Evangelical Cannibalism, How New Evangelical Churches Grow

cool church

If where you live is anything like northwest Ohio, new Evangelical churches are sprouting up like weeds in a gravel parking lot. You know — the weeds that keep returning no matter how much Roundup you spray on them. Here in Defiance County, they have spiffy new names, hiding the fact that they are generic, mostly-Baptist, churches. They present themselves as fresh, new, exciting places to worship God, complete with a relational pastor and the best damn worship band in town (props to the Ohio State marching band). One local new church called itself Fresh Life. Two years later, Fresh Life turned into same old shit, different building, and the pastor felt called to go somewhere else.

Here in Defiance County, Ohio there is zero need for new churches. We already have over one hundred churches for 37,000 people. The population is aging and in decline and almost everyone professes to be a Christian. God, guns, and Christianity are on display everywhere one looks. Out-of-the-closet atheists are few, and even traditionally liberal churches tend to be conservative. Why then are there a plethora of new churches?

I’ll give the Independent Baptist church movement credit for one thing: their churches are initially and primarily built on evangelism. Granted, they think everyone who doesn’t believe like they do is non-Christian and headed for hell, but they do make a concerted effort to evangelize the unchurched.

I was taught in college that the best way to start a church was to find the meanest, baddest man in town and win him to Jesus. If this man became a Christian and started living for Jesus, it would be the best possible advertisement for the church. Here in Defiance County, I am not the meanest, baddest man in town, but I am considered the resident atheist who hates God and Christianity. I would think that pastors would be lining up at my door trying to win the preacher-turned-atheist to Jesus. In the eight years Polly and I have lived in the shadow of five Evangelical churches, not one preacher has knocked on our door.

In the 1970s, the charismatics came to this area and began pillaging local established churches. Overnight, churches lost membership and income. In the 1980s and 1990s, these new churches experienced meteoric membership and income growth. Today, these same churches are in decline as their members move on to the latest, greatest church in town. You see, it’s not about Jesus, worship, or even doctrine. It’s all about getting the best show for the dollar.  Entertainment-driven Evangelicals want to be pampered and have their “felt” needs met. Fail to do this and they will leave, complaining that they are not being fed or God is leading them elsewhere. If you want to study religiously-driven narcissism, just stop by one of these new Matt Chandler, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Bill Hybels, Ed Young, Andy Stanley, Perry Noble, Steven Keller wanna-be churches. Services are consumer-driven buffets for fat Christians who are only interested in having their “felt” needs met.

Where do most of the members of these types of churches come from? Other local churches. Overwhelmingly, their growth is transfer growth. One new church in Defiance has multiple services filled with people who used to attend another local church. Church leaders think they are being blessed by God, but what they are really doing is cannibalizing other churches. I am sure there are a few new converts, but, for the most part, the growth is driven by people changing pews.

And here’s the thing…a decade or so from now, another new, glitzy, we-have-the-most-awesome-hip-preacher-in-town church will come to town and Christians will leave the old-new church for the new one. I have watched this happen time and again, like the rising and setting of the sun. Evangelicalism is driven not by devotion to God, concern for the lost, or care for the sick and hungry, but by a narcissistic need to be relevant. This is why they spend enormous amounts of money on buildings, staff, technology, and feed-lot fattening programs for Christians.

What’s really happening is that Evangelicals are changing which club they belong to. And that’s fine as long as Evangelicals are willing to admit this. However, they aren’t willing to admit that their new hip hop church is just their old church with a bigger sound system, better drum player, and a man who can really “speak” to them.

I watch from afar, amused at their self-absorbed attempts to be relevant in a culture that increasingly has no interest in what they are selling. Much the same as when a town becomes saturated with fast food restaurants and they begin trying to steal each other’s customers, new Evangelical churches come to areas already saturated with Jesus and steal members from other churches. It’s fun to watch. May the best band win.



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  1. Marley Greiner

    Have you followed the rise and fall of Ron Luce and Teen Mania?

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I have not. I do know Luce was a hot commodity at one time, holding huge meetings all over the country.

      Promise Keepers is another group that used to hold huge meetings, but I haven’t heard anything about them in recent years. Evangelicals are fickle, quick to change brands if they can get more of their felt needs met. They have little loyalty. Break one of the rules and they will dump you quicker than you can snap your fingers. The first time I paid attention to this was when Amy Grant fell from grace. Why you’d have thought she was a follower of Charles Manson.

  2. Monty

    This is the history of The Richmond Outreach Center, A.K.A. The ROC. Someone tried to “hip” me to the church where many of the ROC refugees (as I call them) go to now. “Hey, the pastor’s really cool/he can relate/etc”. Same old shit.

  3. Matt Martin

    100 churches for 37,000? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Boggling has commenced. I live in a community of ~20,000 (albeit down here) and we have 15 churches of varying denominations.

    We have more pubs than churches.

    1. Lynn123

      Hey, another great idea-compare and contrast pubs and churches.

      When I used to sit in church every Sunday myself, I eventually started thinking about the purpose of the church and what good it was doing in the world. Why are we all sitting here on these padded pews every Sunday, enjoying the air-conditioning? What is that accomplishing? Why do we feel like we’re living the Christian life because we meet at this building three times a week?

      Oh, I know what I was gonna say-what does church require from you? It’s quite easy to go and sit there. I always felt like I didn’t have any special talents or skills, so that was the only club I was eligible to belong to.

  4. Steve

    Hey now, no shit-talking about PK! I used to love their events!! Went to several & always came home well fed & a better husband! (Of course, I’m divorced now, but hey:)

  5. JR

    When I was at uni there was a meeting at the start of every term where church leaders told students about their churches. It was done in the right spirit with the pastors not trying to sell their church.

    That was until a ‘new church’ started one year that was exactly the same as the pentecostal new frontiers church in the city – they even rented the same school but had their service in the afternoon. The long haired surfing pastor gave it the hard sell and promised free lifts in a bus along with scones. A friend of mine heard him telling students that his church called ‘network’ was a church for cool people. That year their seats were full as students were swayed by the gimmicks. From what I hear, 10 years later, they now only get a couple of students. Bring on the next fad…

  6. Ian

    I would agree. In my town there are loads of evangelical churches, yet new ones seem to start up quite regularly. I can’t see what purpose they serve other than empire building. If people really wanted to spread the gospel they would go to somewhere in the country where evangelical churches are in short supply.

  7. Monty

    This hit home.
    I was the resident drummer for The Roc for over 5 years. I showed up, knew the songs and was always prepared. Move to a new building and suddenly another drummer they’ve been grooming (who was technically better than me) replaced me. Why? “Because god is moving us in another direction”.
    And yes, a new exciting Andy Stanley church nust relocated near me. Hip pastor, a light show that would rival any manor concert, etc….the usual garbage.

  8. Chikirin

    When I was in college I was active in campus ministry, we prayed for the lost and evangelized, but I never saw any converts. The people we got to join our group were all from catholic or protestant upbringings. Once in our group we worked to deepen their commitment (radicalize them) but chalked it up to conversion.

    I figured praying for souls to get saved was a prayer that God would have been glad to answer? I wasn’t praying for me, I was praying for others. So looking back, it was an indicator of God’s absence.


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