Whether or not you believe in the historicity of the story of Noah’s Ark, it’s likely you have not run into a church that takes the Ark as seriously as San Antonio’s Cornerstone Church. Cornerstone is a megachurch that recently welcomed more than 28,000 visitors to its new children’s building, aptly named “The Ark,” which features a two-story ship built inside the church, with life-sized versions of human and animal passengers such as giraffes, elephants, lions, and ostriches, many of them powered by animatronics.
Quoted by The Christian Post, executive pastor Matthew Hagee described the purpose for the new $5 million structure this way:
There is no greater investment that can be made than that of building a foundation in the life of a child that will keep them the rest of their days. The congregation at Cornerstone has once again demonstrated its deep desire to be certain that every child has a refuge in the Ark of God’s loving embrace. To God be the Glory. Great things He has done.
I would argue that there are other ways to build a foundation in children that helps point them towards God’s loving embrace that don’t require a $5 million investment. But I also know there’s something unique about the eyes and minds of children, whose imaginations are sparked by seeing spectacles they haven’t seen before. I can guarantee that the children at Cornerstone were genuinely thrilled and excited with their new ministry center, and that being a part of that church, week after week, month after month, will indelibly imprint the image of The Ark in a way that they’ll remember their whole lives.
But do children require such extreme measures in order to jazz their imaginations and inspire awe in their Creator? What I found most interesting about this story were the comments from Michael Chanley, the executive director of the International Network of Children’s Ministry. He told the San Antonio Express News that:
“You’d be hard-pressed to find any church with animatronics… It communicates so much value to the family. ‘We don’t just want your kids to come here and learn. We want them to experience God,’” he said.
Churches today must compete against “the whiz-bang, Disney stuff,” Chanley added. “Kids are learning from the immersive environments, online or in real life.”
Hmm. So, “experiencing God” happens for children, not if they are merely learning, but only if they are coming face to face with electronically controlled animals? Is “communicating value to the family” achieved only when churches manage to build multi-million dollar facilities to keep their children entertained? If so, then the spiritual destinies of the vast majority of children in the vast majority of churches here and around the world are in serious jeopardy.
A recent BBC News article reported that, in contrast to this idea that children need to be constantly entertained and stimulated, it’s actually better for kids to experience boredom as an antidote to an overstimulated reality. Researcher Teresa Belton says:
When children have nothing to do now, they immediately switch on the TV, the computer, the phone or some kind of screen. The time they spend on these things has increased.
But children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them.
Certainly, the kids who are able to visit or learn at Cornerstone’s Ark may find their way to God by being in the presence of jaw-dropping architecture and animatronic animals. But parents who live nowhere near San Antonio or who have no such resources at their own church need not despair. This summer, I took my kids to Niagara Falls, where we marveled at the thundering water and witnessed a beautiful rainbow arching over the mist. And in the next couple of weeks, when the weather warms up here in Chicago, we’ll visit a local zoo and see plenty of live animals face-to-face. My kids, seeing God’s own creation up close and personal, think God is pretty amazing. And it won’t even cost me anywhere near $5 million to witness.