of Jesus then why would they even feel the need to charge the comedian for entertainment in Jesus’s name?

Why is the pastor of this church testing out his Sunday morning jokes on us during the pre-show?  Why did someone just say “I like our pastor, he’s really funny”?

Let’s be real, if you were to name one thing you like about your pastor and you choose the word “funny” then you have missed the meaning of church all together. Another thing to keep in mind would be that the definition of funny does not include utilizing a politicized talking point as a means to evoke laughter.  In my opinion, that is never an appropriate choice by any pastor of any church.  This is true especially if that talking point was an informative statement of where the restrooms were located followed by a loosely, but intentionally dangled, punch line that there were “no gender neutral” restrooms within the building. That statement got the loudest laughter, cheers, and applause throughout the entire night. My wife and I were presumably the only ones not contributing to that feat.

During the time we spent waiting while already seated, my eyes kept scanning from one stranger to another.  One was in an aisle searching for any empty seat, another one standing in the balcony – I observed him staring at his iPhone.  I wondered what each of these strangers’ stories were and how they could justify this act of robbery within a house of worship.

At one point I looked at my phone to check the time. It had only been 20 minutes which meant there was going to be at least another 25 more minutes of my judgment upon the situation.

I switched gears. I started looking around at the church and the facilities that made up this house of worship. It really was an impressive building with state of the art audio and visual equipment,  moveable stage lighting, oversized foyer area, massive balcony, theater style seats that would make any movie theater envious, and speakers hung from the ceiling that any new indie band would trade their entire vinyl collection for. I had never been inside this church before, and to put it bluntly – I was initially impressed but soon after was disappointed. I began to realize that I have a developing resentment toward churches that spend more money on their equipment and facilities than those that live on the poorer end of town do on their own homes. This is not what a church was meant to be. This was not how we were meant to utilize the house of worship.

Spend more money on outreach and less on facilities.

I glanced back down at my phone. It was 5 minutes until showtime. Luckily for us they had some video footage playing on the dual screens up front to serve as a distraction for my brain until the moment the comedian took the stage.  Unfortunately the video distraction seemed to be advertisements for merchandise for sale in the lobby. THERE’S A MERCH TABLE?! Where am I? At a rock show? I thought this was the Lord’s house? A place to worship God.

At this point my thoughts came full circle. Initially, I had a difficult time justifying buying tickets to see a Christian comedian at a church. Later, I had a difficult time with the amount of money that it seemed this comedian would be making this year while performing at churches. Afterward, I was having a difficult time hearing people on the stage of the church during the course of the evening as they gave their sales pitch for the merchandise out in the lobby.

Now it’s 7:03p. Lights go down. Showtime.


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Politics induce headaches. Music is therapy. Writing is the prescription. Hi. My name is Sean. I am a husband to a beautiful woman, whom I'm unworthy, and a father to two loving children, whom I'm grateful. Follow me on Twitter (@argyleeater) were I mostly deal fist and daggers in lazy 5 line non-sequitur poetry format.

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58 thoughts on “The Church Has Shifted from Religious Outreach to Religious Profit

  1. First off, what you are describing is an American White Evangelical Protestant church. These only constitute about one-third of “the Church” in the US. I start with this, because AWEP churches have spent the past half century telling everyone that this is what “Christian” means, and people tend to believe them. So it is that we know without being told that a “Christian comedian” is a AWEP, performing for other AWEPs. (I also suspect that the comedy is dreadful, but that is both a matter of taste, and a different discussion. I certainly wouldn’t shell out that kind of money to see one.)

    That being said, the use of a church for purposes other than worship is not entirely straightforward. Churches have never been used exclusively this way, and some level of commerce has long intruded. My decidedly non-AWEP church sometimes hosts concerts. There is a local outfit that does a Bach series, in various churches. The musicians are paid professionals and some of these performances charge admission. My church does make any money out of this (quite the opposite in fact) and no one is getting rich off this, but commercial activity does take place.

    So I don’t see anything wrong per se with a church hosting a comedian. I don’t even really see anything wrong with charging a high enough admission for this to be profitable. Where I would get queasy would be if it is also turned into a quasi-worship service. Charging admission for worship is a different matter entirely. It would not surprise me for an AWEP church to blur the distinction between worship and commerce.

    As for facilities versus outreach, this also is not a wholly straightforward issue. Anything other than a house church is going to have facility expenses. (House churches do, but they are largely foisted off onto the host.) You can always point to something and ask why are they squandering money on this rather than outreach. The church has duel imperatives. Yes, we are called upon to perform good works, and we should answer this call both individually and collectively. But we are gathered together to worship God. My critique of the A/V-heavy church model is not that they are spending money on worship. My critique is of what they think is worship, which to me looks much more like performance. When I attend an AWEP church I see little that I recognize as Christian worship through Word and Sacrament. But in light of what my congregation recently spent (OK: borrowed) for a major renovation of the organ, I can’t criticize the act of directing funds for equipment.

    My critique in this respect of AWEP churches is that they, in their modern form, are bad at building permanent institutions. A church is planted by a charismatic pastor; attendance grows; they take on debt to build a larger building (and parking lot); repeat as many times as possible. When the pastor retires or dies or gets caught shtupping the wrong person, the church is in trouble. It was built around this guy, so what happens after he is gone? The trend to appoint his son, making the church a hereditary fiefdom, is a clear sign of the lack of good answers. Say what you will about old mainlines like mine, but we have long-term thinking in our bones. My church is over 250 years old, in a building over 200 years old. Any major decision is made with it in mind how this will play out over the next 50 years.

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    • I appreciate your perspective, and my intended generalized guilt for the particular topic of profiting Christians within a church meant for worship was there to prove a point that I think it’s dreadful. It’s concerning when I observe large groups of self-proclaimed Christians look at instances as the ones I had illustrated and think it’s acceptable. It’s damaging to a reputation of an organization, or religious group, to uphold values of profit over outreach.

      To further explain my personal situation, I grew up in what sounds to be a somewhat similar church atmosphere as the one you described for yourself currently. I was a child when we started attending a traditional Pentecostal church. As I grew into adolescence we transitioned into a more, as you labeled, a AWEP church. A lot of our friends did as well. I think that this transition is just what sort of happened naturally in my geographic demographic. AWEP churches saturate the area and the old, more traditional types remain “old” in a more literal sense and suffer in the topic of attendance numbers.

      In response to your comments about facilities vs outreach, I respectfully disagree. I strongly believe that there should be no forms of profit or performance in exchange for even the smallest amount of cash. I went against my core beliefs when I endured this event, and I have learned something about myself that what seems to be a very deeply held core value. Call me traditional, but I feel that if I am to walk into a place of worship I expect it to not require me to purchase a ticket or to devalue the sanctity of worship in any fashion.

      The church I attend now is a watered down version of the type being condemned in this conversation. I believe that my church, although guilty of falling in line with these missteps, provides good intentions. The place that I wound up for this comedian, rather, was quite extravagant with speaker set-ups that belonged adjacent to a music festival’s main stage, lighting design that put the local community college’s drama auditorium to shame. I understand that maybe these things are to attract attendance, to enhance the experience, but my concern is that we are loosing focus to what is of ultimate importance. Sure, spend some money on upkeep and maintenance and updates, but shouldn’t we also be spending some money on improving the lives of others? I believe so.

      Even still. Thanks for your perspectives.

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      • In response to your comments about facilities vs outreach, I respectfully disagree. I strongly believe that there should be no forms of profit or performance in exchange for even the smallest amount of cash.

        Does it matter to you that the *church* was putting on the show, and it was introduced by the pastor?

        Would it matter if, instead, the church merely rented the building out to some entity?

        I also would have a problem with the first thing. I don’t really have a problem with the second.

        In fact, it seems a good way to make church buildings less absurdly useless than they are, and *hypothetically* allows them to turn some of that money they spent on a large building into cash that they can use for good works.

        Whether or not they *actually* do that is, of course, something else entirely….but how churches spend money is, in my mind, somewhat separate from how they raise it.

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        • To extend the thought, mainline churches routinely rent out their social halls for all sorts of stuff. How is this different from renting out the sanctuary? To be clear, I think that there is a difference, but I’m not quite sure what it is. And frankly, the modern AWEP auditorium doesn’t say “sacred space” to me. This is one reason I am so little tempted by AWEP churches.

          My church is located in downtown Baltimore. Film crews sometimes shoot in Baltimore (often when the show is set in DC: the look is similar, but Baltimore is a lot cheaper). We happily rent out space. This is usually for ancillary stuff like props and costumes. We did very well by The Wire, thank you very much. The one instance I know of where we were used as a set was the AA meeting in the first season of House of Cards. That’s my church basement! (Appropriate: real AA meetings are held there, too.) Suppose a film wanted to use the sanctuary. Would we let them (charging for the privilege)? Probably, assuming they were out by Friday afternoon. Where does this fall on the sordid commerce scale?

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          • To extend the thought, mainline churches routinely rent out their social halls for all sorts of stuff. How is this different from renting out the sanctuary? To be clear, I think that there is a difference, but I’m not quite sure what it is. And frankly, the modern AWEP auditorium doesn’t say “sacred space” to me. This is one reason I am so little tempted by AWEP churches.

            That’s nothing to do with AWEP per se. It varies widely between denominations. Catholics would probably never do it, as their sanctuary *is* specifically holy in a few ways. But Baptists would have no problem with it at all. (About the only thing Baptists would call holy is the Bible and the Lord’s Supper *after* it’s blessed.)

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        • I view myself fairly traditional in the sense that I believe a church should be used for the purpose of worship. I realize that there are many interpretations as to what one’s idea of worship would be, so that opens up the realization that to some a gathering of many to laugh at clean jokes could easily be a form of worship. My concern is that this is not how it was observed in my narrative. It was a working comedian performing his act to us in exchange for our money. It was a for-profit event inside a place designed for worship by our Creator. The fact that the pastor emceed the preshow and introduced the comedian made for my experience to be more of a turnoff.

          As far as your comment suggesting that it would provide a church to be less absurdly useless if it were used in a way that the church rented it out for an event such as this. Ok, I see your point, but the problem is the label of “rent”. When money gets involved things get convoluted and sometimes people get greedy. If a church wants to provide its space for midweek events to allow it “less absurdly useless” then they should do it rent-free and with a specific community service or worship oriented event in mind.

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          • I view myself fairly traditional in the sense that I believe a church should be used for the purpose of worship.

            First, you mean the church *building* should. The church is an organization that owns the building. (Religiously, they consider themselves something along the lines of ‘a body of believers’…legally, they’re a 401(c)(3).)

            Secondly, I’m pretty certain that every Christian church on the planet would also include ‘education in Christianity’ and ‘proselytizing’ and ‘fellowship’ in addition to ‘worship’.

            It was a for-profit event inside a place designed for worship by our Creator. The fact that the pastor emceed the preshow and introduced the comedian made for my experience to be more of a turnoff.

            I’m going to guess you’re not Baptist? Like I said, thinking of church building as a ‘special’ place actually varies widely between denominations.

            When money gets involved things get convoluted and sometimes people get greedy.

            You…do realize all churches handle money, right? They pay staff, they have electric bills, they have mortgages, etc.

            If a church wants to provide its space for midweek events to allow it “less absurdly useless” then they should do it rent-free and with a specific community service or worship oriented event in mind.

            You also realize that all churches charge people to rent the place for *weddings*, right? Do you have a problem with that?

            Also, churches *already* do other ‘worship’ oriented events, along with a bunch of educational stuff (Shunday school, bible studies, etc.), and often let local nonprofits use their space for free for charity events. Suggesting they should do that is a bit silly. But that’s still a grand total of maybe 20 hours a week.

            No offense, seriously, no offense, but your idea of what churches do is weirdly myopic.

            And note I say that as someone who *agrees* that the church itself *hosting* (Instead of just providing space) a comedian is not appropriate. In fact, I think most megachurches are either *actual* scams, (as in operated by non-believers) or are only technically not scams in that the people operating it have deluded *themselves* into thinking they’re doing God’s work when, quite obviously, they’re not.

            Having a dedicated space to meet is, undeniably, useful. Having sounds and lights so people can see and hear is also useful. But there’s a slippery slope, and most megachurches *started* having already slid down to the bottom.

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            • To be concise, I’ll reply with my reference to the biblical passage I selected for this narrative.

              Matthew 21:12-13.

              With this passage I believe that it’s a fairly black and white issue. There is to be no practice of personal profit formulating within the walls of the church. Questioning whether it is ok for a church that rent out its facilities for other events such as a wedding etc in some ways falters from the subject being discussed. I would be the first to admit that I get caught up with semantics at times. Truth is that sometimes it is as easy as following a simple truth that if we are to profit from an event on church property than that profit should be interjected back into the cause. A hand off of funds.

              Now, I could question my own judgment by saying that there is no reason to assume that the comedian wasn’t going to be doing this. For all I know he turns his profit into a secondary ministry after his personal financial obligations are met.

              Bottom line is this. My perspective is that if a profit is turned inside a place of worship then it belongs to the Creator. All of it. Attempting personal profit on church property doesn’t seem fit to be allowable with my interpretation of the acts of Jesus in the 21st chapter of Matthew.

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              • What’s “personal profit” for a church? If, after they pay overhead (salaries, insurance, mortgage, grounds-keeping, electrical, etc) they either use the remainder for mission work, charity, or expanding facilities — is that a profit?

                What if they host a charity bake sale? Or have a family movie night that charges admission? Is it profit or not?

                This comedy thing — I dunno. Were they paying the comedian his standard rates and the excess going to the church? Doesn’t seem like profit — they paid a man for work, same as they would someone called in to repair a busted pipe.

                Now if they took the money over the salary and handed it out as a “bonus” to the staff, that sounds a bit more like a profit. If they just used it to help pay for a new roof, or to meet their obligations to a local soup kitchen, or heck to cover the pastor’s salary that year, that doesn’t sound like profit.

                Then again, my grandmother was a church secretary for her whole life. That was her job. It was the Church she attended, but she was paid for her work. (I mean now her work could be done mostly with volunteers, but she retired in the early 90s. She spent most of her career with a typewriter, doing all the work that a volunteer can do it five minutes with Office).

                So I’m keenly aware that Church’s cost money. That pastor’s are paid, that secretaries are paid, that mortgages must be paid, insurance must be paid….and while you can often get volunteers for things, in the end it’s generally better to hire a licensed plumber rather than trust Bob, however good hearted he is. (And indeed, sometimes in tough times tradesman would offer their services for free, working for just the costs of parts. But in general, it was better to pay them and if they felt bad about it, they could donate what they felt was fair the next Sunday).

                So I don’t really think of a comedy night, even with a door charge, as all that upsetting. A lot would depend on WHY and HOW it was done. My local Methodist church does a big family night occasionally, complete with door charge and hired entertainment (mostly, admittedly, for the young kids. The teens seem to enjoy karoake, and the adults generally like to dance. This is Texas, and we’re not Baptists…).

                The funds generally go to either a specific mission, a specific need (the last one I recall was for replacing the roofs and adding solar panels), or (in good times) generally just to offer a family night and to cover the costs for food/entertainment/etc.

                Nobody cashes the excess and takes it home. Workers are paid for, including church staff, volunteers get fed, and anything left (if it’s not a specific event for a specific thing) goes into the Church fund which supports mission work, charities, staff salaries, etc. Then again, it’s not a mega-church, and the salaries paid are available. Nobody is getting rich off their yearly salary, I can assure you of that.

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                • What’s “personal profit” for a church? If, after they pay overhead (salaries, insurance, mortgage, grounds-keeping, electrical, etc) they either use the remainder for mission work, charity, or expanding facilities — is that a profit?

                  It’s the same way that *all* non-profits that are operated as a business: The money goes out the door via staff salaries, and the non-profit becomes an entity used to support that salary instead of actually doing the sort of charity work it is supposed to be doing.

                  This is especially relevant at ‘non-denominational’ mega-churches that are essentially there for one charismatic pastor.

                  Although non-denominational isn’t exactly the right word there…most churches *either* formed as part of an existing denomination saying ‘We need a church there, let’s build one’, or as a ‘child church’ of an existing church. (Baptist churches have to ‘spawn’ that second way, because they are not technically a denomination.) Both of those kinds of churches tend to follow a standard operational layout to keep the pastor from getting too powerful…power is in the hands of elected by the members, or appointed by the denomination, church elders. A pastor is merely an *employee* of the non-profit, and can be replaced at any time.

                  But there is literally nothing stopping someone from incorporating a non-profit, and calling it a church, and placing themselves as pastor. There are plenty of legit churches that start that way…

                  …but there is also nothing stopping the people from setting it up where 90% of the revenue of the church is used to pay their salary. Yes, they *technically* need some sort of non-paid board of the church, but in reality that can be their friends and family members, and the church can be set up in such a way that board elections are almost a formality.

                  Oh, and if they’re really clever, they can even get some of those friends and families to set up marketing companies or supply companies or something, and have the church buy from them. You’re about to point out that’s a conflict of interest…but conflicts of interest are *entirely legal* for non-profit board members.

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                  • Yeah I get that, but without evidence they’re paying ‘excessive’ salaries or paying out income over expenses as some sort of bonus, I don’t see how you can claim it’s “for profit”. (And there’s no evidence that this particular church is suffering from that particular problem).

                    After all, if you hire a comedian, sell tickets at the door, pay the comedian his going rate, and the rest is used the same way the collection plate money is…in the end, I don’t see the problem.

                    Like I said, I’ve been to more than one Church that “charged” for an event, but the charge was either funds towards a specific goal, or to cover expenses. (The point was a ‘family night’ or ‘family event’ in those cases. Fostering a sense of community and togetherness among the fellowship is generally seen as a pretty legit Church goal).

                    My point was that absent evidence of shenanigans, the fact that the Church ended up with money after this thing doesn’t really make it “for profit”. Church services tend to end up with a large net income (collection plates) and that’s not considered a profit — primarily because of how the funds are spent.

                    So in the end, if the income over expenses for a comedy show goes to the same place as the collection plate’s income, how is it different? Why would one be a “profit” and the other not?

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  2. This reminds me a joke that a good friend of mine who is a priest tells periodically:

    Q: What’s the difference between a church who spends money on its clergy’s and parishioners vanity, and one that is humble and focuses only on the ministry Jesus asked them to carry on?

    A: One of them is still working hard to trying figure out how to start attracting wealthier partitioners.

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  3. I’ll try to draw a parallel here:

    Acme Elementary wants to build a new playground but lacks the funds. They contact the Smart Toy Company, which has a fundraising program. The kids all bring home order forms, and convince their parents, neighbors, etc to buy some Smart Toys which are guaranteed to raise their kids’ IQ (hence the tie-in with a school). Smart Toys makes a profit on the sales, kicks some money back to Acme Elementary and the playground gets built. Now, a cynic could argue that Smart Toys took advantage of the ready-made customers tied to Acme Elementary. One could also argue that Acme Elementary took advantage of parents, grandparents, etc because they want the kids to have a playground.

    Or we could just accept that one hand washes the other in these matters.

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  4. There’s a long tradition of rabbis that use wit and humor to make religious arguments. For instance, Hillel, giving the condensed version of Jewish Law:

    That which is hateful to you, do not unto another: This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary — [and now] go study.

    (Note, by the way, the Golden Rule, a century before Jesus.) Jesus had a sense of humor too. As Isaac Asimov (himself a very funny man) pointed out,

    For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.

    can be paraphrased as “Don’t worry, we’re not going to run out of poor people.”

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    • (Note, by the way, the Golden Rule, a century before Jesus.)

      Standard Christian theology does not hold the idea to have been original to Jesus. Quite the contrary.

      Jesus had a sense of humor too.

      My favorite Biblical joke isn’t from Jesus, but a bit later:

      “We can’t be drunk: It’s only nine in the morning!”

      On a related note, it would be possible–and funny–to do the Book of Jonah as slapstick.

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      • The book of Jonah is very funny: The last line:

        And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?

        is more or less “How can I destroy Ninevah? It’s full of poor dumb beasts. And animals too.”

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        • As for Jesus making a joke, consider the parable of Lazarus and Dives. Jesus rarely assigns a name to anyone in his parables. Lazarus is elsewhere attested as the name of one of his friends. Calling the poor man in this parable “Lazarus” is pretty clearly a shout-out.

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  5. I really enjoyed this.

    But my take is a bit more materialist.

    The function of religion, as it seems to me, is primarily to get your people to stop hurting each other, strengthen social ties, and regulate society to some extent.

    In a modern world where most people argue over whether Jesus *REALLY* turned water into wine and, seriously, whether God isn’t merely a metaphor for the sentiments that they hold, the whole “KJV ONLY” thing will not necessarily win over a lot of people who remain hungry.

    The thing I noticed about my local megachurch was how very many things it offered people. Not limited to Bible Studies and Alcoholics Anonymous anymore, it had Divorce Recovery Workshops, Bowling nights, Rock Climbing nights, movie nights, music nights, singles nights, couples nights, and all sorts of crap. I’d not have been surprised to find that they had a D&D group. Well, a Dragonraid group.

    If you see the church as an emergent social function that strengthens ties, attempts to regulate society (in the new modern more non-judgmental sense of the term), and tries to get people to not hurt each other… hey.

    It’s a comedy show.

    Everyone needs to sit next to each other and laugh for a bit.

    It’s important.

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    • I liked all of your points about the “mega church phenomenon”. The church I attend has a smaller version of what you described.

      But to counter your closing statement: sure it’s a comedy show and we all need to sit next to each other and laugh. It seems that you missed my over arching theme of whether the idea of charging for laughter (or any thing for that matter) within a place of worship is permissible under Christian doctrine.

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      • I’ve found attending mega-churches deeply creepy and uncomfortable, because it feels like attending sermons is more about being seen, flashy/massive choirs, etc than actually about reflection/worship.

        That said, christian doctrine is a nearly infinitely-flexible thing that can promote, allow, or forbid any human endeavor when wielded by people.

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      • $25 is surprisingly hefty, I admit.

        When I go to Loonees Comedy Club here in town, it’s $10 a head (and a two drink/appetizer minimum).

        Checking the real concerts up in Denver, though, it’s $122 to go to The Comedy Get Down, $65 to see Paula Poundstone, and $70ish to go to Comicon.

        So… $25 to have a “Family Friendly” (I assume it was family friendly) comedian who told clean jokes to an audience who was there to hear clean jokes.

        Branson costing $25 while Vegas costs more? Sounds about right.

        But, again, I see the point of the church differently than you do.

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        • , Every time I hear the cost of concert tickets I think about how the free traders say everything is cheaper today. I looked up ticket prices on the web and they want between 72 and 237 to see Guns and Roses. It is truly bazaar, especially when I remember paying, adjusted for inflation, and grand total of 32 dollars the first time I saw the Stones. At entry level wages it took me four hours of work to buy two tickets.
          As for paying to see something in a church, ain’t no way. The only time I walk into a church is for weddings and funerals. I am certainly not going to give them any money. I think Bono had it right when he said something like, “My god is not short on cash, mister.”

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          • There are a lot of things that are cheaper today. Televisions? Holy crap! Remember me talking a long while back about a 65″ television that was $3600?

            Now? A 65″ is $1000 at the Costco and the 75″ inch one is $3000.

            If you’re looking for televisions that won’t fit in your car, they’re cheaper than ever before.

            Guns and Roses? Damn, dude. I don’t know what to tell you.
            I feel even worse when I tell you that they have never been the same since Axl subjected himself (and us) to the Use Your Illusion I&2 tour. So even if you *COULD* buy them for $32(adjusted for inflation), they’d still suck.

            Churches, since the 90’s, have decent acoustics.
            You could put a pretty sweeet concert on in the newer ones.
            Is Michael J Smith still touring? I loved “The Big Picture”!
            Huh. Seems that the Challenger pilot was named Michael J Smith.
            And there are Michael J Smith died in the Challenger truthers.

            Wait, what am I talking about?

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            • Churches, since the 90’s, have decent acoustics.

              My church was built in the ’00s. 1800s to be precise. The acoustics are excellent. The seats in the back corners are in an acoustic shadow, but otherwise the sound is very good, even without amplification.

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            • , Electronics are the only thing I can think of that are a lot cheaper, and I do mean a lot. In 68 I remember the record store near my house had an amplifier for a mere 1,000 dollars and that is not adjusted for inflation.
              In 1970 my share of a well maintained three bedroom house with a detached garage was 55 per month. I bought a three year old Volvo for six hundred and if I remember correctly, instate tuition at CU was about three hundred a semester, and I was making five dollars an hour. So for a day and a half of labor I could pay my rent for a month and for a week and a half I could pay for a semester of college. For the blue collar people things were much easier.
              Now things a person really needs are much more. I mean college, insurance and medical things.
              Also, I don’t care how good the acoustics in a church are, I am not going to give them any money. The god I don’t believe in doesn’t need any money. At least if I pay to see a band in a bar the owner pays taxes on his profits.

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              • Yeah, but electronics are lifeblood.

                When it comes to college costs, don’t get me started. College has such a frigging race to the bottom that it isn’t even funny, they have MBA executives in charge of the colleges instead of Deans who were peter principled, and the courses we used to joke about used to be able to give you skills that wouldn’t be useful without a nuclear war instead of skills that would only be useful if the world of 5 years ago (which is long gone) were scheduled to be the world of 5 years in the future (I got my degree in SEO!).

                When it comes to insurance and medical care… well, we could get into an argument about how much (asymptotically better we are today than we were 5 years ago) but I’m pretty sure that we’d agree.

                I’ll just say that “the bleeding edge medicine of 1978 should be an option for bleeding edge 1978 prices (plus inflation)” and hold my breath for accusations that I just want people to die.

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                • I know you can make an oncologist uncomfortable by asking about cancer treatments in the 70s. (Hint: It was not so great).

                  But there’s a serious pricing problem in modern medicine. I’ve seen articles about stuff like getting cash prices for an MRI — it varied an order of magnitude inside the same county. (And by and large, medicine isn’t something you shop around for. It’s either urgent, in which case you don’t have time, or it’s necessary and unpleasant and you’re looking for a doctor you trust).

                  I know Medicare is mulling over a change in how they reimburse doctor’s that gets rid of an (unplanned) incentive to prescribe the most expensive drug for any given condition. (Said Doctor’s are throwing a fit, too). Fee for service models, rather than percentages of some stuff.

                  And then there’s drug pricing. There’s a generic my wife’s been on for 10 years. Last year it cost 40 bucks a month. This year? 200. The drug didn’t change. My insurance didn’t change. (And what’s worth, is my pharmacy is actually IN the name of my plan, but for some reason I could buy it cash with a coupon and it was 100 bucks cheaper than they charged the people they insured. It’s called “gouge the high deductible folks”).

                  There’s epi-pens, which jumped from 80 bucks for a pair to 400. (It wasn’t the new “inject through clothes” research — the Army paid for that). It was when it was bought out by another company. For the record, a bottle of the stuff sufficient for about 100 doses is 20 bucks. My allergist charges 5 bucks for a regular syringe filled with it, and that’s basically the syringe. This is for a drug that’s been around over a century.

                  i was reading about a cancer drug. A generic cancer drug, in fact, that runs you about 18 grand a month, but costs 110 dollars to make (for a month’s supply).

                  I keep getting told these prices are “necessary” for us to get better drugs in the future (apparently America alone pays for the world’s entire R&D), but when I get prescribed a 400 a month drug that is literally Alleve and Nexium mushed into a single pill?

                  I’m pretty sure I’m not getting screwed so the world can get a better cancer drug. I’m getting screwed because it makes someone a ton of money.

                  (That last drug I didn’t get. Screw those guys. I bought a bottle of Alleve and Nexium for 30 bucks total, and then griped to ny doctor about the cost over the phone. He had no idea it cost so much. I’ve known this guy — socially and through my medical care — for 30 years. He wasn’t lying. He didn’t realize they were gouging people for 400 bucks. He just started prescribing Alleve and Nexium for that. It’s anti-inflammatories for people who get stomach issues with NSAIDs. So you give them a stomach pill. That’s not a 400 a month idea).

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                  • At the end of the day, this all comes back to the whole “done fast, done cheap, done right” triad.

                    You want it done fast and done cheap? It won’t be done right.
                    You want it done fast and done right? It won’t be cheap.
                    You want it done cheap and done right? It won’t be fast.

                    Making the bleeding edge stuff from yesteryear available for yesteryear’s prices strikes me as an achievable solution.

                    The problem is that the wealthy can get it done fast and done right because they’re not having it done cheap and it’s very easy to look at that sort of thing and yell “Look! They’re proving that it is possible to have it done right and done fast!” without looking to see how scarce what they’re having done actually is. We can think “well, we just have to make the best doctors in the world scale” and figure out how to mass produce an 80% solution version of this highly tailored (artisanal!) medical care.

                    I mean, don’t get me wrong. I understand that “done fast” feels like it must be on the table because, for a lot of people, if the solution is not timely then the solution is mooted because the patient has died. I get that.

                    But the inconsistent triad is not some thing that I made up. It’s not my rule.

                    It’s God’s Law. We cannot break it. We just have to figure out what we want to sacrifice.

                    When I think about the monkeys who get upset at the whole cucumber vs. grape thing, I sometimes wonder if “done right” won’t be the best practical thing to sacrifice given that everybody’s happy if grapes never enter the picture…

                    But that seems really, really counter-intuitive.

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                        • , It is exactly as you said earlier. It is the cucumber and the grape, except in this case it is not near enough money and a shorter life span next to buying a senator so your company gets tax breaks for moving to a third world hell hole with no workers rights and an environmental policy that allows carcinogenic particles to become so concentrated that visibility is down to three blocks.
                          I care as much about the one percenters as they care about me.
                          Questions: If our medical establishment is so mind boggling good why aren’t we number one in all the good things and why are Americans not living as long as a few yeas ago?

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  6. Who was it who had that famous quote about how every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and ends as a racket? That’s what this post reminds me of.

    Great post, by the way, Sean. I hope you write for this site more.

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    • I must have missed that famous quote along the line, but it does seem that there is a lot of racket these days that proves its validity.

      And, thanks, that means a lot. I hope to contribute as much as I can in between precious dad-moments I have been blessed to have.

      Cheers!

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  7. I’ll start by saying its a thoughtful piece, and it sounds like you learned something about your views that is valuable. Unfortunately, however, I think your attempt to shift from that to what Church “should” be does you no favors. The money thing is covered above. (my view is that running a church costs money, so it needs to take in money to function; voluntary contributions are good, but there is nothing morally wrong with renting the steeple to a cell phone company, holding a paid performance by a music group, or charging to perform a wedding; my view is also that every church should make its own rules, and people should pick the set they like).

    Let’s be real, if you were to name one thing you like about your pastor and you choose the word “funny” then you have missed the meaning of church all together.

    This is where I take strongest issue. The two most influential pastors in my life have both been deeply funny men, and the correlation definitely implies causation. I’m simply not going to maintain focus through a dry, scholarly, analysis of the historical roots of a biblical passage. But mix in a couple sports jokes, or some self-deprecating humor, and I’m all-in. It’s simply an effective method of communication, and one that has a very appropriate place in a location that depends on communicating with people. (same caveat, of course, that others want a serious–even incomprehensible Latin–sermon. Great! I’m glad that exists! I’d never make it through one)

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    • thank you for your constructive criticism of my choice in perspective. I relish in conversing with others that see things different than I. It is a way to learn more about things that I would otherwise have thought nothing of.

      A couple responses:

      1) allow me to reiterate my main concern with the piece as I again reference Matthew 21:12-13. I believe that any profit turned by an event inside a church should be turned in its entirety into a reincarnated act of worship. Profit made by a church should help fund church activities or mantainence concerns. Nothing more. Personal profit, on the other hand, is wrong as illustrated biblically. That message may have been overshadowed or lost in my initial post being it was so fresh out of the gates of my attending the comedy show.

      2) your concern with my statement that asks for church-goers to look beyond the humor when they are defining their church experience is respected, but I stubbornly (and respectfully) still stand by my word. It is one thing to provide light-hearted humor from the pulpit on a Sunday morning, it is another thing entirely if this humor is meant to segregate an entire subculture into a judgemented laughable social issue. But, let’s be honest, that discussion may be another topic in itself.

      It is true that different types of churches exist to appeal to different folk. Some prefer more traditional and others prefer more modern. Whatever the style is preferred I still, and always will, stand by the opinion that humor should never be used to segregate a group of people for any reason. Even if the reason is viewed wrong by the church, especially if it is viewed wrong by the church. For it is written that it is those people that we should be seeking out to show them the true Love of Jesis Christ.

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      • As to 1, I actually appreciate the difference between “money has no place in church” and “people other than the church shouldn’t profit from stuff that happens at the church.” That certainly answers the wedding charge. I’m not sure it answers the cell-tower-in-the-spire concern, which also seems to me to be entirely in bounds (but I sense you would reject).

        As to 2, I fully agree that a pastor shouldn’t make “ha ha transgendered folks are evil” jokes (for a laundry list of reasons). I’m purely defending the use of humor as an element of an effective sermon. I can’t tell if we have a disagreement there (or, if so, whether it goes past different personal preferences to a more absolute argument). In any event, I want to be clear I wasn’t defending the specific “humorous” pastor in your example. I also applaud the sentiment at the end (sneering at others seems to be a particularly unchristian feature in the way a lot of people do church these days).

        As to the biblical citation, I think it is susceptible to my general point about scripture. It could mean “no commerce in the church ever,” “no money in the church ever,” or merely “don’t exploit worshipers” (the dove sellers were selling sacrificial animals, likely at a high price, and money changers were likewise probably taking a large skim. There’s a big difference between “thou shalt not charge interest” and “no payday lenders inside the church.”

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  8. Churches get used for all sorts of things that aren’t strictly worship. In many communities, they’re simply the best buildings available to gather a more than family-sized group of people for any purpose at all. The religious group that owns the land and building have bills to pay and tithes are often not enough to keep the lights on. The technology and capital outlay that goes in to one of these new mega churches is impressive, and expensive. So as we consider the Christian comedian’s income, we don’t know what the split was on the door as between the performer and the host church. (60-40 in the church’s favor seems fair to me, but I don’t claim expertise or experience.)

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  9. I was going to bring up (what I imagined to be) the megachurch aspect of this vs. the smaller-than-megachurches that I was probably more familiar with during my quasi-evangelical upbringing. (Like , I was uneasy about the megachurches I occasionally attended.) But now that the point is made, and that explained his background more, I have a better understanding where he’s coming from.

    I would probably need to know still more about the situation before opining on whether I agree with your point. But I can say that this was a well-written piece and I enjoyed reading it.

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