Let’s take a look at two churches that landed in newspaper stories recently. The first is the 6,000-member CedarCreek Church in Perrysburg, Ohio. The second is the 75-member Bethanie French Seventh-day Adventist Church in Port Charlotte, Fla.
CedarCreek was featured in a Toledo Blade story about blue lights. At a recent 10th anniversary celebration Pastor Lee Powell asked anyone who had come to Christ as a result of CedarCreek to raise one of the blue penlights that had been provided. Hundreds of lights dotted the crowd of 1,500.
Bethanie French Seventh-day Adventist was featured in several stories, including the Sun Herald and the Herald Tribune after 16 choir members staged a protest by singing during the pastor’s sermon. The police were called and the choir members removed from the building. The protest was based on complaints that damage sustained from Hurricane Charley had yet to be repaired. It gets worse from there, including denouncing newly elected church officials and hauling someone off stage by the ear.
The difference is pretty striking. Granted we’re looking at two completely different churches. One is a megachurch. One is a mini-church. But I don’t think that should have anything to do with it.
David Noel, the pastor at Bethanie French Seventh-day Adventist, is quoted as saying, “I don’t have much to tell you, just that we are preaching the word here.” If those actions are the result of preaching the word, you really have to wonder what word and why anyone would want to come.
Compare that with the comments of Bill Hybels, who spoke at CedarCreek’s anniversary celebration:
“My greatest fear,” he told the crowd, “is for you to think this is normal. This is so not normal.” …
“You may think that a church that cares for lost people is normal,” Mr. Hybels said. “The average church on the corner of Elm and Vine doesn’t give a flying rip about people far from God. They’re an annoyance. They use bad words. They sleep in the wrong bed. They drink too much booze. They’re an annoyance.”
Sadly, Hybels is right. Too many churches don’t care about lost people, and that fact comes across loud and clear in their actions. Those actions, in effect, become their marketing. For CedarCreek, it’s a positive public relations story of people finding a new life in God. For Bethanie French Seventh-day Adventist, it’s a public relations nightmare of people who claim to love one another but can’t even get along among themselves.