Most churchgoers realize this truth after several years of church involvement: Our churches are imperfect. It’s a complex, living organism made up of flawed leaders and members of the congregation, struggling to survive through limited resources, complicated relationships, and controversial dramas. Gee, if only we had a hotline to dial and fix these issues.
That’s the premise behind Church Rescue, a new National Geographic Channel reality show produced by T Group Productions that premieres tonight at 10 p.m., ET/PT.
If you’ve ever watched the popular show Extreme Makeover, you’ll know how the sequence goes: A team of experts swoop in to change somebody’s life with their advice and their network’s deep pockets—all under a time crunch. You see some tears, a little “tough love,” and a nail-biting obstacle or two. They all lead up to the climactic unveiling, in which participants reveal their “after” phase and bask in the shock and praise of family and friends. Church Rescue provides all those elements—except instead of a beauty makeover, it travels across the country trying to resuscitate failing churches.
The team of experts is the Church Hoppers, a consulting company based in North Carolina. A trio of best friends—Kevin “Rev Kev” Annas, Anthony “Gladamere” Lockhart, and Jerry “Doc” Bentley—formed a friendship through a shared frustration with the state of today’s churches. They saw churches going through foreclosures, passionate leaders delivering lackluster sermons, and inexperienced squandering of resources—and they decided to do something about it.
“Ultimately, we believe that God put us together, because those frustrations ended up motivating us to do something about those frustrations,” Bentley said. Pooling their decades of experience as ordained ministers and businessmen, the three men developed a business model for churches. Their philosophy is that every church needs to balance these three critical areas: systems, business, and marketing.
Each Church Hopper contributes his own area of expertise: Annas, an entrepreneur, handles the business navigations; Bentley, a pastoral counselor, deals with human relations; and Lockhart, a sales and marketing specialist, provides guidance in the church mission and direction.
With their charming Southern accents, boyish personalities, and endearing friendship, the three consultants are naturals on TV. They wear Western boots and hats when visiting a cowboy church, but don leather jackets when meeting with the Freedom Biker Church. They go on conversational walks with congregants, slap the pastor’s back in jolly laughter, and then solemnly discuss strategies over milkshakes and burgers.
“We try to understand the culture of the particular church and community before we actually step into it,” Lockhart said. “So we do a lot of research before starting the seven-day process.”
The way they look at it, each church has an individuality that meets a certain community’s unique needs. They try to figure out what that need is, and then help the church direct its purpose to meet that need, no matter what its denomination. Bentley said communities are “screaming for so much variety,” and that’s what a local church should do: Provide a variety of worship options for people of various beliefs, personalities, and perspectives. “We’re not going to go in and try to change their theology,” he said.
That kind of open-minded, fit-all approach to churches shows a troubling lack of spiritual discernment. But Church Rescue isn’t the gospel; it’s still a reality TV show designed to entertain a mainstream, secular audience on an educational channel. For the discerning Christian, Church Rescue can be an interesting opportunity to church hop with three very likeable individuals. Without ever having to leave the couch, you can visit churches of distinct demographic and styles across the nation.
“The biggest thing we’ve learned through perusing the country and visiting churches of all denominations, is that there’s a passion, there’s a purpose, and there’s an excitement to serve a living God in every case,” Annas said.
Whether that God is the one true and living God … well, that’s up to the viewer’s own spiritual discernment.