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Bureaucracy and the Church

I am a member of a megachurch (about 3,000 members) in Abilene, Texas. And I am a postmodern (as much as I hate to use that term). Sometimes I see why the two often do not have much to do with each other.

Megachurches necessarily must operate by big-business models. This makes them, as much as they claim not to be, very similar to big corporations. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can have frustrating consequences on those who try to get things done within the confines of a corporate bureaucratic system. One of the downfalls of power-handling within the corporate business model (whether it is a church or a business) is the propensity for those in power to imagine problems where there are none, and thus seize control of grass-roots processes that have sprung up within the system and destroy them.

What does that mean, you say? Let me give you an example. I help lead a campus ministry within this church that deals with at least 400-500 students. This means that when we do things that require some level of administration, we have to try to do it as efficiently as possible or it becomes a big mess. Take Fall Retreat for example. We are attempting to have at least 100 students attend this weekend getaway which will help draw them closer to God and to each other. What this involves behind the scenes is promoting the event, getting people registered, tracking information, accepting payments, handling money, and you get the picture. We are trying to make the registration and payment part of this as easy as possible on everyone, so we have set up our website (www.southernhillscampus.com) to handle this process. Students visit the site whenever they want, fill out the form, hit submit, then enter their debit or credit card information on a special PayPal page to make their $39 payment. They get a receipt, we get their payment, badda bing, it's all taken care of.

Easy, eh! That's what we thought. Until the elders got involved.

The accountant in the office was hesitant to provide the bank account information for the final transfer of payments. She referred to the elders. Now the campus ministry cluster elders are circling, wondering what this whole thing is and if it fits the "financial message" that is promoted through the Financial Peace ministry. Basically the two words that are scaring everyone who doesn't know about these things is "credit card." Nevermind that all we are doing is using a secure process to accept a payment that we are already asking the students to make. Nevermind that it is a method that most students prefer because they don't even carry checkbooks or cash anymore. Nevermind that dozens of other campus ministries have used this system for years. All they are recognizing is that the Financial Peace ministry recommends that people not have credit cards and this is something that lets someone use a credit card if they so choose. Therefore, the whole process, which was already in place and functioning, is now on ice until the elders consult with the Financial Peace ministry and write an official policy. Which could take weeks. By then the retreat is over.

Postmoderns are abandoning megachurches and institutions by the droves. It doesn't make sense to them to combine the intimate and organic community we are called to by Christ with monolithic business structures and hierarchical power positions. Thus, churches and ministries such as mine face the real danger of institutionally shooting themselves in the foot in the face a social era that is already skeptical of them.


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