January 25, 2021

Church Growth: the Organization

110327 Atlanta - Pastor Andy Stanley on the screen with his Life Apps series during the 11 a.m. service the Buckhead Church campus. North Point ministries is expanding in metro Atlanta and are in the process of opening two satellite churches, one in Cherokee and the other in Gwinnett. We take a look at the morning service at Buckhead Church Sunday, March 27, 2011. The expansion is part of the North Point's vision to expand in north metro area and to take some of the load off of North Point Community Church and Browns Bridge Church. This could make North Point perhaps the largest church community in Georgia. Vino Wong vwong@ajc.com

Church growth thinking is alive and well, and in the eyes of many, successful. And I suppose it is from a certain perspective. Here is Outreach Magazine’s list of the ten largest churches in the U.S. in 2014:

Large churches

If my calculator is right, these ten churches claim that nearly 244,000 people are affiliated with them. That’s equivalent to a city the size of St. Petersburg, Florida or Norfolk, Virginia attending just ten local congregations.

In an article in Christianity Today from 2013, Ed Stetzer made the point that even while many decry the megachurch and suggest its day is done, the number of large churches in our country continues to grow at a rapid pace. Stetzer notes:

  • The number of megachurches in America has nearly doubled during every decade over the last half century.
  • In 1960, there was 1 megachurch for every 7.5 million Americans. In 2010, there was one for every 200,000 Americans.
  • There are as many megachurches today in the greater Nashville area as there were in the entire country in 1960.

I have an idea where at least some of this growth might be coming from. In another CT article from 2014, an estimate was quoted that “every day in the United States, nine churches shut their doors forever.” Whatever might be said about how many people large churches “reach,” in my admittedly observational and anecdotal experience the amount of transfer growth that has occurred from historic traditions, mainline Protestant churches, and small churches that lack the resources (and pizzazz!) of the megas has been staggering.

I’m not here today to talk about megachurches as much as I am to come back again to one of the “church growth” and “leadership” mantras that keeps getting written about, which in essence berates pastors for being pastors and thus not “growing” their churches the way some think they should.

Carey Nieuwhof is the pastor of Connexus Church north of Toronto, Canada. His megachurch is not in the U.S. but it does partner with the North Point family of churches (see #1 on the chart above). According to his bio page, Nieuwhof’s church tells the story of many congregations today. They left their denomination, took up church growth methods, and now run a multisite church with two locations where over 1000 people are involved each weekend.

According to an article he wrote called, “8 Reasons Most Church Never Break the 200 Attendance Mark,” Nieuwhof puts his finger on the central problem in such churches: They organize, behave, lead and manage like a small organization. He goes on to list the eight characteristics that reveal this problem:

  1. The pastor is the primary caregiver.
  2. The leaders lack a strategy.
  3. True leaders aren’t leading.
  4. Volunteers are unempowered.
  5. The governance team micromanages.
  6. Too many meetings.
  7. Too many events and programs that lead nowhere.
  8. The pastor suffers from a desire to please everybody.

This may surprise you, but you know what? I agree with him.

The main reason churches don’t “grow” is that they have an organizational problem. We’ve learned a lot about the characteristics of organizations in the past century or so. We pretty much know what makes them tick, what makes them successful, what kind of leadership works and doesn’t work, and how we should go about making them successful. Of course, organizational wisdom isn’t perfect and there are always factors that can bring an organization down even when its leaders do everything by the book. And that’s why so many books keep getting written! That’s why business people are forever attending seminars and workshops and having webinars and trying to stay on the cutting edge. That’s what church leaders do too.

No, I agree. If you want to build an effective, well-run organization there is plenty of wisdom out there, a tremendous stockpile of resources, and a lot of help.

I just have two problems with all of this, however, when we start talking about churches.

  • First, who said the goal is to build an organization with a mission and vision and strategy to fulfill that mission? Is that really the church?
  • Second, even if it is, who said “the pastor” is the person who should “lead” that effort?

Tomorrow, I want to come back to this and look at one particular aspect that Nieuwhof addresses in his list and in another more recent article.


  1. Eckhart Trolle says

    If anything, changes in US Protestant church organization have lagged behind comparable ones in the secular business world–from small businesses (often sole proprietorships) as the 19th century norm, to consolidation (which means closures) and globalization.

    One way to look at the situation is to ask why it took so long for churches to get so big. The major factor seems to be technology–broadcasting equipment, transportation / logistics, etc. Since people tend to conservative in terms of their religious behaviour, it took some time (plus a few upheavals such as war, changes in family structure and gender roles, urbanization, and general mobility) for these innovations to attract audiences.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the decisive eras seem to have been the 1960s counterculture (i.e. the Jesus People), and then the Reagan Revolution.

    • For once, we are in almost complete agreement. 😉

      IIRC, the theoretical foundations of megachurch practices were laid out in the late 60s-early 70s. You’ll notice that, with two exceptions, all the congregations in that Top ten list above were founded after 1975.

      • Eckhart Trolle says

        I’m thinking that first traditional denominational identities had to be loosened (as with the Jesus People), then an alternative subculture had to arise in its place (Reagan-era social conservatism).

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      We agree!

      Mega-churches are a sociological and demographic phenomenon, initially fueled by white-flight and the later phase of suburbanization. Now it has evolved into a model. They have another 20 – 30 years until their funding dries up [their principle supporters die off, are not replaced, and their endowment funds run down].

      IMO, they say as much, if not more, about American migration patterns than they say about religion. Other than perhaps that they expose how casual and conformist American Protestantism has been for a long time.

      • >Other than perhaps that they expose how casual and conformist American Protestantism has been for a long time.

        C. G. Finney’s techniques, taken to their logical extreme.

      • “They have another 20 – 30 years until their funding dries up [their principle supporters die off, are not replaced, and their endowment funds run down].”

        What do you base that (not being replaced) on?

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          1.) Median age of congregant – at least in my region the megas are heavily Boomer. And financed by Boomer money. That has an expiration date.
          1.1.) Younger congregants, to the degree there are a lot of them, are likely to have dramatically less disposable income. They also, *so far*, seem less inclined to formal affiliation which one expects to be reflected in their charitable activity.
          2.) Vintage and type of physical structure – everything built has a life-cycle. It has to be renovated or rebuilt, or at least receive major repairs, at some point. Again, in my area, the megas have large buildings of a type which are inexpensive [relatively speaking] on the front-end, but a much shorter life-cycle than the buildings churches typically built ~50+ years ago.

          If the life-cycle of these facilities maxes out at a time of declining financial vitality… Many things have died that way.

          • Thanks for clarifying

          • Eckhart Trolle says

            They seem to have arisen about the same time as the shopping mall.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            The correlation with the shopping mall is spot on.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Though the pic up top is more reminiscent of the Hate Week scene from the 1984 movie adaptation of 1984 — the Inner Party Commissar delivering his speech, echoed in giant images on the telescreens, hypnotizing the crowd of proles into a frenzy of Party Line, Pure Orthodoxy, Pure INGSOC. Long Live Big Brother!

          • And it’s the Boomers or slightly younger making the problem even worse by doing what they think appeals to Millennials, yet being totally clueless. See the doubling down on entertainment worship and motivational sermons.

          • StuartB-

            I am not so sure about that. Many of these churches are packed with Millenials, and they keep adding more.

    • Ecky, good to see you again! For a moment, I was afraid you had been banned!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      If anything, changes in US Protestant church organization have lagged behind comparable ones in the secular business world–from small businesses (often sole proprietorships) as the 19th century norm, to consolidation (which means closures) and globalization.

      Evangelicals tend to be Late Adopters in just about everything.

  2. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    And three of those ten (#s 2, 5 & 10) have pastors who have been flagged on various spiritual abuse blogs for abuse and/or corruption.

  3. Adam Tauno Williams says

    I was talking to a co-worker last week and he said his mega-church hired consultants to do a study; the consultants came back and said **the single largest determinant** of a successful church is available parking. People need to be able to quickly find a parking space or they will leave, so the church should build out its parking to accommodate its desired congregation size plus some “elbow room”. The parking lot should never be permitted to approach being full.

    1.) That should take a lot of pressure of pastors and church leaders.
    2. ) I recommended they get their money back; the conversation didn’t go well.

    > Volunteers are unempowered.
    > The governance team micromanages.
    > Too many meetings.
    > Too many events and programs that lead nowhere.

    This is sooo true; and when many an organization – churches no different – fears it is dying they double-down on the above, like a drowning man gasping for air.

    > who said the goal is to build an organization with a mission and vision and strategy to fulfill that mission?

    Also true. You’d have to drag me in chains to another “vision statement meeting”. Ugh.

    Only caveat is that a church is the principle substantial expression of The Church and it does need to keep the lights on and the rain out; it is the only model that has demonstrated any durability [vs. “house churches” and other piestic visions of organization]. It seems the hallmark of our times to run to extremes.

    • > I recommended they get their money back; the conversation didn’t go well.
      The Daily WTF has made me suspicious of anything said by a highly-paid consultant. Parking? Really? The Catholic church in my neighborhood turns the block into a Matchbox track for 6 hours every Sunday! Seems they’re doing just fine (attendance-wise… they’ve had a tough year in other respects).

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > Parking? Really?

        Yeah, it seems farcical to me too. But they are speaking to an audience eager to believe such a thing; you would be amazed how adamant a segment of the population is about parking, it is a first-concern to them. So, while I do not believe for a moment the results of this “study”, I do recognize the results as perfectly tailored to the expectations of the customer.

        • > I do recognize the results as perfectly tailored to the expectations of the customer.

          The consultants should run political campaigns…

      • Eckhart Trolle says

        As the saying goes, nobody goes there anymore–it’s too crowded.

    • “Church Growth” makes as much sense as “made me a viral ad!” or “make us into a cool company that appeals to millennials!”

      We all see successful people doing it. We can instantly tell what they are. But you can’t utterly manufacture it. It has to come from inside the organization itself. It has to be in its nature and find its niche and find its audience.

      Maybe the problem with the Church Growth Movement is that there are no empowered millennials walking into churches and being paid as consultants. If you hire a Boomer Consultant, get Boomer Consultant results.

      • To use a hyper local example, I used to work at a pizza chain in Minnesota, local business with maybe a dozen plus locations. I was around when they hired a new VP of Marketing, who proceeded to make incredibly stupid decisions that drove customers away (my location was a test kitchen, so I knew owners and VPs and worked directly with them as kitchen staff).

        That guy is still with the company I believe, and their latest billboard campaign features shots of the boring old food with the big words “Now that’s Sharable/Likable/Picture Worthy”. The campaign is cringe worthy and blatant attempts at trying to be “popular” and “cool” and “likable”. The chain is over 50 years old, doesn’t serve real beer, doesn’t offer by the slice, are almost all poorly located, and charge a premium for slightly better than Pizza Hut pizza but without the coupons and an outrageous delivery charge because it’s all legitimately made fresh in house.

        Should have just said “Now Make Us Viral!” for all the good it does.

        Some days I want to drive over to corporate, reintroduce myself, and kick someone’s butt.

      • Rant:

        Alternatively, don’t really care. Hire a millennial at less than a livable wage, and ask them to work 31.75 hours a week with promises of boosting to full time if performance improves in six months/a year. Call them a “guru” or a “rock star”, that’s what those precious snowflakes like to be called, right? Ask them to prepare quarterly and yearly marketing calendars, empower them, and then edit them to death a few times before settling. Make sure to set astronomical goals, because you are just as good as that other church/small business down the street, in fact you deserve to be doing better because clearly you are better.

        Don’t get the results you want? Let them go. Rinse and repeat. And now you can say you have a robust training program for recent graduates and a growing social media presence and understanding of how millennials think!

        I may be speaking from too many years of experience.

  4. please tell me that the photograph of that guy on that stage is not what is being touted as a ‘Church’ . . .

    I suppose I’m reacting to that photograph through my Catholic aesthetics, which may be a petty way of the viewing of something that is ‘different’, but what is so wrong with lighting candles, and kneelers, and cold stone floors, and statues and flowers, and stained glass windows, and the stations of the Cross, and the Crucifix . . . always the Crucifix, and the people coming in ‘visitation’ 24/7 ?

    The ‘focus’ in the photograph seems so worldly. I would drive many miles from a suburb into my city to visit my old Church in times of trouble . . . the word ‘sanctuary’ has meaning for me . . . but the truth remains that coming into that old Church is like leaving time outside and visiting the place where my family worshipped ‘en famille’ and so the place itself is a ‘home’ for me to return to . . . and there are moments when I need to experience this.

    a stage, a man . . . this is a ‘Church’? I try to comprehend this. But I cannot do it. The coldness. Even with all the people seated there, still there seems is such a sterility.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > the word ‘sanctuary’ has meaning for me

      Ditto. You [and me] might be onto something here. Sanctuary from what? For me it is sanctuary from the corporate world I inhabit for ~50 hours a week, so a church that is ‘the same’ is a nightmare. Calculated, efficient, a place of ‘reasonable’ Values. Run!!

      But slick megas are a Sanctuary for someone – people who feel marginalized, threatened, besieged. This describes many people I personally know who attend megas – they feel the world is dirty, violent, and skidding out of control. For them this vacuum-sealed-package form of this type of church is a Sanctuary, they feel comfortable there, everyone is like them [and thus not threatening them]. The larger the church the less threatened you need to feel – look how many of us there are. This is important to people who feel alone. And you get a good show. This may be a kind of Pastoring En Masse.

      Of course this does not describe all megas, but it describes a lot of them; it describes three that exist in my metro-area. Sometimes their marketing is comically transparent – Afraid? Isolated? Come here. It is a very human message, you have to give it that much. I want to refer to them as ‘country clubs with free membership’ – but I cannot bring myself to do it anymore. They are responding to what a good slice of the population [~20%?] genuinely feels. My disagreement is with what that slice feels [and it is mostly pointless to argue with feelings] – the response from those feelings is a rational one.

      • I feel some of the same emotions that megas appeal to in the population: afraid, isolated, marginalized. But on the few occasions I’ve ventured into megas (actually mini-megas, since their congregational numbers were in the thousands rather than tens of thousands), I’ve left feeling worse than when I arrived.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > afraid, isolated, marginalized.

          It is an important component to feel afraid *of* and marginalized *by* the same things. If we are afraid of different things/people, then we may both have fear, but our fears may not be congruent.

          When I occasionally end up at a mega I feel myself to be the foreigner.

        • Because you arrive in that state, and you see people on stage who aren’t like you. And you look around, and you don’t know if the people in the pews are like you either, because they look like they are trying to be the people up on stage.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        This describes many people I personally know who attend megas – they feel the world is dirty, violent, and skidding out of control. For them this vacuum-sealed-package form of this type of church is a Sanctuary, they feel comfortable there, everyone is like them [and thus not threatening them].

        Looking for an echo chamber of Those Just Like Me?

    • That is Andy Stanley at North Point. The “why” of how that is designed as such can partially be explained by the church’s website:

      “About the Church:
      We believe that the church is the body of Christ, of which Jesus Christ is the head. The members of the church are those who have trusted by faith the finished work of Christ. The purpose of the church is to glorify God by loving him and by making him known to the lost world.
      “Atlanta does not need another church. What Atlanta does need is a safe environment where the unchurched can come and hear the life-changing truth that Jesus Christ cares for them and died for their sin.”

      • I guess it partly has to do with what kind of environment one feels safe in. I, for example, don’t feel safe in shopping malls, stadiums or business campuses; hence, I’ve never felt safe in the megas I’ve visited, as a believer or unbeliever.

        • “Safe” in this way:

          “Stanley acknowledged that the Gospel message can be a stumbling block for many who come to church for the first time, but emphasized that everything else should welcome unbelievers in. “Every weekend, hundreds of people who are resistant to the Gospel walk through our doors,” he said, referring to the Sunday services at North Point Ministries’ churches. “If they are going to be offended, I don’t want them to be offended by anything except the Cross. That’s why we adapt what we do, and consequently we have had extraordinary success in reaching unchurched people.”

          Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/andy-stanley-tells-pastors-to-reach-unchurched-people-make-church-appealing-and-engaging-91920/#VWSF7iY1FmC60f5z.99

          • If they are going to be offended, I don’t want them to be offended by anything except the Cross.

            Is there a replica of the Cross in that sanctuary? Does the environment, as well as the words of the ministers, speak about the Cross? Or are people suckered into a comfortable and familiar space, a lying space, I might say, and then slipped the message of the Cross, as if it’s something that merely needs to be added to life as it already is? The very building should preach Jesus, and Jesus crucified.

          • “The very building should preach Jesus, and Jesus crucified.”

            Is it more important that the ministers preach that?

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            I am with Robert related to “The very building should preach Jesus, and Jesus crucified.”. A church is not an office park and should not look like one.

            Our built-environment *IS* a values statement, it is the single most expensive and engineered values statement we make. We can talk values, but look around and we see what we value; if the two do not match than (a) we are lying or (b) we have changed our minds and what we see should be expected to change [which may take considerable time].

            The simple Front Porch is an excellent example. Houses in some neighborhoods have them, houses in other neighborhoods do not. This represents the values – and fears – these cannot be separated – of those who built the neighborhood.

          • “A church is not an office park and should not look like one.”

            North Point’s probably response would first be that the “church” is a people, not a building. The second is to keep in mind that they are trying to reach the unchurched, so the structure they use matters in that regard.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            > North Point’s probably response would first be that the “church” is a people, not a building

            It probably would be; and they are wrong. It is both. I used to believe what they claim; to be candid I know believe such claims are ‘just silly’, I cannot think of a clearer way to express that.

            > so the structure they use matters in that regard.

            They believe then that the unchurched are attracted to stadiums. Some probably are.

          • While I see what Stanley’s trying to get at, that there should be nothing but Jesus in the church, I must wonder about the “hundreds of people who are resistant to the Gospel” coming “every weekend.” I notice he doesn’t say “unchurched” here… does he mean his regulars don’t much care for the Gospel? How does he know that to begin with, aren’t we all resistant to the idea by default?

          • Turnalso-

            I assume he is meaning both the unchurched, and regulars who are resistant. I think he hears from, and about them, from others in the church.

          • Because the safest place you can be is where no one else is like you, and they all want you to become like them.

          • “A church is not an office park and should not look like one.”

            North Point’s probably response would first be that the “church” is a people, not a building. The second is to keep in mind that they are trying to reach the unchurched, so the structure they use matters in that regard.

            Yuck. Cliche. A church is both a people and a building. And why would the unchurched want to go to a shopping center outlet mall or office park? Woo, that must be where I can find God and answers to life! It’s just all so familiar, maybe I’ll swing by their coffee shop or McHolyGrind on the way out.

          • StuartB-

            Apparently many don’t mind going to such locations.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > What Atlanta does need is a safe environment where the unchurched can come

        A common matra; but is that what happened? Is there data to support that. Or did it collect people from other churches and failed institutions? My money would be on the later.

        I do not believe megas, in general, appeal to the unchurched – but mega-congregants believe they do.

        • “Many attenders come from other churches, but nearly a quarter haven’t been in any church for a long time before coming to a megachurch.”


          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            ” haven’t been in any church for a long”

            Interesting. I suppose there is a variable here relating to how one defines the unchurched.

            “””Nearly two-thirds of attenders have been at these churches 5 years or less.”””

            I have seen this stat before; it is also interesting that somehow this manages to remain fairly constant. But calculating how much of that is just due to mobility [people may move that often] is tough.

          • Oh I could have some fun picking apart the assumptions in that list…

          • StuartB-

            If Hirsch and Frost are off-base, please provide info to refute.

        • I do not believe megas, in general, appeal to the unchurched – but mega-congregants believe they do.

          Yes. They absolutely do not in the slightest. It only appeals to displaced sheep looking for nicer pastures.

          People want church? They look for the old.

      • And that environment, that safe place…looks like a church filled with those people who make my world unsafe? No.

    • David Cornwell says

      Plus the purpose of a sanctuary isn’t entertainment. If I want ear splitting noise I can find it somewhere else. (I’d rather listen for the trumpet of the Lord to sound.) If I want to watch a swaggering man strut the stage I can watch Donald Trump or one of the other pretenders.

      Added note: some of the theology we are getting since the Paris attacks seems to have originated from Donald Trump.

      • “Plus the purpose of a sanctuary isn’t entertainment.”

        I think most megachurch leaders would agree with you.

        • For me, the spiritual language used in megachurch worship is quite new, but the bones are no different from conservative Evangelical worship (songs->sermon), just the window-dressing. It’s not my cup of tea, not my spiritual love language (when’s Gary Chapman gonna write THAT one?), but that’s all. Metallimessu–a project that’s gone on tour a couple of years: your typical Finnish Lutheran service, but with all the music played in a metal style, long hair, lasers, fog machines, and all–is just an insertion of the same spiritual language within a service and building in an older one. Real objections to the megas, for me, boil down to the theology behind those bones of the service, and would hold (I hope) if the service were instead held in a plain white hall with fluorescent lights and all the songs were sung in 6/8 time with only a bouncing piano line to back it up.

          Mega-ism is a brand of Evangelical high-churchmanship, just a kind of high-churchmanship that I don’t get.

    • The ideal church for me would be a quiet place I can go to, with pews and cold floors, and a lot of silence but shy of oppressive. I would be able to sit in the quiet, and think, and listen, and rejoice, and grieve, and be surrounded by other people who do the same. We’d be friends, have contact with each other, check in once a week, but never need to “do life together” daily during the week. No one would get up to talk at us, no forced sequence of events other than loose order, no passivity in waiting for yet another special music number or order of procession. And at the end, we’d all approach the table, receive the cup, receive the bread, say our thanks, and go live our lives away from that building and that place, until we come back to see how we are all doing and what we need from each other.

      That’s what I want.

      Privacy in community when it’s needed.

  5. Richard Hershberger says

    Ten years ago i thought that the practical upper limit on megachurch size was how far people were willing to drive on Sunday morning. It turns out that people who are further out are willing to drive to some satellite facility closer to them and watch TV. This is very weird to me, but then again there is very little about most Evangelical services that I recognize as Christian worship.

    Dead on about too many meetings, though…

    • “It turns out that people who are further out are willing to drive to some satellite facility closer to them and watch TV.”

      They usually are only watching the sermon on TV (although even at the main locations people often still watch the screens), yet are still able to experience fellowship, community, music, etc…

  6. a stage, a man . . . this is a ‘Church’? I try to comprehend this. But I cannot do it. The coldness. Even with all the people seated there, still there seems is such a sterility.

    I wouldn’t call it “sterile” per se. But it definitely fits American patterns of mass media consumption – and it offers a comfortable anonymity to most attendees. Which, I suspect, is exactly what they want.

    • I have become comfortably numb…

      • it sure isn’t ‘numbness’ one feels on their knees gazing up at a crucifix . . . that is the kind of ‘sanctuary’ I need these days . . . a place where I can be open to my sorrows and still be at peace . . . all at the same moment . . . something very healing in that place

        I would never begrudge any human person an opportunity to gather with others to pray, no . . . but I can’t help feeling sorry for the bleakness in that photograph of a mega stage . . . I want more for those people than that . . . am I wrong to feel this way ??

        • There is a level of aesthetic impoverishment that seems to me to seriously impinge on the spiritual dimension of human existence. Some say that beauty is an entirely subjective experience, but I don’t think this is true. I think beauty is an objective quality, and that the consistent and pervasive lack of this quality inevitably leads to a diminution of imagination, empathy and the ability to see and think in true, creative and nuanced ways. I don’t think I will ever be Roman Catholic again, but I recognize the extraordinary importance of the kind of sanctuaries that Roman Catholic churches have, filled with imagery and tactile, physical embodiment and expression of faith, offering a vision of enchanted and full rather than impoverished and bleak existence. Without such things, the spirit loses its ability to imagine in ways that are subtle, creative and true.

          I don’t think it’s wrong to want more for those people.

      • Possibly my favorite Pink Floyd song.

        I had an opportunity to watch a cover band perform that album in it’s entirety. Spot on. Was so good…

  7. “First, who said the goal is to build an organization with a mission and vision and strategy to fulfill that mission? Is that really the church?”

    Ah, the missiology v. ecclesiology primacy issue.

    “Frost and Hirsch flipped the script and challenged the church to be shaped by our mission- to let mission flow out of our understanding of Jesus and who He is (the sent and sending God), and so be the sent community that structures itself along the lines of cooperation with God, what He’s doing and sending/calling us to do.”


    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      I don’t like Vision and Mission.

      *BUT* if you want to build a church in a culture where self-sufficiency and autonomy are principle values… how are you going to do that? You need some axis around which to gather people. If not Community (which the congregation isn’t into) then you have Mission. Both create a form of “us”, which is something an organization – church or otherwise – MUST create. The megas are being practical, they are working within the context of their constituency. A constituency which, perhaps, has no interest in Pastoring in the traditional sense, they don’t expect to find that, perhaps they do not even *want* to find that. They hire therapists to meet that need.

      • “If not Community (which the congregation isn’t into) then you have Mission.”

        This is precisely the difference between Christianity and Ideology. A lot of “mission” is the attempt to convince people of the truth, no, make that the desirability of a stripped-down version of christianity.

        Ideology hasn’t had a particularly good run since its heyday in the first half of the 20th C.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > Ideology hasn’t had a particularly good run

          Really? From here it looks to be robust and vital.

          • Burro [Mule] says

            Hmm. Explain

            From where I sit, ideology has mostly degenerated into marketing in the West. Islam still has some traction, but appears almost entirely reactive.

      • “Theological Foundations.” What are they?
        1. Trinity. Here they are drawing on the deep trinitarian tradition of perichoresis — or the mutual indwelling — though they don’t focus on the Easterns but on the theology of community in the Trinity. That community explodes into creation (this was taught by Jonathan Edwards) and so the result is a relational creation designed to connect to the connecting God. Thus: “Mission is the ministry of the Son for the Father through the Holy Spirit for the sake of the world” (56).
        2. Incarnation. Big idea, of course, is that God embodied himself in Jesus as his revelation. God contextualizes Jesus in Jewish form. Missional spirituality means contextualizing — in other words — it means incarnation. “Incarnation” is a big term, and it is common to use it this way, but I do think it requires some special nuancing to make “incarnation” a good term for missional spirituality. It is far more than “contextualizing.” We’re dealing here with ontology, and with lots of dimensions of “incarnation” that only the Son did/does.
        3. Priesthood of all believers. This is the focus of their proposal. All believers are priests and spiritual. They see it as removing a “hierarchical dualism” (64) between clergy and laity and means a “missional adventure for entire congregations.” They see the priesthood of all believers in terms of mission. They appeal esp to 1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-12.
        4. Jesus Creed (yes, they use my expression), or Shema Spirituality (from Alan Hirsch). They focus on Mark 12:28-32, that Jesus taught us to love both God and others, and it all comes “from” the heart — an overflow from inside out.
        Their conclusion is what I proposed, in fact, in Jesus Creed. A “missional spirituality is an attentive and active engagement of embodied love for God and neighbor expressed from the inside out” (72). For too many “spirituality” is defined as intimacy with God or communion with God or mystical transport, but Jesus would have defined spirituality in terms of loving God and loving others. You can’t be right with God if you are wrong with your neighbor.”


      • Forced community will fail. Forced mission will fail.

        Everyone wants community. Don’t package it and sell it to us. Let it develop authentically around what we want, even if that’s not what you want it to look like.

        Everyone wants purpose. A mission isn’t a purpose, it’s an ideology, like others said. What other purpose is there than to love others and love God? We’ve been told it’s to fight republican battles and culture war issues. In the name of loving others. And it echos hollow.

        So, community and mission. Both are what people want and need. But you can’t manufacture it. And you can’t tell us what it looks like or how it functions. Sure a large percentage of sheeple will go along with it, people can be incredibly dumb…but the best and brightest will walk, and over time, you’ll find just the Boomers sitting there wondering where everyone went.

        The Boomers. The greatest and most blessed of generations, simultaneously screaming out I’ll do what I want free love, and then accepting their political Savior who told them exactly how to think and they deserve theirs. And then their kids had to go tear it all down with punk rock before doubling down on the same socio-economic-political messiahs.

  8. Anyone here actually attend a mega-church? I don’t mean just visit once or twice, or even KNOW someone who does. Point being is that it is easier to pile on than it is to speak from within.

    Personally, I do not WANT to get lost in a large congregation. I just do not want to confuse the synergy of being in something large (as if that also indicates importance), I want true fellowship (as much as people will allow ) where I know most everyone’s name.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      Did for years. Was president of a college ministry. Attended lots of meetings.

      That mega pretty much have birth to the other two white suburban megas in our metro. There is one Charismatic, more urban, mega here; I have only attended that one a few times. I think of these two groups – while both megas – to be very different types of organizations.

    • I can speak from “within”. I attend both a mega and a smaller church.
      There are good megachurches and not so good ones. Painting with a broad brush is not helpful.

    • Michael Bell says

      I currently do.


      Meeting in a satellite movie theater.

      Live music, piped in sermon from the previous week at main location.

      Teaching generally very good. Music, so so. Audience participation in singing very poor. Sunday morning fellowship very poor. Strong emphasis on weekly “home churches” which is done quite well. Have started to make some relationships. Not being tied to a building means that the ability to care for the needy, refugees, etc has been exceptional. At a guess our church alone will probably take in 50 refugees from Syria.

      Average age of attenders – about 25.

      • “Average age of attenders – about 25”

        Does that constitute a wide spectrum, a heavy representation of young adults, or a heavy representation of middle-aged adults with young children?

        • Michael Bell says

          Primarily even distribution from 0 to about 50. (I am 52 going on 40) College age and young families with children are probably the biggest component of this. Some seniors, many of whom are in the house church we attend.

      • According to the link, the Meeting House belongs to the Brethren in Christ denomination. Anabaptist, pacifist, with deep roots here in south Central PA. Close in many respects to the Mennonite; here in Lancaster County, they share a single hymnal: Hymnal: A Worship Book: Prepared by Churches in the Believers Church Tradition.

    • I have. Then after I got married I started attending a smaller church. I liked the mega because it was easy (as a single) to find a others in my general situation. I have quite a few good friends from that. The preaching was also very, very good. I’m still getting to know the smaller church but one thing I discovered that I really like is that the pastor actually knows who I am. The pastor maybe shouldn’t be the “primary caregiver” but I know that when a spiritual crisis (or any other kind) hits I would want the counsel of a pastor/elder/etc.

    • I was “converted” at a megachurch in college, and attended one after I first moved to DC. Since then, I have by stages been attending smaller and smaller churches, until now my church has 20-30 people on a crowded Sunday. 😉

    • 4 years attending, 2 and a half as a regular to an evangelical. 5 years in a house church before that. 4 years attending the moderate IFB equivalent before that. And 8 years in small-to-medium size extremist IFB before that.

  9. Oscar,
    As a Catholic, I find the whole “Mega-Church” discussion somewhat interesting and amusing. The parish I attend has over 3000 families (in excess of 10,000 members). We have 7 Sunday services. We have over 80 active ministries. Sounds kinda “Mega” to me.

    And borrowing heavily from Christianne’s earlier comment we also have “candles, and kneelers, and cold stone floors, and statues and flowers, and stained glass windows, and the stations of the Cross, and the Crucifix . . . always the Crucifix, and the people coming in ‘visitation’ 24/7.” We pray and laugh and weep and mourn together. There are deep friendships made here and meaning for our lives is found.

    Aaaaand…. we’re also a mess. For every meaningful ministry doing the good works of Christ, we have petty turf protections, ego driven squabbles and manipulations simply because we can. For every smile that is given, at times there are more snubs and callous judgments laid before the feet of hurting people than I care to remember. Lonely people who are not noticed and broken people looking for healing that doesn’t come.

    It’s a mess because that’s who we are. Aaaaand…. it’s glorious because that’s who we are.

    With the whole “Mega-Church” discussion, it seems we have a need to define meaning based on size. And this works from both directions. “Pro-Mega” adherents see the exploitation of size as the only route to meaning based on the power of numeric influence. “Anti-Mega” adherents see the control of size as a way to hold onto intimacy. Either way it defaults to size. And either way, I’ve seen plenty of small churches with projection screens and hipster pastors and I’ve seen large churches with deeply meaningful human compassion and mercy.

    Maybe it’s about something else that matters more.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And when Megachurch gets too small, it’s time for GIGACHURCH!

      • Or maybe it will be time for the GOOGLECHURCH – but then again Sergey and Larry are already probably working on that.

      • “…I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Terachurch, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”

    • I had to laugh when I read FLATROCKER’S ” Annnnnd we’re also a mess.”
      I have to admit this is not only true, it is also one of the reasons I am comfortable in a Catholic parish. I don’t think I would belong in one of those fundamentalist Churches where everyone is ‘holier-than-thou’ and points the finger at ‘the others’, no. I wouldn’t belong there. I’m in the the Catholics who ARE a ‘mess’, and more importantly, the Catholics who KNOW they are ‘a mess’ . . . . we see our beloved Church as a ‘hospital’ for sinners, and if it weren’t, I doubt many of us would come and get on our knees and ask the Good Lord to help us . . .

      FLATROCKER nailed it. Our Church is home to people who are ‘a mess’ . . . maybe that is what ‘sanctuary’ is to us, after all . . . it takes us in, and for a while we are strengthened and helped, and then we are ‘sent forth’ into the world to love and serve . . . imagine that . . .

      there is an old song from the sixties that says ‘and Jesus was a sailor when He sailed upon the waters, and He spent a long time watching from a lonely wooden ‘tower’, and when He knew for certain only drowning men could see Him, He said ‘all men must be sailors then, until the sea shall free them . . . ‘

      drowning? fearful? and we hold out our hand toward Him and He grabs hold of it . . . yeah, that’s the ‘gospel’ for a people who are ‘messes’ 🙂

  10. Try this experiment: eliminate the preaching and of the Gospel and the Sacraments. In their place, use ONLY Church Growth Principles. See what happens. If a crowd gathers, is it the Church? Then try another experiment: Use ONLY the preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments. Nothing else (except prayer!). See what happens. Will the numbers differ? What does this say?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Will the numbers differ?


      > What does this say?


      This post acknowledges that Org-Behavior is a legitimate things to study, and its critique of many churches is valuable and substantive. And within Church Growth there are some legitimate points. You cannot completely separate Church from Organization. Attempting to do so, either way, will leave you with nothing [as humans Organize and humans are the Church].

    • It depends.
      Is your timeframe for success measured in months or millennia?

  11. Interesting that almost all these mega megachurches are in the south!

    I attend a church with membership of about 600; average attendance around 200 per Sunday. The biggest problem with these megachurches is that people see all the cool stuff they are doing and want that at our church. We have one pastor and a part-time organist while many of these large churches have a huge staff. We can’t put on the Living Chirstmas Tree choir concert with orchestra, or the Christmas pageant complete with camels and goats. We don’t have the money or the people.
    We are also in a rural area with declining population as the young grow up, get an education, and never return. But seeing these megachurches on tv, or attending one in person, makes our members long for something equally exciting! I hear it far too often–our church is dull, why can’t we do something more interesting, exciting?!

    Absolutely, these big churches follow demographic patterns. There was a pastor in the area who started a Baptist church (which morphed into a non-denominational “ministry”) and was very, very successful. It was on tv, started a school, was one of THE churches to attend. Then he tried to go into politics (unsuccessfully), moved away, and several years ago moved back to the area. Where did he start a new church? Inner city? Blue collar part of town? No. On the side of town where the professional class and their money had gone. His old church is no longer the in church and is struggling somewhat (I know someone who attends) but the new one is going gangbusters. Why? Money has a lot to do with it, I am sure.

  12. Well, I now live nowhere near megachurches. Even when we lived in SoCal, the largest church was around 5000 people, and the general consensus at the time was that they were too big and should spin off “daughter churches” (with their own pastors in situ) to be able to “reach more people.”

    My head and heart are not in that space anymore. I think all the reasons for the phenomenon have been given; I think the most overarching thing that can be said is that it is a North American phenomenon, another aspect of the search for Utopia with its concomitant historical amnesia.

    Let me offer all y’all a few excerpts from the emails our parish has been getting from one of our deacons, who with his wife is visiting their son and his family in Georgia (the Republic, not the US State – a Christian country since 327 AD); son teaches at an American-based school, daughter-in-law is native Georgian. These paint a very different picture, of a culture that has been saturated with Christianity for 1700 years – not perfect, but very different from the ends and means of the megachurch phenomenon.

    “As a teenager in the “glorious ’60’s” (imagine a big ironic smile here) I remember a rock critic, Lester Bangs?, writing of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar playing as “an embarrassment of riches.” My American sensibilities tell me the same might be written of Orthodox Georgia; there is just so much spiritual wealth here one is astounded…I find myself envious that Georgians, on their way to work or to buy groceries or on a date, might stop at a church and pray before any number of icons strewn with the jewelry of answered prayers….

    “In the last week we’ve been to the immense Cathedral Of Sameba (the Trinity) visible to everyone in Tbilisi on a hill on the south side of the Mktsvari river, its gold dome dominating the city’s skyline; the monastery church of Jvari (the Holy Cross), just north of Tbilisi, where St. Nino planted her cross in the 4th century, the same cross resting on a pillar in the Sioni Church; the Cathedral of the 12 Apostles in Mtskheta built over the crypt of St. Sidonia clutching the robe of Christ, where pagan monarchs King Mirian and Queen Nana were baptized in the confluence of the nearby rivers, thus beginning the Christian Georgian state; and the venerable Anchiskhati Basilica, the oldest church in Tbilisi, a few paces from the Patriarchate, originally built in the 5th century. I gave up counting the number of miracle-working icons in these churches—there are at least twenty, and one can only imagine what the rest of the country holds. But then you’d need to live here to eventually see it all, even though Georgia is a relatively small country. Still, weddings abound, churches are full, people pray in them at all hours, clergy and monastics are visible everywhere on the streets and in the shops, all signs of a country re-awakening to its ancient Christian identity….

    “And then you get into a cab to drive home and the radio is blasting hip-hop in Russian, Georgian, Armenian, Turkish, South Ossetian, something? Everyone put your hands together for American cultural imperialism…or not….

    “The Georgian nation is famous for its ethnic and religious tolerance; Muslims, Jews, Roman Catholics, and non-conforming Christians such as monophysites have their own worship structures and are treated with Christian charity by the clergy and the locals; proselytizing Protestants however, find very few “converts” even among the most disaffected Georgians….

    “All this is not to say there are no problems. Western-style materialism uncomfortably abounds, driving the roads is a chaotic and outright dangerous activity, there seem to be little or no official building codes, the soul-numbing effects of Soviet Communism linger in the air and on the streets, the differences between the haves and have-nots are painfully obvious, and the Georgian government must take into consideration at all times their large and very powerful neighbor to the north. But something is definitely stirring among the Georgians. A nation with such deep roots in ancient traditional Christianity is re-awakening to its spiritual legacy. While officially a European-style “secular democracy”, the Georgian nation is in the process of being re-churched, re-baptized so-to-speak, and the Orthodox Church, so embedded in the historical consciousness of the Georgian people, continues to expand its influence in the day-to-day life of the nation. For an American from one of those stricken western “secular democracies” all of this seems nothing short of miraculous.”


    • Eckhart Trolle says

      The tolerance part is not true. Georgian Orthodox have strained relations with the (non-Chalcedonian) Armenians, although there have been talks lately, and have been known to physically attack gay protest marches.

      • This is a report from someone I trust, whose son lives there. He writes, “All this is not to say there are no problems.” Attacking gay protest marches is definitely a problem; there are Orthodox who realize that such behavior is uncharitable and unnecessary, but they don’t get press.

        The ongoing talks with the non-Chalcedonians are very serious, enough that I have hope for re-unification of the non-C’s and the C’s in my lifetime. I suspect that whatever friction there is with Armenians is more tribal than anything else. There’s tribalism among American Orthodox, too. We’re a mess; and being able to live with – and not get freaked out by – the messiness and still produce people who radiate the life of the Holy Spirit (saints) is one of the things that attracted me to the Orthodox Church.


  13. Curious that Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church isn’t on this list. If Wikipedia is to be believed it’s the largest church in the U.S. with over 40,000 attenders. Or are they now officially classified as a weekly positive-thinking rally rather than a church?

  14. The main thing that stands out to me in this list of churches is that only one is old enough to have been forced to transition from the founding pastor. What happens after that? Several of the churches where I live that were large in the 80s are now shrunk to mere hundreds seated in 1000 + sanctuaries. One I attended at the time has had to sell their church to a newer large one. And I always recall a church I attended for a time on Wilshire Blvd in LA. It could seat around 2000, and had ornate architecture and gilded ceilings. I assume all of this was pre Depression era. There were only 50 – 75 in attendance at the time. I assume the doors were kept open by bequests carefully managed for years.

    I also attended a mega when I was in LA, for a while. It’s very isolating to attend a church where there are thousands in attendance and no one knows your name, or even notices when you are gone. I prefer a smaller church where the pastor might at least know my name, though that’s not perfect either. Our current one kept calling me by my daughter’s name for years!

    I confess, I react badly when I hear of church growth consultants, strategies, etc., if for no other reason than that our church had carefully fostered the idea that all ages were welcome in church and everyone should have the option of attending Sunday school which equates with a small group as well. Then an outside consultant came in and said thats not what people want, they want to attend church while the kids are in their own programs. So, the powers that be blew up our careful arrangement, decimating our Sunday classes, especially for the youth, and making it difficult for families to attend church together. Yet most of the young children in our church come from long time, multigenerational families who want to attend together.

    I know, they want to attract “the unchurched.” But most of our new members come from our tradition elsewhere, or from the on site preschool, so I doubt many are truly unchurched. In any event, if they managed to turn us into a mega, which is unlikely, I would go elsewhere. As an introvert, I am comfortable with those I know, but I detest crowds. I think we have a lot to offer a world that needs places to actually find community, but a focus on numeric growth just doesn’t sound like Jesus to me. There was a time when people were leaving Him in droves. Did he turn to the disciples and say, hey we better come up with a strategy to get these folks back? Nope. I think the world is dying for truly pastoral leadership, but they won’t find it where it’s all about the butts in the pews.

  15. One thing I know ABSOLUTELY nothing about:

    All around the ATL there are billboards for African American churches. Are there big African-American churches too? What are they like?

  16. Bulletin board comment, the article about The Jesus Movement. First paragraph references it as a renewal movement of God. Is that true? Obviously I didn’t live through it, but judging by it’s fruit, it’s destroyed the church in America, radicalized the political spectrum, led to a generation of Nones, and created a hyper consumer capitalist society.

    Obviously not all the blame is to be put at the feet of the Jesus Movement. Plenty has happened since then. But it seems like the Jesus Movement was the “Just like X, but Christian! (TM)” version of what was happening in America at the time.

    It’s hard for me to look at the past 50 years and say Jesus was anywhere involved in it, except at a grassroots local level.

    As he always is.

  17. more people, more income, a bigger Church, a mega-Church, a gym, a coffee bar, a pastor living in a gated-community in a house bigger than the mega-Church, a selected group of ‘elders’ who shield the pastor so he can be brilliant on-stage to bring in:
    more people, more income, . . . .

    cycling always upward,
    but towards what?

Speak Your Mind