Emulating the greatest generation and avoiding “God Inc”
BELLA VISTA, Arkansas – Pastor Jonathan Watson says that he would like to be more like America’s greatest generation than the destructive one that followed it.
“Many people I know of my generation would like to be more like our grandparents’ generation than our parents’ generation,” Watson, 34, said in his office at the Bella Vista Assembly of God. “That was America’s Greatest Generation. They were children of the Great Depression and they were a generation of people who lived by a standard.”
The generation that followed – the Baby Boomers – were the “hippies of the 1960s, the disco goers of the 1980s and the power brokers of the 1980s,” Watson said. “That generation has eaten up everything that their parents left them and leave nothing but debts behind them for the rest of us.”
Watson, whose church is in this small town near Bentonville in Northwest Arkansas, which is home to retail giant Walmart, said he believes that America needs to rebuild its sense of community and rediscover its moral compass.
“The hippies wanted to do good things and change the world. Unfortunately, they changed the world for the worse,” Watson said. “Many of us have looked at our grandparents and think that their way was better. We think it’s better to buy a house and live in it for 40 years, spend your life with just one woman and love your children.”
In a country where many churches are aiming to expand their numbers and mega churches have become ever more popular this pastor wants to keep his flock small.
“Everyone in America wants a bigger church,” he said. “A bigger church brings more money, more clout and more power. But if you have thousands of people in your church it’s hard to minister to them and build relationships with individuals.”
“After a church reaches a certain size it becomes God Incorporated,” Watson said. “Not that that’s a bad thing, mega churches do lots of good work, but we prefer to keep our membership small so we can have a relationship with everyone.”
Watson’s church averages service attendance between 230 and 280. Attendance was higher, but he recently set up a new church in Centerton, about 10 miles away, with some 40 members of its congregation, which is now growing.
The pastor said that this is the model for expansion, that rather than growing beyond its maximum capacity of up to 700 people, the church would rather set up fresh congregations and church’s using a portion of the congregation.
Watson said that although his congregation has been growing, the average donation per capita has fallen 10 percent to 20 percent thanks to the financial difficulties some of his congregation find itself in.
“I hope that for everyone this crisis will help people learn there are people here to help,” he said. “And I hope that eventually more people will go beyond the idea of finding a dollar and spending it as soon as you can.
Photos by Lucy Nicholson