One of the most common complaints of those who have fallen away from church is “Churches are just all about money.” In Church Tycoon, these complaints find their logical end.
. . . we as Christians have not done a very good job at disabusing people of the notion that the church is all about money, with our focus on buildings, budgets, and butts in the seats.Produced by Black Glove, Church Tycoon (CT) is a basic “idle” upgrade game. Having played plenty of games in this category, I find CT is a perfect example, and by that I mean that it’s ultimately boring. Your only task in the game is to upgrade, in order to earn more, in order to upgrade more. In CT, you start out in a neighborhood church, on a stage that looks like you’re meeting in a high school gymnasium. There are a few chairs, a banner proclaiming “Church Tycoon” on the wall, and a musician on a keyboard. No pastor to start—you have to pay for that.
When you do pay for pastors, they fall into three main categories: Faith, Fire, and Love. Each of those designations has an effect on your ability to collect donations. For example, my Pastor of Faith, “Matt Williams,” multiplies the gathered donations by 1.5 when you engage his special ability. Your “assistants” collect the donations, just as ushers would. They deposit the donations in a container in front of the stage. They are taken from there by treasurers, who count it in a back room, and then the amount is banked for you to continue to spend.
There are two other staff positions to fill, one in front of the stage on each side. The assistant pastor affects the ushers, and the supervising treasurer affects the speed or capacity of the treasurers. For all three, when you engage their special abilities for a certain amount of time, there are animations involved. The assistant pastor and the treasurer close their eyes tightly and nod forward while pointing, as if they are “declaring” their work to be true. Pastors are a little more elaborate. Their animations often cover the whole congregation, connected to some Biblical image. The Pastor of Faith has loaves and fishes raining from the sky, while the Bishop of Fire has an angel glowing behind her and flames among the congregation, as if the congregation is Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. You can choose the gender of your staff people, and there seems to be an attempt at diversity, but every animation is the same, no matter your staff person.
You also periodically receive “sacred chests,” which contain boosts to the abilities of your staff. The items that you receive are all themed based on various stories or aspects of Christianity. For example, “David’s Pouch,” the purported carrying case for the stones that slayed Goliath, increases the effect of all Treasurers of Faith by 20%. The “Bracelet of the Commitment” (which looks like a garden-variety WWJD bracelet) decreases the cooldown time between master treasurers’ special abilities. And what game such as this would be complete without a “Calvary’s Cross” to increase all Fire special abilities by 20%?
As your congregation grows, you can uncover more chairs (or pews) to bring in more people. For each bank of chairs, you can upgrade how much you receive from that section. As you go up in levels, you get more people in the section, but the offering goes up faster than your attendance does. The offering levels are also hardly realistic. At one point early on, with only 13 parishioners, I was making $250 million per minute. Eventually, you make enough money to buy another church. The next one is Regional Church, followed by Sub-Cathedral, Cathedral, and finally Mega Temple. You keep all of your previous churches, so your goal is to become multi-site. This also means that your neighborhood church, which has been immensely upgraded at this point, is the financial engine to get the larger churches off the ground quickly.
When I purchased my regional church, the interior was columns and tile, and the title of the game was emblazoned on the wall, along with the logo of the game: a heart with a dollar sign inside it. It was at that point that I had seen enough. Looking at these churches that I had built, I almost felt like Jesus was out in the entryway, turning over tables and chasing people off. This is exactly the sort of thing that was decried by him and prophets before him, proclaiming to the people that God wants exactly not this. Jesus declared that you cannot serve both God and money, and in CT, you can only choose the latter.
In doing some searching, I stumbled across a Reddit thread where the developers were promoting the game. In the thread, the developers say that they are atheists, but they also don’t want to “speak ill” of churches. Some aren’t as kind: one commenter says, “It’s always cool when you can play the bad guys.” It made me sad to see some of the responses, because I know the perception of the church in the secular world. It’s the perception that brought this game about in the first place. And we as Christians have not done a very good job at disabusing people of the notion that the church is all about money, with our focus on buildings, budgets, and butts in the seats. That is true of churches all along the spectrum as well, not just the suburban congregations CT envisions. In every American place and time, it seems like we focus on the Almighty Dollar, rather than our Almighty Father.
What is the church supposed to look like? In answering that, we need to say that the church is not going to look the same everywhere. From rural country churches to suburban megachurches to urban storefronts, the actual details and day-to-day functioning of everyday congregations are going to look different. That says less about what God wants for the church and more about what the world that surrounds us needs from the church. In Lutheran circles, an important concept is adiaphora. The Latin means “indifferent things,” but these are not “things that don’t matter.” It means that these aspects of church can be different in different congregational contexts but should also be consistent with the witness of Christ. Many of the parts of church that we believe are the only way to practice our faith won’t work in other places, because that community might not be able to hear Christ through them. The church is not plug-and-play when it comes to methods or worship styles. Following adiaphora, we can select ways of reaching our communities with the Gospel that they will be able to recognize and hear, while still maintaining a connection to the core doctrines of our faith.
The core doctrines of our faith are not mere trappings, ways to make money, as envisioned by CT. They are our very reason for existence. We talk about stories such as the loaves and fishes or the fiery furnace to point to the one who brings about those miracles. We want people to be a part of our congregations so that they can hear about the forgiveness of their sins and the salvation that is found in Jesus Christ. We show the fruits of the Spirit so that we can give thanks to the Spirit that has given them to us, and that others may know his power in their lives. The church is primarily and ultimately found in the life of Jesus Christ, which goes on to this day. He is the one who lifts us up, sustains us, and sends us out—not our dollars or the dollars of anyone else. If we live our lives in this way—demonstrating that the church is actually about Christ, cross, and community—perhaps perceptions can change, and Church Tycoon can fade into the background, an artifact of a time where the church had lost its way.