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Arts: Mega Churches

I just recently ran across Joseph Johnson’s Megachurch portfolio, with the music of recording artist Former Selv. I spent several summers colporteuring among California and Nevada’s Mega Church-attending evangelicals.

I remember one summer spent in Orange County and Riverside in which Rick Warren’s Saddleback and Greg Laurie Harvest Crusade loomed large in our experience. We actually took our students to Angel’s Stadium for the Harvest meeting. While wandering in and out of Seeds conferences at Andrews University (and also attending Willow Creek with seminarians) I noticed both attraction and repulsion among Adventists towards the Mega Church phenomena. It seemed to me that some of the recent “congregationalism” was a result of visionary pastors feeling hampered by some of our beliefs and denominational control while watching evangelical entrepreneurial pastors built very successful (mega) ministries. But on the other hand, the rise of video screens (and small groups) are traces of megachurch-dom that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has appropriated.

The Exposure Project writes, “Joe Johnson’s series Mega Churches investigates the architectural ornateness of the contemporary, American place of worship. As the title clarifies, however, the churches captured by Johnson are more specifically the extravagant, stadium-sized Megachurches that have quickly sprung up all over the country. According to statistics, there are over 1,300 such churches in the United States, each with a congregation of 2,000 or more. Some megachurches possess congregations that soar as high as 45,000.

What is interesting about Johnson’s Mega Churches project is that he has omitted showing us any people whatsoever. Instead, what he gives us are small architectural details and images that capture these places in a state of limbo, or preparation. In essence, what they show is the conscious orchestration and gaudy presentation of a structure that throughout history has been modest in nature. Churches, until relatively recently, never looked like venues that you could imagine seeing a large-scale rock concert in. The immodesty of megachurches has become increasingly apparent, however, Joe Johnson has captured this superfluousness in quite the opposite way–with quiet, contemplative and thought-provoking photographs.”

I actually have to disagree with the above statement about churches being, until recently, relatively modest. Sure, most have been, but Gothic cathedrals functioned in many ways like Mega Churches, creating multi-sensory experiences in larger-than-life spaces. While the pictures didn’t move (although the light did) the paintings, stained-glass and sculptures, vaulting and rooms worked in similar ways. In fact, earlier in December while on the Upper West Side I wandered through St. John the Divine‘s Gothic Revival nave while workers were setting up a stage for a rock concert.

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