Sharon Tubbs does a great job in today's St. Petersburg Times of relating the play God's Man in Texas to church-growth pressures faced by clergy across the nation. The play is by David Rambo, a writer for CBS-TV's CSI, and is inspired by Too Great a Temptation, a book by Joel Gregory that's critical of the legendary pastor W.A. Criswell of First Baptist, Dallas.
Tubbs' best detail is in describing Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church in Tampa:
At Without Walls, children worship in their own sanctuary, called the "Faith Fortress." Ministers dress in costume as members of the "Bible Squad" to deliver the messages.
In the adult sanctuary, prerecorded announcements are broadcast on big screens like the evening news. Charisse Strawberry (wife of former baseball star Darryl) acts as the anchorwoman, articulating the week's upcoming events. An outline of White's sermon appears on a PowerPoint display as he speaks. Studies show that people typically have a four-minute attention span before they need a "commercial" or a new idea, so he tailors his messages to hit points quickly and move on.
He suggests that every pastor go to a secular concert to get tips on lighting and format.
"I don't think the church competes with what the world is doing. I just think (some ministers) say, "It's ministry, so if they come, they come.' And that's why a lot of churches are empty."
The goal is to grow, to have an impact on the Tampa Bay area, he said. "The city is our church."
So is this ministry or marketing?
"I believe everyone needs to believe in their product," White said. "Well, what is my product? My product is Jesus."
Some pastors -- at least those who've never heard of No More Plastic Jesus -- could be accused of treating Jesus as a "product." But it's a rare cleric who puts the words product and Jesus in the same sentence without a hint of embarrassment.