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resourcing leaders…reenvisioning the future

“Showtime!” No More – by Walt Kallestad – part 2 of 7

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Entertainment Evangelism

 

The concept came together for me while standing in a line at a Dallas Cineplex waiting to see the Batman premiere.

The only way to capture people’s attention is entertainment, I thought. If I want people to listen to my message, I’ve got to present it in a way that grabs their attention long enough for me to communicate the gospel.

“You must die as a church and be reborn as a mission.”

It was an epiphany, a breakthrough understanding for me. So our church strategy revolved around the gravitational force of entertainment for evangelism. We hired the best musicians we could afford; we used marketing principles and programming specialists—for the gospel’s sake. Attendance skyrocketed. More people meant more staff, more programs, more facilities, more land, and of course the need for more money. We became a program-driven church attracting consumers looking for the latest and greatest religious presentations.

For us, worship was a show, and we played to a packed house. We grew by thousands, bought more land, and positioned ourselves to reach even more people. Not that any of this is wrong in and of itself—people coming to faith in Christ isn’t bad. I told myself it was good—I told others it was good. But now I was beginning to wonder if I’d led my church down a wrong path.

The show was killing me.

Attracting consumers was consuming me—not in the way vision consumes a leader. It was the opposite of that—I was losing sight of the vision. Our church was a great organization. But something was missing. We weren’t accomplishing our mission; we weren’t creating transformed, empowered disciples.

We’d put all our energies into dispensing religious goods and services. But our people weren’t touching our community. If our church, with its sheer number of people, was populated with disciples, we would be feeding the hungry, building meaningful relationships with neighbors, and transforming our community. But we were neither salt nor light.

After pouring more than 25 years of my life into this church, I knew we weren’t developing disciples who were taking up their crosses to follow Jesus. We’d produced consumers—like Pac-Man, gobbling up religious experiences, navigating a maze but going nowhere in particular.

Too many were observing the show but not meeting God. They meandered in and out of relationships but weren’t in real community. They sought their spiritual fix but didn’t give themselves fully to Christ.

And me? I was running through a maze, too, constantly busy, doing God’s work. I led a disciplined life. I had a consistent daily prayer and devotional life. I jogged. I ate right. I did everything a healthy person is supposed to do to have the stamina to keep running 100 miles an hour. But no one was close enough to see that I was losing it. My wife would tell me to slow down, but no one said, “Walt, you’re out of control. You’re a workaholic.”

That’s when it happened.

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