On two occasions now I’ve written specifically about the influence of TV-Evangelists on the church in Africa. Following a remark made by Cgross on my post about the Three-Selves, I thought that I had to say something more about this, specifically within the context of greater independence and the Three-Selves formula.
Schwarz, in his When Charity destroys Dignity makes a remark about church buildings. His opinion is that church buildings should be built of the same material of which the houses in the surrounding areas are built of. In principle I have to agree with him. In fact, we have applied that principle in a number of places, at one stage even building a church made of stick and mud which lasted us for quite a number of years before, as in the story of the three little pigs, our church was blown over
With greater exposure to TV and especially Christian channels which broadcast to Africa, the situation is changing rapidly. People see these lavish church buildings on TV and associate it with a successful ministry. Successful ministry (as depicted on TV) = money. And increasingly people tend to feel reluctant to attend church services in church buildings which are not quite up to standard or even attending church in classrooms, because that obviously is NOT a successful ministry. The idea that people will be willing to attend church under a tree is totally outdated. We were forced to do this for a while at one particular place after the floods – which ravaged Swaziland and Mocambique in 2000 – also totally demolished one of our church buildings. But after a few weeks the people said that they would rather attend church with another denomination until a new church building had been built. After a new building was erected, all the members returned. The point I’m trying to make is that it would be a good idea to have much more humble church buildings, but unfortunately the exposure on TV to mega-churches in overseas countries are not making it easy to convince the local people that they should be satisfied with a more cost-effective building.
Three years ago, on my way back from Russia where I had been teaching at a Bible Institute in Samara, I spent a few days in Kiev in the Ukraine with some Christians. This was a remarkable experience. But what I noticed was that money was being pumped into some churches from overseas countries ad nauseum. As I listened to a pastor explaining how they were intending to use literally millions of US dollars on obtaining a new church centre, I just kept asking myself over and over again what I would have been able to do with 10% or even 1% of that money in Swaziland. What if that money could have been spent, not on lavish church buildings and other so-called necessities, but rather on the people and ministries involved with people who need it the most. What if 1% of that money could have been given to a girl I met in Kiev who has one of the most amazing children’s ministries running that I have ever seen but who has to suffer every month just to pay the rent for her humble apartment. But unfortunately, in Kiev, as in Africa, the impression is being created that a successful ministry = money and if you are a Christian leader and you intend to attract members, your church building as well as everything inside had better broadcast the same message.
I’m all for humble church buildings. In fact, I’m all for NO church buildings, rather meeting in school halls or classrooms. But this will only work if churches in the West apply the same principle. While Christian TV programs continue broadcasting the opposite message, our pleas to local believers to be satisfied with smaller or even no church buildings will seem to them as ways in which we want to withhold them from God’s wealth.