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High Intensity Church

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Dan Beecher, an ex-Mormon and atheist podcaster, described Mormonism as “high intensity church” — religious practice that takes up an inordinate amount of your time and money. This is a good description of my experience attending and pastoring Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. High intensity, indeed.

IFB pastors expect congregants to be all-in. Anything less and you will be labeled as a backslider, carnal, or “worldly.” Church members are expected to attend church every time the doors are open:

  • Sunday School
  • Sunday morning service
  • Sunday evening service
  • Midweek service

True Christians® are expected to:

  • Read and study the Bible every day
  • Pray multiple times a day
  • Daily witness to non-Christians

Further, congregants are expected to

  • Give 10% of their income to the church
  • Give money above the tithe to the bulding fund, missions, revival offerings, etc.

According to IFB preachers, every church member should find a ministry in which to serve. Some ministries require hours of personal time each week. Put all these things together, and what you have is a good example of “high intensity church.” Throw in listening to sermons on cassette tapes or digital media, reading Christian books, listening to Christian music, and buying Jesus junk at Hobby Lobby, and it’s hard not to conclude that many IFB pastors and church members spend virtually every waking hour serving “Jesus.” Even when taking time out for rest, relaxation, or entertainment, Jesus is lurking in the shadows.

Live long enough in such a religious environment and one can lose all sense of self and proportion. Promised mansions in Heaven after they die, IFB Christians sacrifice the present in hope of some sort of divine payoff later. That’s why many former IFB church members think they “wasted” much of their lives “serving” God/Jesus/Church. What do they have to show for giving their time, talent, and money to their churches? Wasted years that can never be regained.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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7 Comments

  1. Avatar
    BJW

    The IFB movement sounds like a huge commitment, no question. But there must be people who don’t do everything. Do they get hounded out of the church, sneered and preached at, or left alone if they contribute big buckets of money?

    • Avatar
      Laine

      We were Southern Baptists and we similarly wasted a lot of time. That was one of our huge regrets when we were kicked out — that we lost so much time. As far as being hounded or left alone, in our church it depended on who you were, if you were in the clique. One woman, whose father is a well-regarded preacher in a town nearby, hardly ever did anything in the church, including attending services. On Wednesday nights, she’d drop her kids off for missions classes and she and her husband would go out for dinner. She was never hounded. We were regularly subjected to sermons about serving either on one of the many committees or in a teaching position. I’ve heard similar stories from other denominations – there’s always just a few in the church who fill all the positions. My husband and I once served on the committee that filled positions. It was always a struggle to fill them, and they were almost always filled by the same people over and over. Ironically, the preacher’s kid who never served and couldn’t be bothered to attend helped spearhead the effort to kick us out, and we were busting our asses serving all over the place!

  2. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Pretty succinct post, Bruce. What you’re describing with the IFB also applies to the Assembly of God churches, Calvary Chapel, and Foursquare churches, too !! As for being hounded, that depends on the sect. In small towns in rural areas, one can be hounded,though usually the hounding is to make a person knuckle under even more. They want to force people to return to the fold, if they leave. One gets badgered. Lots of money at stake if people quit church.

  3. Avatar
    Karuna Gal

    Bruce, the churches I belonged to were more blasé than yours about attendance or religious practice. All they cared about was that you were sending in your pledge money regularly, and maybe that you came for Christmas and Easter services and gave extra donations then. I’m not exaggerating by much.
    I was always amused by people who I didn’t see in church for months suddenly reappearing when we had potluck lunches or cookouts. Obviously God was not the main draw for them.

  4. Avatar
    Matilda

    ‘…jesus was lurking in the shadows…’ So true, every waking moment, every chance encounter with any other human being, like at a shop checkout, was a god-given opportunity to ‘share jesus.’ I really appreciate being free of all that now. And the dissonance of doing it, time after time, and no one got gloriously saved after a chat with me on a bus during which I could John3v16 them and they repented of their sins. I overheard daughter asking a fundy friend if her husband still went to a weeknight soccer club as a hobby. She replied that he’d stopped cos he’d ‘got as far as he could with the folk there.’ Meaning he’d tried witnessing and getting them to come to his nearby fundy church, and no one was interested. He couldn’t just enjoy the game for its own sake and go to the pub afterwards with new friends he made there, his imaginary friend jesus was always in those shadows!

  5. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    High intensity church is a good way to put it. I have heard the descriptor of high demand religion too. Any fundamentalist religion is by nature high demand and separatist. Adherents are supposed to focus the majority of time and resources on the religious practices – studying the religion’s teachings in lieu of secular education, praying, indoctrination others, consuming religion-approved media, volunteering at the house of worship and affiliated programs, giving money money money of course.

    In high intensity church we looked down on the casual Christians. They weren’t hard core enough.

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Bruce Gerencser