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Friday, April 29, 2005

OPINION: Take MegaChurches Seriously

SaddlebackThis comes from an article in the secular magazine Mother Jones.  Read this and then let’s discuss…  (Note:  since this is a secular article, it is very biased in my opinion.  There is a great source of accurate demographic information on megachurches available at http://hirr.hartsem.edu.)

“You might have predicted their rise from shifting demographics alone. Mainline denominations are drying up. In rural communities and cities, congregations of fewer than 100 are shutting their doors at a rate of 60 a week. Megachurches, meanwhile, have increased in number by 30 percent in the last four years. Out in the suburbs, Christianity is experiencing the same consumer shifts that occur when Sam's Club or Costco comes to town. Megachurches can have congregations that are black or white, evangelical or not; half belong to no traditional denomination. Scholars call them "postdenominational churches" or parts of the "new apostolic reformation." Their own laity call them "purpose-driven" or "seeker-sensitive" churches. Detractors call them McChurches or Wal-Mart churches. But whatever they are called, they deserve to be taken seriously, if only because they help explain why George W. Bush is still sitting in the Oval Office and how suburban malaise can be transformed into a multitude of organized, values-driven voters. Not by happenstance did Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ play the megachurch circuit before making its theatrical debut. These are the churches that held get-out-the-vote rallies and stressed the importance of politics in the service of religion.”

FOR DISCUSSION:  Is this a fair representation?  (I've already said that I don't feel it is).  Is there a correlation between small churches closing and megachurches growing?  Does the ‘megachurch’ have anything to do with who is president?  Is the ‘megachurch’ the reason Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” was a success?  Is there a direct relationship showing that ‘megachurches’ are more politically active than smaller to medium sized churches?  If so, and ‘megachurches’ need to be taken seriously (as Mother Jones suggests), what are the ramifications?  I’d be interested in your thoughts!

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April 29, 2005 | Permalink

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I agree with the article's findings, but not for the reasons they suggest. yes rural churches are closing at an alarming rate. But not because of the mega churches. In almost all rural communities the population is falling. Rurual schools are merging to survive because of fewer students. My hometown school has dropped by 50% in the last 20 years. So the churches are also falling in attendance. In contrast the suburbs and cities are growing. Most all churches are now changing how they do worship. The most brilliant sermon presented in a monotone voice, by a pastor that stammers because he can not read his own notes, will not be accepted well. We are all in a small way entertaining the congregation. We msut keep their attention and get God's message across to them. Someone will probably say that God doesn't need men or their talents to get His word across. Just look at Moses. Well let's also look at others like Peter and Paul who were great orators. Is the mega church responsible for George Bush? Could be, so what? The churches of the sixties were also responsable for a large part of the civil rights movement, and in the 1800's for the end of slavery. Mega churches may be able to get a message out to a larger audience at a faster pace, but churhces have always been a part of the political process. As far as McChurches or WalMart churches, we all seem to blast WalMart but we all shop there too. McDonalds may not be the healthiest of foods, but I eat there. I don't know if the mega churhces are changing the culture of the church or if the culture of hte church is creating mega churches. I don't care as long as they are preaching the Gospel and reaching the lost.

Posted by: Bart | Apr 29, 2005 12:29:47 PM

In my opinion, it is possible that megachurches have influenced the presidency and "the passion"...but i think that is only because it's easier to market and get groupthink going on with large congregations. whether that's good or bad, i'm not sure.
on a personal note, i don't care for megachurches in general. i've never liked the idea of several thousand people attending once church. if the church is growing then why not plant other churches in these peoples communities, rather than building bigger and bigger churches? where does it end? i think it contributes to a mindset of greed and status. i want to see Christs church grow, i just don't want to see it all in the same building.

Posted by: Michele | Apr 29, 2005 12:48:06 PM

"Mainline denominations are drying up."

I hope it's true, and it's good. The church needs to be one, as Jesus prayed we would be. I like the ida of "Bible" and "Community" churches who use the Bible as their sole authority. But I don't like mega-churches, as it's against the multiplication rule (instead of one mega-pastor, it's better to have multiple pastors at many local congregations-- more leadership and "body" that way, I think).

I marvel at how God used Chuck Smith with the Calvary Chapel movement... planting many evangelical churches quickly... a good counter-example to the megachurch pastor...

...Bernie
http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/247

Posted by: bernie dehler | Apr 29, 2005 12:51:54 PM

Is there a correlation between small churches closing and megachurches growing?
I don't think we can fault megachurches for every small church closing. In my denomination there are many churches which are holding on by fingernails, yet there are no megachurches any too close to them.

However to believe that the "bigger is better" (or more accurately "more is better") mindset isn't responsible for many shrinking congregations is naive at best. Too many churchgoers are looking for a place which pleases them, instead of a place where they can please God.

Many large churches/megachurches do great ministry. But there are churches of all sizes where pew fillers are plentiful.

Posted by: rev-ed | Apr 29, 2005 1:01:05 PM

Both Bernie and Michele say they don't like mega churches. I've never attended one so I am not sure I could judge. My question is how large should a church be before it needs to plant or divide. Is a church of 3000 to big? What about 1000, or maybe 500. I am in a church of 200. Are we to big and should we split off and start a new church. Maybe it is after you get over 100 members. Just food for thought.

Posted by: Bart | Apr 29, 2005 1:22:43 PM

Hi Bart-

I think the obvious "overboard" limit is when a Pastor has multiple sites and teaches by video.

A "mega-church" may be hard to define, exactly, but we all know one when we see one, don't we...?

There especially comes a time when a church makes a decision: build a bigger facility, or plant a new church. I think planting a new church is better by far-- it's the multiplication, rather than addition, method of growing the kingdom.

...Bernie
http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/247

Posted by: bernie dehler | Apr 29, 2005 1:34:51 PM

I think this part is fairly accurate "Megachurches draw young, committed, and energetic members"

If a church draws energetic committed people, and encourages their spiritual growth, all kinds of things happen.

This article is 90 percent fluff. It generalizes way too much. The reason that "The Passion" was successful is that committed Christians wanted to watch it. The reason Bush won was that many committed Christians felt he represented their beliefs better than his opponent.

Churches don't make their members do these things, they take people who are not committed Christians, and they encourage them to become committed Christians.

Megachurches are probably less likely to address politics from the pulpit than smaller churches -- it turns people off. Once people are committed to following Christ, their thinking will gradually be transformed on political issues.

I think MegaChurches are replacing smaller community churches for a couple of reasons. They tend to be growth oriented and actively recruit. They also can support a lot more programs than a small church can. Each of these programs is a place where a person can plug in, get connected, and have their commitment grow.

There is a balance somewhere that is the ideal size. A church is too big when it leaves members of it's congregation comfortable as spectators. It is too small when there are not enough people to create a need for enough ministries for people to get involved in.

Posted by: Josh R | Apr 29, 2005 1:52:35 PM

Michelle asks:

"if the church is growing then why not plant other churches in these peoples communities, rather than building bigger and bigger churches?"

It's called "stardom." Not to mention pride.

The latest fad, the multi-campus site model where the senior "pastor" runs to each specially timed service to make a grand entrance to "break bread" for the masses of starving seekers, bolsters the opinion that most of these types of organizations are unwilling to risk planting or utilizing a potentially more charismatic speaker and thus the potential for the loss of congregation/money.

Such practices are the epitome of "leaders" not understanding the New Testament principle of church planting.

Posted by: Ricky | Apr 29, 2005 4:28:45 PM

Bernie correctly said:

"A 'mega-church' may be hard to define, exactly, but we all know one when we see one, don't we...?"

We sure do know when we see them. Check out the following link to see one.

http://www.uspginc.com/pics/wal-mart_springfield.jpg

Posted by: Ricky | Apr 29, 2005 4:38:49 PM

Bart said:

"Both Bernie and Michele say they don't like mega churches. I've never attended one so I am not sure I could judge."

Oh, I'm sure you have, you just apparently don't remember.

Have you ever been to a mall where there was some salesman giving a demonstration, say, of the latest in kitchen knife technology?

There was music, free giveaways, and lots of people clamoring with money in fist to the speaker to buy the latest, greatest "convenience."

Just substitute a few bible verses in the place of the kitchen knives and, voila, the mega"church."

Oh, yeah. You've been to one.

(And I know this from firsthand experience)

Posted by: Ricky | Apr 29, 2005 4:45:55 PM

My only concern with Mega Churches is it is hard to plug in, and easy to stay unplugged. Sometimes I think people (not all people) go to a huge church because they can just attend and not have to commit to anything. They can go, sing and hear a "good" sermon and leave right after. No commitment. What do you think?
Also I hate for any church to be compared to Wal-Mart. I am not sure the article is very acurate

Posted by: Jade | Apr 29, 2005 4:53:28 PM

I have attended some great “big” churches. I have found the worship and energy very refreshing. Yet, there is something about the fellowship of a smaller body for accountability and discipleship that I fear is lost in the large church. (I am not indicting all large churches with that statement however.)

I wonder how things would look if, we determined as a body of believers to worship in smaller churches for most of the time then maybe once a month or quarterly for consecutive services, met back together to worship as a large congregation. Maybe a gifted minister from one of the smaller churches could preach and then the responsibility be rotated around. I realize this would take a great deal of love on the part of the body of believers, but wouldn’t it make a statement to the world.

Just some thoughts from my “perfect” world. :-)

Al

Posted by: Pastor Al | Apr 29, 2005 7:21:58 PM

Quote:

"Note: since this is a secular article, it is very biased in my opinion."

I don't see where the article is "biased" at all, unless one buys into the opinion that "size equals God's blessing."

In fact, I found the article refreshingly honest, especially coming from those whom the megaorganizations claim to desire to reach (i.e., the lost).

Posted by: Ricky | Apr 29, 2005 9:55:33 PM

I posted this comment on the Rick Warren thread and did not get a single bite although I feel I have raised some appropriate issues. It fits this thread as well so I have copied it here to see if anyone cares to comment. Peace:

I believe it was D.L. Moody who was criticized for his evangelistic methods. When he asked one of his accusers how they did it, they replied they had no evangelism strategy. Moody's reply, "I like the way I'm doing it better than the way you are not."

I always get excited about people coming to know the Lord. It seems obvious that many are coming to know the Lord through these mega-churches. I think the issue for many pastors is a simple one. For those of us who labor in the shadow of a mega-church we simply can't "compete." It's not a level playing field. And it is too simple to suggest that "competing" is a bad word to describe what is happening and that we should question our calling based on our "ineffectiveness."

I would like someone to do a simple exit poll on the campuses of the top 20 mega-churches in our nation and ask only one or two questions. Did you transfer here from another church? Did you come to a saving knowledge of Christ through this ministry? I suspect that the percentages would be staggering.

Many of us (BTW, I pastor a thriving church of a decent size) have "lost" large numbers of converts and often long-time serving members to the allure of the excitement that mega-churches emanate. It is disheartening sometimes to spend two or three years reaching someone, training them and them having them leave just when their ministry potential is at it's peak.

I don't think it's jealousy as much as it is frustration. I'd like some of our mega-church pastors (most of whom I admire greatly) to send some of those "visitors" back to their point of origin and encourage them to make happen where they came from what they are wanting to experience where they have gone to.

Blessings to Warren, Hybels, Haggard and the rest. They will have to answer to the Lord just as I will. I suspect they will answer with a clear conscience that they did the best they could discern to do.

Posted by: pjlr | Apr 29, 2005 10:31:03 PM

Michele asked: "if the church is growing then why not plant other churches in these peoples communities, rather than building bigger and bigger churches?"

There are a few churches in my area that qualify as small Mega-churches.. 3000K per week or so... Those churches have been actively planting churches. But they keep growing.

The Church I attended when I came to Christ has planted 4 successful churches so in the last 6 years. Planting churches has never really made a significant impact on weekly attendance. If you have 3000 people and you plant a church perhaps 10 percent will leave. Of those, often only half stay at the new plant for the long haul. When a church is experiencing exponential growth, Separating off 5% or so every year or two doesn't have a huge impact on the numbers.

You can't force people go. People do what they believe God is calling them to do.

Good teachers are going to attract people. It is not their fault, and it shouldn't be held against them. When you have to hold 8 services to serve your entire congregation, they have little choice but to build a larger facility.

Posted by: josh r | Apr 29, 2005 11:21:28 PM

A large part of my family are in small churches that are getting smaller - and they are not within a reasonable driving distance of any mega-church. For some small churches, that may be a problem, but not all.

I left a smaller church for a very large one. I left for a variety of reasons and sought out a larger one for the flip side of some of those reasons.

As an unmarried person, a smaller church can be more difficult than a larger one. That is one reason I left.

I think that in any church you can be as plugged or as unplugged as you want to be. I've read that in any size church you want to go to, your "circle" will be abtween 12 and 15 people. In a small church, the folks that you really connect with will number between 12 and 15. In a big church, the same.

I know that in a larger youth group, my kids have flourished and that was one of the larger issues for me.

Posted by: Ellen | Apr 29, 2005 11:42:13 PM

The question of what the mega-churches have to offer as opposed to the smaller ones seems to me to miss the point. From what I have seen in mega-churches and from what other people have told me, these mega-churches succeed because a person can be part of a group exactly like themselves within the church. You can be a member of the mega-church, yet your personal group within the church is only people like yourself. In the mega-church you can belong and still isolate yourself.

If in Christ we are to break down barriers then the mega-churches that I am aware of are not acting in a Christian fashion. They are erecting barriers, not removing them.

Posted by: Bill | Apr 30, 2005 1:00:55 AM

For some it is not that they want a specialized group - and it is others putting up the barriers.

Even in the smaller church my small group consisted of "misfits" that outright said that they didn't feel wanted anywhere else, so this is not a problem that only belongs to large churches.

In the large church I tried a mixed group - and my current small group consists of single women - most of whom say that "I just didn't feel wanted".

There's an interesting article in the Singles Connection of Christianity Today - "The Black Sheep of God's Family".

At any rate, if you want truly blended groups, your "misfits" need to be able to feel safe in coming to the pastor when they're not accepted. I tried for 10 years, through 3 pastors, to break into the "music circle" in the small church and never succeeded. I was married then, so my single status was not the issue. You have to have a *very* small church before you can force people into truly mixed groups - and even then, it's possible that you won't have real diversity, because the entire church is the same.

Posted by: Ellen | Apr 30, 2005 6:52:01 AM

PJLR brought up some good points. He also wrote "I would like someone to do a simple exit poll on the campuses of the top 20 mega-churches in our nation and ask only one or two questions. Did you transfer here from another church? Did you come to a saving knowledge of Christ through this ministry? I suspect that the percentages would be staggering."

I suspect that many of us might be surprised by "the percentages." It seems to me that more people are coming to Christ through these churchs than through small, stable congregations that haven't grown over the last 20 years. So how about we do the poll across the board from small to large churches (George Barna & Tom Ranier are you listening?)and see where true evangelistic growth is happening.

In many ways, this discussion disgusts me. Remember, all mega-churches were small churches once upon a time. I pastor a church of about 110 and yes there are a couple of mega-churches in my area, along with some large, medium and many small churches. Yes it does hurt when we loose someone to a mega-church, but then we remember that it is not about us, but the Kingdom of Christ.

What bothers me most, though, is this idea that we are somehow in competition with mega-churches. We need to realize that we are not in competition with one another, but with Satan for the souls of the lost. Praise God that Christ is being preached and lost souls are being saved, whatever the size of the church.

Posted by: Rich | Apr 30, 2005 8:20:58 AM

Mega-churches

I once heard a Pastor say, "which ever way the band wagon is going, go the opposite direction; because God works with the few, not the multitudes."

I always found a bit of irony in the statement probably because there is always truth mixed in with irony. The few serve the multitudes and you'll find that even in the "mega-churches", they MUST break up into smaller groups to truly grow.

I believe there are two simultaneous movements taking place right now...

One movement is moving towards a 'universal' view, where unity is the focus and love is the delivery.

While another movement is moving towards strictly The Truth, where even unity and love can be tested.

I think one movement is gaining hundreds and thousands of followers while the other movement is growing strong not in numbers but in knowledge and understanding.

Posted by: John | May 1, 2005 2:44:37 AM

megachurches are only large because people make them large; if most people prefer small rural churches, they'd be thriving and still be around; but the reality is, that many (most?) people do respond to typical advertising, marketing, consumeristic impulses, and what megachurches are doing appeals to many people's human instincts.

While the Mother Jones article does make many generalities and stereotypes, the thing about stereotypes is that there are enough of those churches that fit the description, which lends credence to that stereotype!

People being people, and modern churches being modern churches, many modern churches will make many adjustments to give people what they want.

Posted by: djchuang | May 1, 2005 7:58:17 AM

Mother Jones is a liberal rag.
Their insights are valid enough, but tainted with envy. Those reporters have one mission; to spin a story on megachurches into a political viewpoint from which liberals can look down their noses.
Remember worldviews? This is the other main one. What difference does it make how they view the way we structure our church? Their hope is not in church structure.

Posted by: Mark Steven Zuelke | May 1, 2005 10:30:22 PM

does Dr. Cho ring a bell?

Posted by: Jerry | May 1, 2005 10:43:49 PM

One thing I like about mega churches is I can hide, there is a bit less chance of retaliation if I happen to tick off one of the leaders. It takes the stress off of one having to watch their back at church. Basically all I have really ever wanted is to be part of a church family, I understand that is rather childish and niaeve of me.

Posted by: brian | May 2, 2005 2:34:21 AM

Josh said:
"Good teachers are going to attract people. It is not their fault, and it shouldn't be held against them. When you have to hold 8 services to serve your entire congregation, they have little choice but to build a larger facility."

Totally disagree. If the main "leader" was a church planter, you would never have had eight services. He would have been raising up more leaders and planting churches.

A successfult Pastor has a choice to split or grow, just as a rich business man has a choice to horde or share his wealth. If there's a megachurch, it's by careful design and planning.

...Bernie
http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/247

Posted by: bernie dehler | May 2, 2005 11:50:23 AM

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