BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA
What began as a search for a new music minister has resulted in a church attendance explosion. Starting with a dozen, only 4 remain. Who will be the first Church Idol in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and the next Minister of Music at Exciting University Park Baptist Church?
This is no “side-door” evangelism, it’s “rip-the-walls-down” evangelism. Everyone is coming and bringing their friends, Catholics, Methodists, and even non-practicing Lutherans. “In addition to the visitors, we’ve had over 27% of our church roll attend at least one service during the last month, a new Louisiana Baptist Convention record since the year 1992, when the survey began,” said church clerk Sandy Slaughter.
“Like, but what about calling, you know, these peoples idols? Isn’t that, like, against, like, a commandment or whatever?” Cattie Hoodson, 13, asked.
“Don’t’ be confused by the name. We aren’t breaking any commandments here,” said Betty Jeffries, organizer of the event. It’s a simple name play on the popular TV series ‘American Idol’, nothing about this is the slightest bit sacrilegious. Our candidate performers were specifically chosen because of their ability to demonstrate true worship.
The candidates are not simply judged on singing performance. “You know, as Baptist, we don't dance, but rhythmic interpretation of lyrics is encouraged as the Spirit leads,” said Jeffries. Perceived personal worship may be the biggest factor other than vocals. If it becomes obvious that a performer is not sincere when they close their eyes and raise their hands, the audience is quick to pick up on the hypocrisy and it appears to affect the vote, regardless of how well the singing.
"We welcome all, it’s a way to get the Word out," says Pastor Thomas Billingsly. “We wouldn’t have this many people showing up if the Lord wasn’t behind it. It’s a God thing.”
There have been some bumps in the road. Apparently some of the longtime middle-aged members complained when Church Idol replaced the entire praise and worship portion of the service. “We’ve only had minor issues,” says Pastor Billingsly. “We need to be willing to sacrifice in our love for each other. It is better to sacrifice than to be angry. The more spiritually mature audience members should be happy to join in the Church Idol worship time.”
But it also appears that some of the elderly are unhappy. A 1932 charter member (who requested to remain anonymous) hopes that Sunday AM preaching will one day return. Because the competition starts at 10:45am and already extends past noon, the preaching takes the hit. “Statistics show that not many people get saved after 12:30 anyway, no matter how emotional the preaching. Besides, I always quote at least 1 full verse during a closing prayer if I’m not able to preach,” said Pastor Billingsly.
Pastor Billingsly reminds everyone that Sunday and Wednesday night services are the best times to see actual Bible verses on the song screen and engage in traditional Bible reading, thinking, and other less spiritual forms of church activities. “Modern day Sunday morning is the time for real spiritual worship. That’s what Church Idol is all about. This may continue even after the Music Minister search is over.”
That's good news for Brittany Lockwell, 23, who is recognizing true feelings of spiritual growth for the first time. “It’s more thought provoking than simply reading the Bible or even singing myself. Last week I was faced with a temptation to lie. My uncle was clearly not the best performer. I couldn’t lie and support him. I did the right thing and he was voted off. It’s obvious to me Church Idol strengthens my spiritual life.”
When Tominthebox.net representatives attended, we noticed there were no church bulletins. Instead we were offered “Church Idol Programs” for $5. This factors into the competition somehow because there were 5 different covers for the programs. The purchase of a program with a contestant on the front is taken as support for that contestant. In the end, $2 of each purchase will go to the last standing Church Idol as a signing bonus when he or she becomes the new Minister of Music.
Contestant Crissie Mason narrowly escaped being voted off last week. She’s not worried though. "My grandmother has read the entire Bible through twice. And not only that, last summer, I was leading a youth camp Bible Study and the camp booklet was explaining a verse in Romans. I still remember it; ‘If we set our mind to a good purpose, everything will work out for us since we love God.’ I love God, so I’m confident I will win. "