The Faith in Packages

by Glenn on March 16, 2015

I find it interesting how Christians like to package things.

This is neither a rant nor an affirmation; simply an observation of something we do.

Someone hits on a way to organize and experience life as a church and so they turn that order and experience into a model to export to other church congregations. The model includes a seminar and books, sermons, and other resource materials, so that other churches leaders can learn how to implement this church model in their own situations.

Someone creates a successful discipleship ministry in a church setting. Other congregations ask for help with their discipleship program and so this ministry is turned into a program, which is packaged and sold to other churches so that they, too, can be doing discipleship at a higher level.

Someone creates a survey to measure the spiritual life of a congregation. The survey is packaged and sent out to other churches so they can measure their spiritual life.

An extreme example of this kind of packaging is what I would call franchise church. A charismatic teacher in a church wants greater influence and turns their sermons into a package that is delivered to other church congregations. Worship is live in every congregation, but the pastor appears on screen only.

I don’t know what I think about this.

One of the things I do notice is sometimes ownership is tricky. It’s hard to internalize fully what someone else has created. Recently, we attended a seminar on understanding the Bible better—it’s a program from a para-church ministry—and I noticed the speaker more than once said things like, “This is something they’ve created for you,” or “Here’s how they would explain this.” It’s pretty telling that use of the word “they.”

And if you’ve received a call from God on your life to pastor a group of people, it’s got to be more than a little strange to get up in front of a group of people and say, “Now, let’s watch our teaching for the week” instead of just, you know, teaching that group of people.

That’s the negative. But packaging does have a positive side. The good part is you get the benefit of the expertise and thinking of another leader and/or team. Why reinvent the wheel? If someone has thought of a good way to do life as a church or to survey a congregation or teach the Bible why not pass it on and allow others to experience it? We’re not all equal and so it seems smart if you’ve got an average preacher in your congregation but an excellent preacher available on screen, your people will benefit from the better preacher.

The one area where packaging seems to work well is with kids. Curriculum matters and is tough to put together. Not everyone is capable of creating a good one. And yet, every curriculum is a do-it-yourself project somewhere. I’ve worked in a “we did it ourselves” environment where the intentions were wonderful but the product was poor and I’ve worked with a curriculum that was a package that had been brought in. The package sure made life better for me as a teacher.

Perhaps Vacation Bible School benefits the most from having a creative team out there somewhere putting things together and utilizing economies of scale so that first-rate graphics and music and messaging  is available to churches that wouldn’t be able to create their own experience anywhere close to that level of quality.

But there is a trade-off—you drive around town and see the same VBS program at many different churches. It’s kind of funny. Is no one original? Well, yes, someone is. But are they good?

Quality and authenticity seem to be important words in this discussion.