Capon: The Church As “Local Franchise”

[T]he temptation to make the local franchise bigger and better becomes almost insuperable. The mega-church with four thousand members, a staff of seventy-five, and thirty-six programs turns into the ideal – into the ecclesiastical counterpart of Wal-Mart. For yet another, this “supermarket” vision is realizable only in certain circumstances. Depending on which church judicatory you’re talking about, anywhere from one-third to two-thirds of its local units have already become marginal in terms of the corporate ideal. Predictably, the home offices of those “problem churches” can think of only one thing to do with them: set them a “growth goal” (read an “ultimatum of,” say, two-hundred-fifty members in five years or less) and revoke the franchise if they don’t come up to corporate snuff. For still another thing, all the clergy, mega or mini, who try to turn back the tide of marginality begin to burn out at an alarming rate. And for a last (though the list could go on and on), the burnout doesn’t usually happen soon enough to prevent such clergy from committing actionable peccadilloes that scare the wits out of ecclesiastical bureaucrats and their ever-watchful insurance companies. The church becomes prey to product-liability suits over such things as “sexual harassment” and “exploitation”; the offending clergy are run out of their franchises; and the church (which is supposed to open its catholic arms to everyone, sinners included) ends up looking like a condemnatory piece of work that never heard of grace or Gospel. And all for the bottom-line reason of keeping a corporation from losing its angelic shirt in a lawsuit. My, my. As I said, there may well be some good intentions behind our current alarms and excursions over sexuality. But we’re certainly smashing a lot of Gospel china in the process.

Robert Farrar Capon, The Astonished Heart, pages 82-83


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