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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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One-stop living

Latte and liturgy. The trend continues. U.S. churches have mixed spirituality with secular pursuits to gain and accommodate members for some time. But bigger keeps getting, uh, ... bigger. Consider:

  • Community Church of Joy, a 12,000-member ELCA congregation in Glendale, Ariz., already boasts a school, conference center, bookstore and mortuary. Now it's launching a $100 million fund-raising campaign to build a housing development, hotel, convention center, skate and water-slide park. Pastor Walt Kallestad calls it "a destination center."
  • Brentwood Baptist Church, Houston, has more than 7,000 busy members. They're so busy, they don't have time to get home to eat between church meetings and activities. So Brentwood opened a McDonald's in its community center — the first within a church.
  • First Assembly of Concord [N.C.] Baptist Church bought a shopping center. Other than occasional religious messages heard throughout the building, it differs little from other malls, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

Critics land on both sides of this trend, which allows members to eat, shop, go to school, bank, exercise, watch movies, golf and swim all in one place. And, oh yes, worship.

Randall Balmer, professor of American religion at Barnard College, New York, says this cradle-to-grave care reflects a desire for "a universe where everything from the temperature to the theology is safely controlled."

James L. Evans, pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church, Pelham, Ala., writes in the University of Chicago Divinity School's Sightings: "Here's the real irony. The Christian faith began as a movement born out of the pain and suffering of the founder, Jesus of Nazareth. Now, in order to maintain its membership, churches become purveyors of convenience. The symbol of the cross is superceded by the ubiquitous golden arches."


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