Fortezza, Umilitade, e Largo Core - Courage, Humility, and Largeness of Heart.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Religion in a Box: A Site Visit to The Buckhead Church

Several people wanted to come along when I did a site visit to Northpoint's The Buckhead Church for my Sacred Spaces class but were unable to join me. I promised to share my paper with them and this seemed to be the most efficient way to do so.

My second site visit was to the Buckhead church. One enters the church from a multi-level parking structure by crossing a sky bridge. When I opened the door I was struck with the overwhelming feeling that I was entering a convention center. Greeting congregants as they come through the door were several people dressed in business casual with a high tech two-way communication devices evident.
Everybody is really friendly and really pretty (I almost felt like I was in a reality T.V. show). I introduced myself and got permission to take photographs but they emphasized to only take pictures before or after service because of copyright infringement. The lobby is the first indication of how huge this facility is and it reminded me of every convention center I have ever been in. Upon entering the auditorium (yes they call it an auditorium, not a sanctuary), I was struck by what a huge production this is.

I was surprised to find no icons of any type: no Jesus, no cross, not even one projected like the one in The Church of Light in Osaka, Japan. Even during the service there are no symbols of any kind. Again, I found nicely dressed people with high tech two-way communication devices, high tech lighting and sound with men on platforms running the complicated systems. There is a huge stage with two large screens, one on either side and on the screens are playing short commercial-like videos that are produced by the church. The one playing when I walked in was explaining how to find community within such a large congregation. The auditorium has a maximum capacity of 2900 including the balcony seating. The Sunday evening service, which I attended, usually draws approximately 1500 people.

The service began with a rock band playing three or four songs. The lighting and sound was very polished and professional, very slick. Many of the congregants raise one arm above their heads and wave it during the music, although not as many as I was expecting; I came in expecting a lot more collective effervescence. It was very dark and loud while the band played. The music was not as dogmatic as I was expecting. The lyrics were projected on the two large screens so the congregation can sing along. At one point we are instructed to shake hands with two and a half people and tell them what we are doing this weekend. Contrary to experiences at other churches, here I struggled to reach that goal; I found it very difficult to connect to anyone of the 1500 people standing around me. It really struck me as religion in a box.

The music stops, the congregation sits, and I look down to fill in my notes. The service begins and I am looking around to see the congregation’s reaction and to take notes and I don’t notice that a screen that takes up the entirety of the stage has been lowered and the pre-recorded sermon is projected onto it. The service was very polished and seemed geared to an anti-church public. The congregation is held in rapt attention. Obviously, the stage and the screens are the centering focus; there is no pulpit and no alter. Especially, taking into account the pre-recorded service that they could watch on their home computers, I am left with the feeling: why do people get dressed and drive in their cars to come when there is no apparent community or connection?

Editor's Note: if you would like to see a video of North Point (the parent organization of The Buckhead Church) poking fun at itself, check out: Sunday's Coming


  1. Allegra, I have often wondered about this with these huge mega-churches. Is the media production the big point or the sacredness in these places? I believe that I would have left the service very depressed...

  2. Is there a prize inside this religion in a box? That's what I sense in reading your response, Allegra. It's no wonder I gravitate toward very small, cohesive congregations, where everyone 'knows your name.'

    Why DO people get dressed and drive in their cars to go somewhere they could just as easily access on their computers?!

  3. I'm anxious to hear more about the theology of the sermon...