The South's Church Culture and Its Dangerous Problems
I suppose there'll always be a social component to the church experience, and there's nothing wrong with that. But here in the South, church has become almost a social idol, for lack of a better term. Nearly every Southern hamlet features two or there old, beautiful churches in the center of town where the movers and shakers of the area attend. Often the most prestigious members of the community flock to these "name brand" churches - often the First Baptists, First Methodists, or First Presbyterians.
Even the best churches are guilty of overprogramming in the name of filling the social calendar -- or, to use the church term, "fellowship." How many church events are social gatherings with the slightest patina of spiritual content (i.e. the pastor welcoming everyone at the start of the event or praying before eating)? Heck, I can remember in the earliest days of our church when the first small group consisted of some families gathering at the pastor's house to eat supper and watch The Simpsons.
These days, we don't see nearly as many people dressing in their Sunday best, as churches increasingly adopt "come as you are" policies. But the very concept of dressing to the nines for church demonstrates churchgoers' desire to see and be seen. Of course, people from all walks of life would tell you that they dress up for God or simply because of tradition, but a fancy hat or spiffy tie have never contributed to anyone's spiritual growth. But they do add to one's social value, and unfortunately for too many people in the South, that's enough.
In Matthew 6:1, part of the famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructed his followers, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. Our worship should be about our relationship with Him, not about seeking the approval or even the notice of others.