A Church is Making Idols

I think this story is weird. A church in Omaha is hosting former American Idol finalist Heather Cox for a concert. But that’s not all.

On the morning of the concert, the church is hosting an American Idol-like audition to earn the chance to sing on stage during Heather’s concert that evening.

Then, that afternoon, Heather is hosting a workshop where people can hear her perform, tell her story, and get details of her American Idol experience. She will share what the audition process was like, what she ate before, and other stuff.

No doubt, the event is designed to coincide with the American Idol auditions that are being held in Omaha on August 8th. It just seems strange to me. The church is trying to make an Idol. Ha.

You can get some details here.

Does anybody else think this is weird?

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28 thoughts on “A Church is Making Idols

  1. Same old same old. I posted some stuff at my blog about Willow Creek hosting an atheist at their ‘church’ a week or so ago. Man, did I get a lot of grief from…of all people, the atheists. I wonder what would happen if these churches ever decided to host Jesus? SPECIAL: THIS SUNDAY JESUS WILL BE WITH US! COME AND MEET JESUS! Nah, it’d never happen. (Well, which Jesus? The Methodist one? Wait, I thought he was at the Catholic church across town being eaten. Oh, never mind. Let’s stay home and watch Simpsons reruns. Maybe Ned Flanders will be preaching or Rev. Lovejoy will be speechifying.) Whatever.

  2. considering how far gone most churches have gotten this dont surprise me. I go to a sister church of StoneBridge’s here in Omaha and unlike mine someof the sister churches of ours here in Omaha have become Stone Bridge Christian Church of Omaha Nebraska.

    Most of the churches in the Omaha area have become like that sadly and it is turning people away cause people are sick of the watered down sermons and the over-entertainment. I know I am.

    I mean when was the last time a church in the Omaha area did a sermon on SIN or on PRAYER or even did a sermon on BIBLE PROPHECY.

  3. BTW Westside Church of Omaha Nebraska (which is a so-called SBC church) is doing similar things that StoneBridge is doing and that is shy I will never attend either church cause I want to be spirtually feed and not spirtually stiffled on Sunday Mornings.

  4. I think if any of you ever bothered to attend a service that is catered to attract non-Christians and then bring the Gospel to them, you would see that the American Idols sermon series StoneBridge is using a cultural phenomenon to springboard off of to go deeper into scripture. This is a tool Paul utilized in the NT, remember? Perhaps you would be able to understand that our “American Idols” are “sins” that we struggle with. Seriously, get off your high horse and get out there with the people. Stop judging and start impacting your world. We’re not called as Christians to cater to ourselves and just “be fed”. You can be “fed” by serving others more than by being preached to. When was the last time you had someone new come to your church because they heard about how you were impacting their community & caring about people? It happens at StoneBridge weekly.

  5. Alright, can’t ignore this any longer.

    Joshua–thanks for posting your thoughts, but I think you are painting with a pretty broad brush. You should know that the church you once attended in Omaha did several sermons on sin and prayer. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Tim and Cary–I can see both of you have connections to StoneBridge, and no where in my original post did I criticize your church. I just mentioned that I thought it was a strange event to host.

    Let me ask a few questions:

    Was the concert a part of a worship service? Did StoneBridge use this concert and workshop to springboard into a deeper look at Scripture? I don’t remember what day/night of the week the workshop and concert was…but was it actually used to springboard? Or was it a stand-alone event?

    I agree with your statements, Cari, that we have become a consumer culture in the church. We come to be fed. We come to get ours. But, could it be argued that hosting an event such as this (even if used to attract non-believers) only feeds this problem?

    I’m just asking questions…no accusations or judgment. (And, if you read the original post, I offered no accusations or judgments there, either.)

    Thanks for reading and considering…I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

  6. I’m so glad that you’re asking questions, Brandon. Conversations such as these are important venues for Christian thought in today’s culture. And I’m definitely not trying to attack you or your readers, although I can see that I came off harshly. In answer to your question, the concert itself was an opportunity to bring people into our church that wouldn’t normally dain to step foot in such a place and Heather Cox is a practicing believer. I myself was unable to attend her event, but find little to take issue with on that front (with the exception that I’m just not interested in her style of music). Advertising for her event and the American Idols sermon series was done in conjunction to attract those that are interested in the American Idol concepts. Both offered more to people than just a look at American Idol – it related to those that were interested and then took them to a new place. A place that showed us that what we sometimes value as Americans is not what Christ valued and not what brings true satisfaction.

  7. Brandon,

    I’m also asociated with StoneBridge. I think Cari was responding more to the comments than your post, as those were pretty critical of the event. Obviously it is good to think honestly about the things we do in church – but I would hope we would do so in an informed way, rather than making snap judgments without really seeking to understand what is going on. And you ask good questions, so I’ll attempt an answer.

    The concert was on a Saturday night, as were the other events you refer to in your post. Heather Cox is a young Christian woman who is interested in being a Christian recording artist. We hosted the concert, as well as giving her an opportunity to talk about her experience on American Idol. Earlier that day we did also give people interested in auditioning for American Idol (the auditions were about a week after the event) a chance to hear her take on the process and her advice for navigating the auditions.

    The event itself was not a springboard to look at Scripture – although again, Heather is a Christian woman and was giving her take on everything from a Christian perspective. The event, however, coincided with the beginning of a sermon series on “American Idols” (http://www.stonebridgeonline.net/MessagesAudio/archives/messageAmericanIdols.html). The sermon series absolutely used American Idol as a springboard into a deeper description of Scripture – specifically what the Bible has to say about 4 “American Idols” (popularity, beauty, money and power).

    The purpose of the event was to bring the community into the church, and hopefully to bring them back later. We work hard to be a church that is involved in our community, and we’ve had a lot of success in bringing people back to the church because of events like this one. I think you would probably agree that not every event has to be an in-depth discussion of the Bible (I see, for example, that you recently showed the movie Cars at one of your campus ministry events). Such events do have a purpose in connecting with unchurched people in a non-threatening way, and hopefully making them interested to return.

    Speaking more to the commenters than to Brandon, I guess I would like to see Christians extend a bit more grace to other churches regarding these types of events – at least until you understand the purpose behind them. Until you actually hear the messages preached at StoneBridge, you don’t have any ground to stand on to accuse us of “watering down” the Gospel message. Cari is correct that Paul used a similar tactic in Acts 17 – taking something people were familiar with, and using it to tell them about Jesus. We’re simply trying to do the same thing.

  8. Cari and Jake–thanks to the both of you for engaging in an intelligent “conversation.” That’s what this blog is hopefully designed for…I’m not a Christian watch-dog. That wasn’t the point of my original post. The point was to ask questions. That I am good at.

    You both mention that the purpose of the event is to bring the community into the church? Did you find this event successful? Did people who came to the event come back on Sunday?

    I would be interested to know if your stated purposes for the event were met.

  9. Pingback: What Do You Think? « MyNameIsBrandon.com

  10. Brandon,

    Honestly, the event was not a great success – not from the standpoint that people did not come back to the church, but because it really was not well attended in the first place. We’re not sure if that was due to a lack of advertising on our part or to some other factor.

    We have, however, had success with similar events. Each year we have a professional fireworks display on our campus near the fourth of July. a lot of work goes into the event – it is designed for families, and for 5 hours prior to the show we have activities and games for kids, local bands playing on an outdoor stage, cheap and free food and drinks provided by local businesses. We’re a church of less than 1000, but this year we had more than 3000 people at our church during the event. We received a number of comments from people about how much they appreciated our involvement in the life of the community, and their astonishment that anyone would put on such a community event without asking for something in return. There are a number of people that came back to the church in the following weeks, and some have stayed. Recently, we also had an outdoor benefit concert – the purpose was to raise awareness (and even a little money through free-will donations) about adoption and several adoption ministries. We had several local bands play and talked about the issues from the stage. Just last night I met a couple for whom that event was their first contact with the church – they found out about it through a community publication’s listing of events (the publication was not a Christian publication).

    So I think the approach itself is fruitful. We aren’t really concerned that the American Idol audition event was not a numerical success. I firmly believe that if we’re trying to reach people in our community that currently have nothing to do with the church, we have to try new things. Sometimes that means things won’t turn out the way we expect them to. But that does not mean it isn’t worth trying. And I do think the sermon series was a success with our attenders – many of whom are Christian, and some of whom have yet to make that decision. But I would guess that most of them are familiar with the American Idol phenomenon, which made it useful as a starting point to discuss what the Bible says.

    I realized that I never answered your second question about whether this event would contribute to Christian consumer culture. I’m not sure why it would inherently have to do so. As Cari pointed out, we used this cultural phenomenon (American Idol) as a starting point to discuss several things that Americans have a tendency to “idolize”, to look at what the Bible says about them, and to demonstrate that they do not represent a biblical perspective on life. Honestly, I think if anything it works against the “feed me” culture you find in some churches, because it helps people to look outside the church. It encourages them to look at pop culture and interact with it from a Christian perspective, and to consider how what we see in pop culture today can be useful in reaching unchurched people.

    Sorry for the long posts. I’d be interested to see your response (and the response of the previous commenters) to what I’ve said here. And I noted your recent event where you watched the movie Cars. I’m curious what your rationale for that event would is, because I would see it in a similar light as the events I’ve described at our church.

  11. Brandon, I know. BTW youre sermons on prayer were good.

    The point I was trying to make was there needs to be more sermons on prayer and on prophecy and biblical discernment.

    By the way I am not intrested in throwing out the baby with the bath water but I think we should make sure that the baby isnt being put in dangerous or polluted water. That is the point I am trying to make.

    BTW on a side note Brandon and to those at Stone Bridge and to anyone who goes to any church in Omaha I am curious what your take is on the news story at:

    http://www.omaha.com/index.php?u_page=2798&u_sid=10118776

  12. Joshua,

    I can appreciate your concern but if you’re not involved in a community, you probably need to be very careful making that judgment (regarding so-called “dangerous or polluted water”). Without any interaction, you were ready to declare that our church preached “watered-down sermons”, promoted “over-entertainment”, and “spiritually stifled” our people on Sunday mornings. Those are serious accusations towards a church, and completely untrue in this case. I would just hope that in the future you would be slower to make such judgments, especially without interaction with the people involved.

    Regarding Lamott, I’ve never read anything she’s written so I’m not going to comment on the story.

  13. Jake,

    Thank you for your well-articulated and thought-out responses. No worry that they are long.

    I have heard of several of these events that StoneBridge has done. I am glad you find them successful.

    It seems to me, on the surface, that there is a difference between a 4th of July community picnic, or a benefit concert to raise awareness about adoption…and an event that helps people do well at their American Idol audition. A community picnic builds just that; community. A benefit concert raises awareness and funds. I’m not sure what the Idol workshop would do that would be the same.

    I know that part of that day at the church was a concert. I have no real problem with that…it was a Christian concert. I also don’t have a problem with using American Idol as a springboard for the sermon series. I guess my struggle is with the logic of holding an Idol-like tryout and a workshop for people to do well at the Idol tryouts.

    Just my $.02. I see a difference between the workshop and the benefit concert/fireworks picnic thing.

    In regards to our “feed me” consumer church culture.

    You say:
    “…I think if anything it works against the “feed me” culture you find in some churches, because it helps people to look outside the church. It encourages them to look at pop culture and interact with it from a Christian perspective…”

    Again, I don’t see how the audition or workshop really accomplished this. (Again, not taking into consideration the concert or sermon series.) Did hosting an American Idol-like audition and a how-to workshop for wanna-be Idols really cause anyone to look at pop culture and interact with it from a Christian perspective?

    As for our recent event showing the movie “Cars.” For the sake of context, we showed the movie after our first midweek worship service of the semester. It was not a stand-alone event and it was not designed to bring non-Christians to our ministry. It was shown to give the students who did come to our worship service the opportunity to connect with other students who came in a non-threatening way. It didn’t work, but I see it was quite different from your American Idol thing. “Cars” wasn’t shown to bring people in…it was shown as “background noise” for the people who already came, to give them a chance to connect with each other.

  14. Josh,

    I think churches (not just your church!) are preaching the things you want to see them preach. Again, don’t paint so broadly.

    As for Anne Lamott, if I were in Omaha, I would go hear her speak. I’ve read 2 of her 3 religious books and enjoy them immensely. I don’t agree with her on all issues, obviously, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get along or learn something from her.

    Kind of like what we are doing here…we obviously don’t all agree, but we can communicate and learn something from each other.

  15. Brandon,

    Thanks for your response. You mentioned that the “Cars” event was not a stand-alone event – which would be exactly my point with the American Idol audition event. You cannot look at it outside of the context of the concert that evening and the beginning of the sermon series the next day – they were all done in conjunction with one another, and all were promoted as such. So did the audition-coaching forum itself cause people to look at pop culture in different ways, etc.? No, not necessarily. And if we only did that this would be a different discussion. But you cannot talk about that event as divorced from the others.

    Further, I would ask what is actually “bad” about the audition thing in the first place? Because there seems to be this unspoken idea here that there was something “wrong” about it. What exactly would that be? Why is it inherently wrong to have an event that helps people do well at something like American Idol – particularly when coupled with the rest of the events over the weekend. You say there is a different between the audition-forum and the other events (fireworks and benefit concert). What is that difference? Both are community events, with no actual biblical teaching at the event, focused around something that is important to people in our community. You can say that some things (adoption ministries or apparently the fourth of July) have more validity as “things which are important” and I might agree – but I don’t think that means it is bad to be interested in auditioning for American Idol. And if you don’t think its bad, then again – I question the problem with the event.

    I suppose some would say it “promoted” American Idol – I don’t really think that’s true, although you could say we certainly are saying we don’t think its an inherently bad thing – but even if it was, I’m not sure I’d care. Its a singing contest. Are there elements of it I don’t like? Sure. But as you (correctly, I think) pointed out regarding Anne Lamott, I don’t have to agree with someone on all issues, or accept all facets of what goes on with an event. Regardless, however, the purpose of the entire weekend was to bring people into our church by connecting with them around a cultural phenomenon, and then using that phenomenon to enter into a discussion of the Christian life, based on the biblical text.

  16. Brandon,

    Thanks for your response. You mentioned that the “Cars” event was not a stand-alone event – which would be exactly my point with the American Idol audition event. You cannot look at it outside of the context of the concert that evening and the beginning of the sermon series the next day – they were all done in conjunction with one another, and all were promoted as such. So did the audition-coaching forum itself cause people to look at pop culture in different ways, etc.? No, not necessarily. And if we only did that this would be a different discussion. But you cannot talk about that event as divorced from the others.

    Further, I would ask what is actually “bad” about the audition thing in the first place? Because there seems to be this unspoken idea here that there was something “wrong” about it. What exactly would that be? Why is it inherently wrong to have an event that helps people do well at something like American Idol – particularly when coupled with the rest of the events over the weekend. You say there is a different between the audition-forum and the other events (fireworks and benefit concert). What is that difference? Both are community events, with no actual biblical teaching at the event, focused around something that is important to people in our community. You can say that some things (adoption ministries or apparently the fourth of July) have more validity as “things which are important” and I might agree – but I don’t think that means it is bad to be interested in auditioning for American Idol. And if you don’t think its bad, then again – I question the problem with the event.

    I suppose some would say it “promoted” American Idol – I don’t really think that’s true, although you could say we certainly are saying we don’t think its an inherently bad thing – but even if it was, I’m not sure I’d care. Its a singing contest. Are there elements of it I don’t like? Sure. But as you (correctly, I think) pointed out regarding Anne Lamott, I don’t have to agree with someone on all issues, or accept all facets of what goes on with an event. Regardless, however, the purpose of the entire weekend was to bring people into our church by connecting with them around a cultural phenomenon, and then using that as a starting point to talk about the Christian life based on the biblical text.

  17. Josh,

    I am not going to respond to your comments unless you post something of a valid point or logical argument. You keep talking about churches not preaching on prayer, sin, and Bible prophecy…yet, Tim posted a link to a series on prayer StoneBridge did and you affirmed some preaching I did on those topics.

    And to be biblical, you will preach on topics other than sin, prayer and Bible prophecy. You will preach on idolatry, as StoneBridge has done.

    What I am saying is that your comments are irresponsible. You can’t say “churches in Omaha aren’t preaching on stuff like Bible prophecy” because some are. You can’t say churches aren’t preaching on prayer because, by proof and your own admission, they are.

  18. Jake,

    I can understand your concern that churches which are not doing outreach to the community are fostering a “feed me” mentality where the members just want to come and be fed theology with no charge to go out and feed others the Gospel in return. That happens to many dying churches.

    Yet, I can’t help but think that a lot of churches do outreach with precisely the same kind of feed me mentality. They say to the lost, “Come to our church and we will feed you entertainment, coffee bars, gimmicks, kick’n music, outlandish preaching, etc.” I think that’s what Brandon was getting at by asking if we are feeding the consumer mentality. We are saying, “Come to our church, we provide more value for your worship dollar.”

    Ironically, the backlash is already here: some churches are advertising that they have biblical preaching, worshipful songs, and sound teaching. In other words, they are moving away from trying to feed the masses the worldly stuff and offering the Gospel instead.

    Good conversation here. Who knows, Brandon, you might be the next watchdog blog before long: Ingrid, Kevin and Brandon, the dog pound!

  19. Sprocket23,

    I wouldn’t deny that what you’re describing with outreach/entertainment occurs in some churches. But I guess when I bristle is when people assume that because a church has contemporary music, coffee bars, pop culture references, whatever that they are feeding that mentality or “watering down their message.” In many cases its not “providing more value for your worship dollar” – it’s an attempt to engage people with things they know and through those things share the message. Biblical preaching, good worship, etc. do not only exist in the absence of coffee bars, etc.

    The problem I have is that lots of people say that churches are feeding this mentality -but they rarely have a good example of where it is occurring. Half the time when they do have a good example, it is a church they’ve never visited, never spoke with someone who attends or works there, etc. – much like some of the criticism leveled at StoneBridge on this blog.

    So I don’t deny that what you’re talking to exists – I just think we need to be more careful and informed before we make the accusation. Some people need to realize that not everyone “does church” like they do – and in most cases that’s ok. And I think the church as a whole would be better off with less finger pointing and more attention to our mission – reaching a lost world with the Gospel message.

  20. sprocket:

    the “watchdog groups” as you call them I believe perfer to be called christian apologetics ministries.

    2 Timothy 4:3

    For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves
    teachers, having itching ears

  21. J,

    I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with being called a “watchdog” especially in light of the example in Isaiah of those who do NOT watch out for false teaching:

    Isa 56:9-12
    9 Come, all you beasts of the field,
    come and devour, all you beasts of the forest!
    10 Israel’s watchmen are blind,
    they all lack knowledge;
    they are all mute dogs,
    they cannot bark;
    they lie around and dream,
    they love to sleep.
    11 They are dogs with mighty appetites;
    they never have enough.
    They are shepherds who lack understanding;
    they all turn to their own way,
    each seeks his own gain.
    12 “Come,” each one cries, “let me get wine!
    Let us drink our fill of beer!
    And tomorrow will be like today,
    or even far better.”
    NIV

    I would much rather be a watchdog than a mute (dumb) dog that did not bark. Calling such a group a “watchdog group” is a compliment, especially from me. Besides, “Christian apologetics ministries” is hard to type and not very accurate: they are not really defending the Gospel against unbelievers but pointing out false teachers.

  22. Jake,

    You wrote: “And I think the church as a whole would be better off with less finger pointing and more attention to our mission – reaching a lost world with the Gospel message.”

    I agree 100%, our goal should be “reaching a lost world with the Gospel message.” So long as a church or preacher is doing that… reaching the lost world with the GOSPEL message, I’m happy as a bug in a rug. But, if, notice I said IF, they are reaching a lost world with commercialism, materialism, ego-stroking, or ear-tickling then I want to bark.

    If you knew that a Mormon church in your area was drawing crowds with “Christian pole-dancing” and telling the huge crowds that were coming that they were saved because they were being baptized into the Mormon church, wouldn’t you sound the alarm? I hope so. You wouldn’t just say, “Well, at least they’re going to a church.”

    In the same way, some folks get nervous when they see huge crowds going to a church based on marketing when those same churches fail to teach the Gospel. To me, not preaching the Gospel to those who come is just as bad as preaching a false Gospel. No, I’ve not been in many other churches, I go to my own. But I’ve been in enough to see crowds coming for the latest movie and popcorn sermon series, cool light show, Christian concert, and coffee bar but never hearing one word of the Gospel. Yes, I’ve been in the services, yes, I can testify that not one word of the Gospel was spoken (they actually seemed embarrassed to mention the bible, sin, or even Jesus). Oh sure, I know the schtick… they’ll eventually hear it somewhere after they see how cool we are. But what if they don’t come back? What if they drop dead that day? I don’t think we have to scream the Gospel in 2 hour hellfire sermons, but when people come to hear how we can learn from the summer blockbusters and never once hear about our need for a savior, something’s wrong. What’s wrong, are we afraid that if we mention Jesus, sin, salvation, or judgment that they will be offended and not come back? Oh no, we might not be able to build the multi-million dollar entertainment complex or afford to hire the drummer for the praise band!

    Perhaps this is why there are so many false converts in the world today. They go to a “church” to see dirt bikes jump over the cool relevant pastor but never hear a call to repentance and faith. I really think that a lot of churches will have a lot to answer for on judgment day: yes, they filled the sanctuary… err, I mean, the cineoplexitorium or whatever church buildings are called today, they hired a bunch of staff, they made the budget, but did they preach the Gospel?

    But, if a church is preaching the Gospel and making converts, I really don’t care if they have American Idol tryouts, coffee bars, or climbing walls in the foyer (in fact, I wouldn’t mind a good coffee bar myself!).

    I wonder if you are not wrestling with these questions as well… just a hunch.

  23. Sprocket23,

    Of course I wrestle with those questions – I think most Christians do to one degree or another. And I would guess that most of the pastors in whatever churches you’re talking about do as well. Obviously I cannot comment on specific instances – partially because I wasn’t there, and partially because I haven’t seen any specific examples from anyone on these threads who have made comments.

    My point has been that many Christians are far, far too quick to make such judgments about churches with which they have no involvement. And if you don’t have an actual understanding of what is going on in the life of a church, rather than a superficial knowledge of one particular event, I don’t think you have the grounds to accuse a church of “watering down the message” or “not preaching the gospel.”

    I’m actually a little puzzled by your example – I don’t really care what I hear a Mormon church is doing. I don’t consider the Mormon church to be a Christian church, so why would I? When I have the opportunity to speak to Mormons or those who are considering Mormonism, I’m going to do my best to speak the truth to them. But I’m not going to concern myself with what goes on specifically in their churches. I have my hands full doing my best to reach and disciple the people God puts in my circle and brings into the church I serve.

  24. Pingback: End Times Prophecy Headlines: June 5, 2014 | End Times Prophecy Report

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