January 21, 2021

A Defense of Megachurches


For those of you who just crawled out from under the rock where you’ve been hiding throughout the 2000’s, allow me to let you in on something: we have not been shy about criticizing megachurches here at Internet Monk.

Yeah, and the Pope is still a Catholic, a lot of people like to watch a show called Downton Abbey, and the Cubs still haven’t won the World Series and will not in 2014 either.

Here are a few examples of our rather consistent disdain for the form and the philosophies and practices that tend to characterize it:

Michael Spencer wrote a remarkable rant almost ten years ago called, A Contrarian Manifesto for the Church Growth Debate. Michael wasn’t afraid to say what he really thought, was he? — “The ‘boomer megachurches’ aren’t presiding over a rediscovery of Biblical Christianity. They are leading a revolution where culture, generational niche groups and consumeristic agendas subvert the Gospel.”

He also critiqued the evangelical megachurch as “the entertainment-driven church.” Ouch.

Michael became disillusioned with these palaces for the “suburban Jesus” — “Churches in suburbia can do so much good for the Kingdom, but when I have to come face to face with a version of Christianity that puts Christ in his place and baptizes all the values of the empire, it makes me angry. It discourages me about what all those nice people are thinking in those beautiful buildings.”

In his well-known Coming Evangelical Collapse articles, Michael suggested that, rather than go away, megachurches will continue to dominate the ecclesiastical landscape in the U.S. This, however, will not be a sign of health and Christ-centered vigor. Rather, it will indicate the triumph of a-theological pragmatism.

Expect evangelicalism as a whole to look more and more like the pragmatic, therapeutic, church growth oriented megachurches that have defined success. The determination to follow in the methodological steps of numerically successful churches will be greater than ever. The result will be, in the main, a departure from doctrine to more and more emphasis on relevance, motivation and personal success….with the result being churches further compromised and weakened in their ability to pass on the faith. For some time, we’ve been at a point that the decision to visit a particular evangelical church contained a fairly high risk of not hearing the Biblical Gospel. That experience will be multiplied and expanded in the years to come. Core beliefs will become less and less normative and necessary in evangelicalism.

And then he said:

Will the coming evangelical collapse get evangelicals past the pragmatism and shallowness that has brought about its loss of substance and power? I tend to believe that even with large declines in numbers and an evidence “earthquake” of evangelical loyalty, the purveyors of the evangelical circus will be in full form, selling their wares as the promised solution to every church’s problems. I expect the landscape of megachurch vacuity to be around for a very long time. (I rejoice in those megachurches that fulfill their role as places of influence and resource for other ministries without insisting on imitation.)

I, Chaplain Mike, have had my say as well. Back in 2010, I wondered why we really need big churches. A year later, I wrote in praise of two megachurches whose leaders “closed down the show.”

Our brother Jeff Dunn joined the chorus and pulled no punches when he wrote, “Evangelical megachurches are mostly led by circus clowns. They put on a circus act each week so they can attract people under the Big Top. Once inside, those who bought their tickets hear anything but the Gospel.” To be fair, in the same article he acknowledged that there is good to be found in megachurch organizations, but that didn’t change his overall opinion.

In another pointed article, Jeff called what megachurches and other aspects of American evangelical culture represent excessive evangelicalism.”

Perhaps it is time to let a megachurch supporter make a case for a contrary view.

Phil Cooke has written a post called, “What’s Right About Megachurches.” You can follow the link and read the details of his reasoning, but here are Cooke’s main contentions:

  • You had a bad experience at a megachurch? Grow up. There are plenty of bad experiences to be had in small churches too.
  • Megachurches are not as shallow as you think.
  • Megachurches make a dent in communities.
  • Megachurches engage the media.
  • Megachurches are making a global impact.
  • Megachurches plant other churches.

Phil Cooke concludes the article with these words:

I recognize that some people may just have an irrational beef with large churches, so I probably won’t change their minds. But problems are problems, and being a preacher’s kid and spending my life inside churches, I can report that many large congregations are doing some amazing things. And by the way, if you’re interested, here’s a good look at the state of megachurches in the U.S. at the end of 2013.

So I say it’s time to celebrate and support churches of all sizes, because the most important thing to remember is that the Church is the hope of the world.

Whatever size a particular church happens to be…

* * *

Now it’s your turn to respond. What say you?


  1. I think Megachurches lead people down the primrose path. They give them temporary bandaids when they need serious, radical surgery.
    They give the gospel with one hand and rip it away from the sinner with the other hand, as they constantly get the sinner to revert inward…to look inward…to climb the religious spirituality ladder.
    It’s all law. No gospel (in the end) to be had there. And no assurance, at all. They assume that their “free-will” is the answer to the problem, when in fact, it IS the problem.

    And there is NO Christ present (for them) in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. For them, they are mere symbols, and launching pads for their own, heartfelt earnestness.

    Their specialty is handing people back to themselves. That’s the last thing we sinners need.

    Other than those things, they are alright.

  2. I think knowing God His children may be found in some small manner in many churches large or small. I had to travel several years in preparation for ministry through various churches. I really could not believe some of the things I saw heard and even taught. So now If the church be large or small. Minister or layman I simply look to God and remember His Word. Because before I traveled and interacted with layman and ministers both good and bad. I could not accept the scriptures I now keep in mind today.

    Mathew 24 37-40 But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.(very few where saved) Matthew 24:21-22 Matthew 7:2-23 The danger of a form of religion denying the power of. His works or ours ? who addressed the seven churches and just how severe the original language is in addressing the seven churches. Not in anyway trying to be bleak but Jesus Knew what the day would be like.

  3. Actually, I misspoke when I said that sinners “need serious, radical surgery”. That won’t even do it. They need to be killed off.

    God isn’t trying to make us better (as in these Megachurches)…He’s trying to kill us off. So that we can be raised again…in Christ.

  4. I don’t care what size the church is. The only relevant question for me is: What does this church believe, teach, and confess? Often larger institutions have gotten that way by appealing to a lowest common denominator in order to bring people together over a more broad base of belief. ….and then somehow, mysteriously, they all end up being Baptists. Not sure how that works.

    • Almost every single large, “non-denominational” church, has Baptist roots. Their theology is almost always in line (or thereabouts) with Southern Baptist theology. And it is horrid.

      Today I heard a “sermon” by Rick Warren, on having a “godly diet”. How to lose weight and eat the way the Bible says to eat.

      It actually may help a lot of people get healthier. But it denies them what they really need. God’s law…and then His gospel.

      My pastor thinks that it might be fine for people to go to these places to hear the law. But then they will need to go somewhere else where they can actually be handed Christ Jesus.

      • Steve,
        What do you actually know about Southern Baptist theology? Don’t judge it off of a few sermons you hear from a Southern Baptist preacher. I imagine if I took the time I could find some “horrid” theology coming form a Lutheran pastor. Read the Baptist faith and message. If you still think it is horrid, fine. But don’t say it is horrid and then point to a sermon about a godly diet as the exampe of what Southern Baptist theology is, because it isn’t.

        • Jon,

          I know a lot about it.

          It’s a free-will, decision based theology which denies the sacraments.

          It sends people back into themselves (the last place they need to go) for the assurance of their salvation. It is a works-righteousness based system that denies the pure gospel.

          I actually know more about it than they know about themselves. Because they are so often blind to the very facts that I have mentioned.

          I am surrounded by this horrid theology (here in Southern California)…and I see what despair it brings to people, or what self-righteousness results from it.

          These places are nothing but pride factories.

          • Steve, please be careful with your language. We don’t take kindly to people writing off entire segments of the Body of Christ around here. I would remind you that Michael Spencer was a Baptist most of his life.

          • I never “wrote anybody off”.

            I’m not judging their salvation, Mike.

            I am criticizing their errant and self-promoting theology which is a pride making machine and an assurance destroyer.

          • Tell me specifically what bothers you about what I said. Or is it personal?

            I have read much stronger language here in many posts written by you and others in the way you sometimes speak of fundamentalists or political conservatives.

            So exactly what is it that sticks in your craw?

            Then I may be able to address the problem.

            • I was going through some old pieces by Michael Spencer last night and came across a post where he had put this update at the top: “This post is starting to upset people, which is predictable. Add comments at your own risk because I’m surly.” Maybe that’s what is happening this morning.

              At any rate, I find it offensive to lump all “Southern Baptists” or “Baptists” under one umbrella and say they all have “horrid theology,” “deny the gospel,” and run “pride factories.”

              Maybe Martin Luther could get away with such sweeping generalizations in the 16th century, but then again, he didn’t have to submit his comments to a moderator, did he?

          • Steve,
            Your relpy is no more accurate than a Southern Baptist accusing Catholics or Lutherans of being a theology of salvation by works (the sacracments) rather than by grace through faith alone. But I will try and deal with what you said.
            1. We do believe people must decide to have faith in Jesus Christ. Is that really any different than most Christians? John said that if you believe you are not condemned, but if you don’t believe you are condemned alreadly. Peter called on the people to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus. Paul said if you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved. You have to choose to repent. You have to choose to confess. And either you belive or you don’t.
            2. Many Baptists probably could use a little help on developing a better theology of the ordinances. Personally I do believe they can be a means of grace, but Baptists don’t believe they are necessary for salvation or bring about salvation.
            3.Assurace of salvation can often be a problem, but that is not because of theology. That is because of preachers who won’t let people rest assured in Jesus and instead preach, “Are you really, really, really, sure that you know beyond a shadow of a doubt you are saved.” We trust in Jesus alone for the assurance of our salvation, but we do expect to see the fruit of the Spirit in one who has been saved.
            4. It is sort of ironic that you say you know more about Southern Baptists than they know about themselves and then call their churches a pride factory.

            Finally, the SBC is a large denomination. There are good churches and not so good churches, faithful pastors and unfaithful pastors, godly members and ungodly ones, sort of like every other branch of Christianity. Each church is independent so we can’t dictate what anyone does or says. The closest thing that comes to an official SBC theology is the Baptist faith and message. It would be more fruitful if you would deal with actual points of theology (such as baptism or congregational government) and argue from Scripture (and yes even tradition) why you think they are wrong, rather than throwing out accusations and knocking down straw men.

          • Mike, I’m afraid I can relate to what Steve is saying, but he really should mind his absolute statements. And what he’s saying shouldn’t apply only to Southern Baptist Churches.

            I’m in an American Baptist (ABC) Church, a conservative church in a middle-of-the-road to liberal denomination. I’m seeing a shift recently toward the right, and although I’m not hearing from the pastor the things Steve describes I am getting it from a few prominent members and teachers. I recognize some of what Steve is saying and I’m concerned about it too, but I agree that his absolute statements won’t work here.

          • Jesus was a Baptist. That’s good enough for me.

          • Jon, I can’t speak for the Catholics, but Lutherans DO believe in salvation by works, and not faith alone. These saving works would include the sacraments. But it isn’t our works that save us: It is the works of Christ credited to our accounts and given to us by God through the ordinary means. Baptism isn’t our work, because it is the power of God’s word, his Triune name, where it’s efficacy lies. All we can do is get ourselves wet. God, on the other hand, washes us with water and the Word.

            As for your points:
            1. No, only Arminians and Evangelicals believe you must “choose to believe.” The Scriptures teach that you can’t do that (John 15:16). But as blunt as he was being, you basically just conceded Steve’s point there.
            2. I don’t believe anybody teaches the sacraments are necessary for salvation. Jesus can save however he wants (thief on the cross). But we do teach that they are a sure guarantee, sign, and pledge: That those whom God himself marks as his children he will never disown. I always wonder why Baptists believe in a God so small he can’t bring salvation through Word and water, bread and wine. Either those are your means of grace, or your own free will is. I know better than to trust in my will.
            3. If you expect to see fruit, which sounds reasonable, you can too easily set yourself up as a fruit inspector who is always looking to your works for the sure proof of your saving faith. That can only lead to pride or despair. Why not look to the works that God has done for you and to you, on the Cross and in your Baptism (Romans 6:4)? Your works can and will fail, despite our tremendous ability to deceive ourselves into thinking we’re doing well. The works and Word of God can not fail.
            4. Keep in mind, a lot of us Lutherans are former Southern Baptists. We have history, we left for a reason. The SBC IS a mixed bag, as you say, like any other denomination. But in some churches their problem stems from their own theology, in other churches it comes from ignorance of their own theology. Pick your poison, I guess.

          • My language may be a bit harsh, but only because so much is at stake.

            I, in no way, compare myself to Luther or Paul…but Paul said of the Judiazers (Christ + re’s) that he wished that they would “slip with the knife”. And he told the Galatians that they “cut themselves off from Christ Jesus”.

            When you add something to the finished work of Christ on the Cross and turn the whole thing into a religious project, then you make matters WORSE for yourself.

            That’s why I believe that Megachurch (Baptist, non-denominational, etc. ) theology is dangerous.

            Are they Christians? Sure they are, as far as we can know, but it they tread on thin ice.

            • I understand your point perfectly. I hope you will also understand that the moderator has the right to say that some comments are out of bounds, and does not need to explain himself or herself. As Michael used to say, there is no absolute right of free speech in the comments, and we retain the right to not run comments if we think they will hinder the discussion — for whatever reason.

          • Steve, I don’t want to get in over my head theologically here, but believe it or not, but many of us non-Lutherans trust alone in Christ’s finish work on the Cross too and also know that communion and baptism are commands of Jesus and therefore essential to our faith. I am finding this as the cornerstone of the mega-church I attend. Is it too big to function as a church should function? I’m still trying to determine that.

          • Miguel,
            I must confess you have a bit of an advantage on me here because I know very little about Lutheran theology or practice. But as regards to your points.
            1. I wasn’t disagreeing with Steve’s first point about free-will and decision, so there was no accidental concession. I do believe that unless the Holy Spirit draws us first we won’t come. I don’t think I’m an Arminian, but I don’t really care if others do. Even the Calvinistic Baptists I know believe you have to make a decision. They just believe that a person is unable to make that decision until God regenerates him. Again, there is a decision to be made; repent and confess or don’t.
            2. Could you explain what you mean by the sacraments being a ‘sure guarantee, sign and pledge’? Whether I agree with it or not, I would honestly like to better understand the Lutheran view of sacraments. As for Baptists thinking God is to small to bring salvation through word, water, bread and wine. It is not a matter of being too small, and you should know better than that. Baptists believe that God chooses to bring salvation by the preaching of the gospel. Water, bread, and wine are important parts of discipleship, a means of sanctification, not justification. I understand Lutherans disagree with that, but it has nothing to do with Baptists thinking God is small.
            3. Of course our works can fail, whose says they can’t? Again, we trust in Christ alone for our salvation and nothing we do. I’m not arguing for perfection or anything close to it. But there should be some evidence in the life of a believer that he or she actually believes, that he or she acutally has the Holy Spirit.
            4. I’m glad some of you former Southern Baptists have found a home in the Lutheran church, and I certainly understand there being disagreements in theology. I certainly don’t expect us to see eye to eye on everything. But I do get tired of insults, accusations, and straw men arguments. A good example is you saying we believe God is too small. You know, or should know, that simply isn’t the case.

          • JoeIG,

            No church is too big to function as a proper church.

            It’s about what is preached and believed. If your church believes Christ is truly present in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper that is great! I’m all for it!

            But if a church gets people to ‘make a decision for Jesus’ to start them on their walk of faith, then I would say that faith is a false faith…emanating from something that I have done.

          • OK, Chaplain Mike. If you don’t want to explain yourself, that is fine.

            Hard then, to know exactly what the trouble is. But it’s your show.

            • Steve this is getting ridiculous. Did you even read my responses? I answered you specifically and thoroughly. In my last comment I just wanted to make sure you understood the rules here. Let’s call it a day now, ok?

          • Steve, I understand the Lutheran view of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. I can tell you the church I attend does not teach the “real presence” of Christ in communion or baptism. I’m not sure what to make of that. So if you have any biblical references I’d be glad to hear them.

            As far as “making a decision”, didn’t Jesus ask the rich young ruler to make a decision between his money and following Him? Yes God calls us first but we certainly have a choice to decline the offer at any time, no?

            So much for not getting in over my head. 🙂

          • Steve,
            What happens in your church when an adult goes from unbeliever to believer? At what point do you think their walk of faith starts? Even if it is baptism, that person must decide to be baptized. When people hear the gospel and respond in repentance and confession of Christ, how is that emanating from something the person has done, or a false faith?

          • Jon,

            When an adult believes it is because the Holy Spirit has created faith, given faith (“Faith is a gift of God”)

            “…who were born not of the flesh, nor of the WILL OF MAN, but of God.” (Gospel of John)

          • Hey Jon, good questions.

            On 1: We would say that the human will, in its fallen state, is incapable of choosing Christ, but once regenerated (by the Holy Spirit, through the Word, in Baptism), the believer now experiences a free desire to fear, love, and trust in Jesus. So therefore, any act of the human will, like any other good work, is a consequence of salvation, and not a part of it. Also, repentance is not necessarily something we do, depending on how you define it. If it consists of turning from sin, then it is impossible. We rather say it consists of contrition over sin and faith that Christ has paid for it. Neither contrition nor faith are the product of human will, they are done to us by the Word (law and gospel, respectively). And yes, that does mean that God demands of us what we are not capable of (also perfection, Matthew 5:48), because everything God demands from us, in Christ, he gives to us.

            2. To understand the Lutheran view of the Sacraments, check out the Small Catechism. It is the most brilliantly succinct summary of what we believe the Scriptures teach. About God being “too small,” I’ve heard way too many Baptist say that God can’t save through water, he must save without it. Usually because the human choice is an essential component in the equation. It’s cool to see that as a Baptist you have a significant place in you belief for the role of the actual water, bread, and wine. But the Scriptures do not say they are a part of our sanctification. No Baptist ever put “God is small” into their doctrinal formulations, but it is often the implication of many soteriological formulas, especially in revivalism.

            3. Exactly what kind of evidence are you looking for? Because a troubled conscience needs a measuring stick it can cling to, and no bar of human invention will ever be low enough to hurdle. That is why I am glad Jesus set the bar and settle the question in Mark 16:16. Looking to our own works for assurance is scary. I’ve lived through enough of that despair: I want a sure-fire guarantee that Christ has claimed me as His own. Seriously, though, if you reject Baptism as the sign, what would you suggest as the litmus test of genuine faith? Or, more importantly, what do the Scriptures say?

            4. I have not made a straw man argument or an insult. I learned their theology from their scholars and institutions. I know that many of them are very good people. But they do put limitations on what God can and can’t do which he does not place on himself. Saving infants through Baptism is not possible for God in their view, because God can not save apart from our consent, they say. Who’s in control with that scenario?

            I hope that made sense! Nobody means any offense here, we just like to argue about theology, it’s a great way to learn. 😛

          • Thanks for the feedback Miguel.
            1. What you said sounds very similar to Calvinism, which I’m sure you know is one of the biggest battles going on in the SBC right now. I’m stuck somewhere in the middle. I think it is clear that without some work of grace there is no way a person in the natural state can turn to God. At the same time it seems that there are calls made throughout Scripture that offer a choice.
            2. I also hope that if anyone ever said that God can’t save through water, that they were just not being careful with their words. God can save however he chooses. It is just my understanding from what God has revealed in Scripture that he has decided to save through the preaching of the gospel, and I never see baptism administered unless the one being baptized already has faith.
            3. I think people can get too caught up with trying to get some proof of assurance. My assurance rests in the faithfulness of God, not in anything else, including my baptism. It is the Holy Spirit that bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. This is often a problem in Baptist churches, with too much weight being placed on having some experience or knowing the exact date and time you made a profession of faith. When I was speaking about fruit I was really thinking about the way that the baptist doctrine of the eternal security of believers can be abused, such as a fifty year old man who is sure he is going to heaven because he said a prayer in a Baptist church forty years ago, but he hasn’t been back since and his heart is stone cold to the things of God.
            4.Thanks for the recommendation on the Catechism, I’ll check it out.

          • Hey Jon,

            Lutheranism is similar to Calvinism in that it is monergistic (salvation is 100% the work of God and we contribute absolutely nothing to the entire process), yet different in that it is a sacramental monergism. Only the human will freed from the bondage of sin is capable of desiring to fear, love, and trust in God. At that point, God’s work has already been done to the individual.

            We would also agree that God saves through the preaching of the Gospel. We just don’t make a distinction between the Gospel and Baptism: Even IF Baptism is JUST a symbol (and the Scriptures explicitly and repeatedly claim contrary to this), it is still a very powerful symbol that proclaims the Gospel quite fully and forcefully, especially if the surrounding ceremony was written to proclaim what is being enacted.

            If you approach the book of Acts looking for examples to follow (i.e., we only see Baptism follow faith) then you are going to wind up some kind of Pentecostal, possibly involving snakes. Not every detail of those narratives is prescriptive, or even possible. That being said: Just because you don’t see it clearly in the NT Scriptues (though possible in the Baptism of entire households), that doesn’t mean it isn’t a Biblical practice. A better question to ask is not: “What does the Bible say about how and who to Baptize?” but rather, try “What does the Bible say that Baptism is?” It is from our Biblical understanding of the nature of Baptism that we find it’s use on infants to be fully congruous with the nature of the Gospel.

            Your assurance rests in the faithfulness of God, but how do you know that faithfulness is for you? How do you know he is faithful to save you, while others may perish? God is faithful even if you never believe. There is no Gospel, we believe, without the words “For you,” as in, “This is my body given for you for the forgiveness of sins.’’ With those words, Christ himself applies the attribute of his faithfulness to you personally and individually to claim you as his disciple. In Baptism, the Holy Trinity place their very name on you with Words and water. These tell us that not only is God faithful, but that we belong to Him because He has made us His own. Then his faithfulness becomes a source of comfort, when we are certain that it includes us in His mercy.

          • After a couple days of thought I want to amend what I said. I believe Christ is always present in the life if a believer. This includes communion and baptism. What I should have said was I don’t understand the belief that the bread and wine is literally Christ’s body. At the same time, I acknowledge there is great mystery in communion and baptism that can’t be fully explained in human terms. Regardless, communion and baptism are essential to the life of a Christian.

      • I’ve mentioned this before, but here in Minneapolis, many of the megachurches around me are some brand of Lutheran. Not that it’s here nor there, I suppose. There are also Baptist, AoG, and other types of big churches near me, too. Greg Boyd’s church, Woodland Hills Church, started out as Baptist, but is now in the process of becoming Mennonite.

        Personally, I think bad theology transcends church size. I’ve met plenty of people from small churches who were nuttier than a fruitcake.

        • On the flipside, Piper’s church (even though he is no longer the head preacher), Bethlehem Baptist, seems to be slowly sliding into Presbyterianism.

          And some more trivia, since you are also from the area, Phil…Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie was originally a church plant out of Bethlehem.

          • I would like to see more Baptist become Presbyterians. If you’re gonna carry a John Calvin card, you really ought to join the John Calvin club. The PCA is a good denomination that is, imo, severely underrated these days. I think there are actually more Wisconsin Synod Lutherans than PCA Presbyterians, yet they represent one of the few strongholds of confessional Evangelicalism.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          Are those Lutheran churches actually megachurches, or are they churches which happen to be large? In other words, do they adopt the look and feel and marketing techniquesof the megachurch? Or are they like typical Lutheran churches, but larger? This is an honest question. A large Lutheran church in Minneapolis doesn’t strike me as particularly startling, but then neither would a nominally Lutheran megachurch.

        • I’ve never seen a “Lutheran megachurch,” but I don’t deny it’s possible. Some congregations can grow quite large, but I just feel like there’s something intrinsic to the DNA of Lutheranism which keeps it from ever getting very big, with a few exceptions in cases with very concentrated demographics.

          It’s the Roman Catholics who have the corner of the market on large parishes. I know many of them don’t ever look or feel like a mega-church, but countless Catholic parishes around the country have membership in the thousands with much higher weekend attendance than the average Protestant parish. There is probably a Catholic parish near you that needs at least five masses a weekend in order to feed their whole flock. But the difference in look and feel between a large Catholic parish and small one is often very minimal.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            I have mentioned it elsewhere, but http://joyonline.org/ is my go-to example of a nominally Lutheran megachurch. It received a lot of attention in the ELCA back in the early ’90s or so. It was something of a test case to see if a Lutheran church could go all in on church growth techniques and still keep its Lutheran soul. While it is dangerous to extrapolate from a data set of one, the result is not promising. Look around on its website to find the word “Lutheran.” It is there, but you have to go digging. Interestingly, it is more hidden than the last time I looked at the site. There are other vestiges. They do Communion once a month, for example. But take a look at the backgrounds of the two associate pastors. That is the tip off, if one is still needed.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Many years ago in the Eighties, a phone-in on a radio talk show commented that “It was a Non-Denominational church; you know, Southern Baptist with the labels painted over?” So this has been going on for some time. And I’ve also heard the phrase “Non-Denominational denomination”.

        • Final Anonymous says

          “Non-Denominational denomination.”

          I thought I came up with that. 🙂

          Which non-denomination is it? Mark Driscoll’s? Acts 29? Willow Creek? The one with all the Bible colleges?

    • Could we add ‘practice’ to that list? If a church believes and teaches the gospel, then wouldn’t they, in some sense at least, begin to show hospitality, contribute to the needs of the poor, and so on?

  5. Like Miguel, I don’t care about the size so much as what they believe, teach, confess… and most importantly what they do. They can be as orthodox as St. Paul, but if they don’t do jack squat for their communities, particularly the needy among them, they’re spiritually dead.

    And when a megachurch is active in the community, they can be an amazing force for good. I’ve seen a few of them in action. One of the megachurches in my town produces a lot of great outreach ministries. The others… well, you know.

    I myself go to a small church because I feel I can minister more effectively in small churches. But that’s me. I don’t knock the big ones when they’re trying to follow Jesus. I only knock ’em (regardless of size) when they don’t.

  6. I cannot see past the theatrical nature of most mega-churches, especially the big’un we have here in Lynchburg, VA. The “worship space” is a huge auditorium with lighting and sound that would make any thespian drool with envy. This is surrounded by the bookstore, coffee shop, playground, and multiple classrooms where everything from Romans to woodworking to pet care classes are taught. [I will not even address the school attached, which provides private education from age 3 to PhD…..]

    This organization has supported many public needs in the community, and that is admirable….but is a sign of a good community organization, not necessarily a church that follows Jesus Christ. The theology is ten miles wide and a half-inch deep, and has no room for the poor, the suffering, the confused, or those angry with God. And, of course, they are front line warriors in the culture wars. I tend to be conservative, but my Catholic faith (and I am talking about ME, and only me) forces me to confront the injustice and exploitation of the poor and not just on the issues related to sexuality and family. This megachurch, and others I am aware of, seem to blame the poor and depressed for their own fate, and seem to have forgotten what a ragged, poor, and melancholy human form that the Great God of the Universe walked around in for thirty years or so…..

    • Hi Pattie, and others
      I have liked your comments here for the past few years. I grew up RC then moved to mega-evangelicalism then to a small very high-church Episcopal which at times seem very Eastern orthodox. I know RCism has many attendees with their many Mass’ . Usually mega churches have one service but I think RC has more adherents at least in the mid-west. At the lay level many folks in the RC think that by receiving the Eucharist that there time is shortened in purgatory. There still seems to be a discontent with the theology of RC and the theology of the typical pew sitter. That is the only thing that keeps me away from Catholicism.

      • BobP….many, many Catholics do not have an adult understanding of their Faith, and I am sorry that it is confusing and oft-putting to honest folks like you. I must confess to being a cradle Catholic, but I questioned and wrestled with my faith as a teen and young woman until I got to believe on my own, not due to my parents. The legalism is NOT a Catholic tenant, but a misunderstanding. I receive the Eucharist to be as close as possible to my Lord, my Father, and my Savior…because I want to be with Him now and forever. Whether you stay where you are or move toward the Catholic Church, I pray that you feel the Lord’s love and grace!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      This is surrounded by the bookstore, coffee shop, playground, and multiple classrooms where everything from Romans to woodworking to pet care classes are taught. [I will not even address the school attached, which provides private education from age 3 to PhD…..]

      Where you could spend your entire life (from birth to Homegoing(TM)) without EVER having to take one step outside church grounds.

      • In my experience, megachurches, whether they are aware of the situation or not, are environments that seriously encourage and foster a “bubble” or “fortress” mentality among its attendees, where the church world (a sphere that includes everything “Christian”, such as books, music, etc) is the ONLY safe place to be, and everything outside of it is automatically evil and to be dealt with sparingly and cautiously, if at all.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          While inside they offer Christianese versions of everything in pop culture — “Just like Fill-in-the-Blank, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”

          Ever heard of the phrase “Of the world but not in it”?
          Worst of all possible combinations.

    • The bookstore, coffeeshop and classes sound fine to me (even the pet care class–Christians should be kind to animals and classes on pet care might be one way to reach people, a way that I wouldn’t find at all objectionable). What sounds repulsive is the lack of concern for the poor and social justice. That’s anti-Christian–it also suggests that the bookstore probably will not contain the writings of, say, Dorothy Day.

      But a megachurch that had all those things you listed and which also ministered to the poor, and wasn’t anti-science (I’m thinking of the creationist lunacy) and was not joined at the hip to far right politics would be fine as far as I’m concerned.

  7. I’m not as bothered by mega churches as I am the reasons that people leave their small community churches to attend the mega church that is 30-45 minutes away.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Bigger show. More bling.

      Until an even BIGGER show with MORE bling comes along.

    • I’m guilty of this, but I go where the people my own age are. My local small community church is great to visit and help out at on occasion, but it’s not a place where I can make lifelong friends.

      • Stuart,
        You’ve just described the struggle of many small rural churches. They can’t get any young people because they don’t have any young people. They can’t attract young families because they don’t have any young families.

        • If I had a family, I’d bring them to the small rural church. lol

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > You’ve just described the struggle of many small rural churches.
          > They can’t get any young people because…

          There are no young people to get? Because those places have no jobs, educational institutions are far way, they are expensive to live in [constant transportation costs and few services], decaying infrastructure due to lack of a tax base [see “no jobs”], etc….

          I doubt this problem lies at the feet of the rural church. It is just the numbers.

      • Be a part of the solution, I say. I know it’s hard going to a church where there aren’t many people your age. But I don’t go to church for a peer group: I go for Jesus and the whole damn family. Why not just find your peer group somewhere else, outside of church? I think one of the biggest problems in evangelicalism is the tendency to disconnect the faithful from unbelieving friends. I would just get involved in a non-religious community organization to find peers. It’s probably be a hell of a lot more fun than church anyways.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        That is completely understandable and I dom’t think you should be bothered by it. Modern society can be very lonely making; of course you want friends and peers.

        A community is a mix of peoples, including ages and lifestyles. This is the advantage of a larger church, maybe not a mega- one, but the small [dying?] church is not really a community in that sense if eveyone there is ‘the same’. To everything there is a season and that larger, possibly more distant, church may be the only realistic option for this season. All the felt-needs stuff is kind of gross and overdone – but the other crazy extreme is to insist people have no needs.

    • Our 150-member church constantly struggled with this. For us to have “programming,” people needed to step up, contribute to an existing ministry, or create the kind of ministry they hoped to see. For every person willing to do this, we had 20 who would complain why we didn’t have, say, a weekday program for stay-at-home moms, or a Christian fitness group or a yowza youth group or… (fill in the blank with a “me”-centered ministry–no one ever complained about the lack of outreach ministries). We would invite them to start one, but inevitably they’d hang around a couple of months, feel their needs were not being met, and head for the multiplex megachurch down the road. There they could be consumers, have their needs met, and have others do the work. That multiplex is full of folks from our church and other smaller churches who just want to consume and feel good.

      • A 150 member church WITHOUT programming sounds heavenly to me. A place to go to, fellowship, and then stay away from the rest of the week because there is nothing going on, no pleas to serve, no guilt trips to come help out…sounds wonderful. A church that exists once a week to have a service ,and then wants everyone else to go out into the world and be Christ.

    • Excellent point… I’ve wondered too if we shouldn’t shift blame from the ‘mega-church’ to the people who like going to them…

  8. Miguel says they all mysteriously end up Baptist……Steve Martin adds Southern Baptist theology…..K.W.Leslie agrees and adds being active in the community.

    Please look up the graduate students from the geography department at Kansa State University research on the seven deadly sins. They mapped every county in the USA in respect to greed, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, sloth, and they made pride the composite( the criteria they chose for each sin is worth some discussion). The map shows the east and west coast metro areas as high. But the region in the USA that glows red in the composite is the Southern Baptist Bible Belt. One way of seeing the effect( noun) and affect(verb) of theology on a community.

    When I was a child we knew about the Baptists( in our town of 300) as talking on Sunday against smoking and drinking and dancing, and then seeing some of those same people two towns(40 miles and 6000 people) down the road doing the same( literally true). My most vivid anti-Christian childhood memories revolve around gossip in small towns. To this day I cringe when talking about any one person when they are not present.

    • T.S.,

      There are also a great many Methodists, Church of Christ, Pentecostals, Independent Baptists, and even Presbyterians and Catholics and Episcopalians To look at a the problems of a segment of the country and lay them all at the feet of one particular denomination is a bit of a stretch when there are a lot of other variables to consider. The population of the South East is around 80 million. There are supposedly 16 million Southern Baptist members, but a great many of them haven’t been to church in twenty years. The problems of the Bible belt can’t be all laid at the feet of the Baptists.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      lease look up the graduate students from the geography department at Kansa State University research on the seven deadly sins. They mapped every county in the USA in respect to greed, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, sloth, and they made pride the composite( the criteria they chose for each sin is worth some discussion). The map shows the east and west coast metro areas as high. But the region in the USA that glows red in the composite is the Southern Baptist Bible Belt.

      Can you provide some links to this mapping project or news items about it?

    • I am still shocked that study wound up naming NYC the “most saintly city.” On that grounds I find the rest of their results dubious. 😛

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        As the NYPD cop said after someone tried to carjack his marked cop car with him in it:

        “What a town, huh?”

      • I dunno, because there are a *lot* of Latin American Catholics and orthodox Jews in the 5 boroughs.

  9. Adam Tauno Williams says

    > They are leading a revolution where culture, generational niche groups and consumeristic agendas
    > subvert the Gospel.”

    That was my experience, and that is what I *perceive*. But, honestly, I do not have a real survey of mega-churches.

    > He also critiqued the evangelical megachurch as “the entertainment-driven church.” Ouch.

    Certainly what I saw, and do see [albeit from a distance]. I heard Rob Bell speak before he was anybody to anybody [he was an intern]. Yes, I “saw that coming”, as they say. But always entertaining.

    > Michael became disillusioned with these palaces for the “suburban Jesus”

    It took time and the coolness permitted by distance for me to realize that I do not really care a whip about mega-ness; it is the suburban-ness I dislike. Disconnected, artificial, or as a mega-church employed pastor said to me: “Everyone wants a life changing experience, so long as it doesn’t change anything”.

    But is this really a mega-ness issue? Does mega-ness necessarily cause this? Or is this a reflection of the culture in which the church [lower case “c” specific insititution church] was born?

    > “Churches in suburbia can do so much good for the Kingdom, but when I have to come
    > face to face with a version of Christianity that puts Christ in his place and baptizes all the
    > values of the empire, it makes me angry.

    This is what I saw *IN SPADES*. The church even preferred, openly, to conduct business with businesses owned by members – who of course ‘cut them good deals’ [many of which, hmmmm…. may not have been such great deals]. So much could have been radically improved with a good-old-fashioned policy about conflicts of interest; but that was way to secular Organization Behavior think, they being a church didn’t need such things. Pastors are men of God [the retort “yes, Pastors are men”… not effective]

    But I cannot honestly say if that is/was “typical”.

    Is there a somewhere a demographic breakdown of mega-churches? Are there urban mixed-class mixed-race mega-churches? [seems like there has to be somewhere] or are they primarily a white-suburban phenomenon?

    ASIDE: Satellite photos are interesting – Catholic churches and EO churches, you zoom in on them… generally no or little parking, but you can spot a Protestant church from space by the asphalt ring that surrounds it. It is hard to believe this is not illustrating something beyond the physical space. This is true at least where I live. Are the people *there*, or do they come and then they go.

    In a very crowded word and hyper-urbanization – aren’t “mega” churches sort of inevitable? Couldn’t they actually be a potent and efficient [in terms of $$$ cost] answer to the stresses on the Protestant churches? My time in a small church, as a youth leader and trustee, so much time and energy was spent on that stupid building – which was backed right-up to another Protestant church which was across a street from another Protestant church – and scrambling to finance the continued operation of an institution at idle and dark almost all the time. That certainly cannot be the best way.

    • I heard Rob Bell speak before he was anybody to anybody [he was an intern]. Yes, I “saw that coming”, as they say. But always entertaining.

      Interesting you bring up Bell. Even though Mars Hill became huge under his leadership, it does seem like they tried to avoid having many of the trappings of a typical megachurch. I never had a chance to visit there, but from I understand, the interior was rather spartan and didn’t have nearly as much in the way of theatrical lighting and the like. I think Bell wanted to not simply be seen as another megachurch pastor, and that probably led to him leaving to a large extent. I think that’s probably one of the largest drawbacks of being in a huge church. There’s just a huge amount of pressure put on leaders in those congregations many times.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        >Interesting you bring up Bell. Even though Mars Hill became huge under his leadership

        It did not start out small. It was a baby-mega-church planted by an established [but boring `old shool`] mega-church.

        > it does seem like they tried to avoid having many of the trappings of a typical megachurch

        Yeah, sorta, kinda. It was a mega-plant established at the very apex of ASUS [American SUburban Subculture [which has suffered almost continuously since] but at that apex ASUS was becoming a bit self-conscious. At nearly this same moment the modern Hipster was born. Watching the process – from the boring old school mega-church – it looked as though it reflected exactly that. Which is fair – asking it to be anything else would be like asking a Leopard not to have spots. Mr. Bell was perfectly suited to that time and place; regardless of where or what direction he went in later.

        > wanted to not simply be seen as another megachurch

        Yea, but is not that the desire of every megachurch?

        > probably led to him leaving to a large extent.

        I have no idea. I had personally completely lost interest in the ventures by that point.

        > There’s just a huge amount of pressure put on leaders in those congregations many times.

        Maybe. But like moths to a flame it attracts those who crave The Inner Circle and that type of “pressure”.

    • The parking lot probably is more a matter of the time when the structure was built. St. Mary of Celle (a local church near me, Catholic, Latin Rite (i.e. Roman Catholic) has a miniscule parking lot. The result is that all the mass goers park on the street which does not exactly endear the church to her neighbors! I have observed very few people actually walking to church, though I’m sure some are close enough to do so if they desired.

      Another reason Catholic churches, though, don’t need as large a lot (though they should have a decently sized one in my opinion and do in newer churches) is that they have multiple mass times. Orthodox churches, of course, don’t, so their parking problems are probably more acute. St. George Antiochian Orthodox (another local church) I noticed after its renovation had a larger parking lot.

      I would consider having a decently sized parking lot to be a matter of hospitality, I mean, not ticking off the neighbors by taking all the parking is at least the start of being friendly to them! Plus, in areas where there are street parking restrictions or where parking is hard to find during the week, the church can make some $$ by renting out their spots. I’ve seen that at the UCC in Lisle and a IMB Baptist church in Oak Park.

  10. The Catholic parish in my town has more weekly communicants than all but the largest Evangelical megachurches. I think that is mostly due to the shortage of priests, though. Lots of Catholics / two priests = lines around the building for Saturday confession.

    I’ve never heard of an Orthodox megaparish. It doesn’t mean it can’t happen, though. Maybe in Russia.

    • In one of his social science pieces, NYT columnist David Brooks once asked why there was no such things as a Megagogue.

      Further afield, in the Muslim world, you don’t “belong” to a mosque: it’s just a place where you stop and pray. You may have one you frequent a lot, and whose imam you think preaches well, but the function of the mosque is quite different from that of a church.

      However, in the West mosques come to take on the “look and feel” of churches. Given this interesting observation, perhaps the megachurch phenomenon is just a particular sort of institutional outgrowth that the American soil nourishes. We Americans just do church. We just do it very big sometimes too.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      I don’t think the priest shortage is the explanation, or at least not the sole explanation. Roman Catholic parishes tended to be large long before the priest shortage became an issue. It is because they are “parishes” in the geographic sense of the word: not merely using the word as a synonym for “local church.” The idea is that the map is divided up into various territories, and the faithful will attend the local church in their territory. If the parish church is growing, they are more likely to build a bigger sanctuary than they are to split into two parishes. If a faction within the parish doesn’t like the priest, they might go to a different parish or they might start attending the Methodist church or they might decide to sleep in on Sunday mornings, but they aren’t going to go found a new Roman Catholic parish down the street from the old one. It is not uncommon to have three Baptist churches within a block of each other. Trace back their histories and you will often find a series of splits from one another. It is unlikely that all three will be thriving communities. You rarely find two Catholic parish churches right next to each other. (It happens occasionally. I remember being surprised to find two Catholic churches kitty corner to each other in the downtown of an old northeastern city. Then I looked at their names: one was St. Patrick’s, and the other St. Stanislaus’s (or some such). Clearly the parish lines were drawn along ethnic lines, and the two churches ended up along the shared boundary.)

      So there are ecclesiastical reasons that Catholic churches tend to run large. I think this is why the modern Catholic model works at all. Since they have a small number of parishes, with the parishes being large, they can have one or two priests in the parish, running many masses each weekend. They hire lay staff to actually run the place, but the parish priest is still close to the parishioners. If they had many small churches they would have to resort to circuit riding priests, perhaps consecrating elements for later distribution, with non-celibate deacons or lay ministers preaching the homilies and distributing the elements. It may come to this eventually anyway. If it does, it will be a very different church, with a small celibate clergy serving sacramental functions but otherwise removed from the body of the faithful.

      • I still don’t understand the celibate thing, and especially what effect it may/may not have on sacraments.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        If they had many small churches they would have to resort to circuit riding priests, perhaps consecrating elements for later distribution, with non-celibate deacons or lay ministers preaching the homilies and distributing the elements. It may come to this eventually anyway.

        It’s already come to that in the Owens Valley. According to the St Rose church bulletin (Lone Pine, CA), they have one circuit-riding priest covering everything from Bishop in the north to Olancha in the south to Death Valley in the east. Guy must spend more time on the road than he does celebrating Mass each Sunday.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          Does he get to every parish each Sunday, or do they have a local non-priest running the mass most of the time? This makes a huge difference. If the former, then you simply have an overworked priest whom you probably won’t see except briefly on the weekend. But once you flip over to Sunday services run by local non-priests, the entire character of the parish will change. It will be self-contained and as autonomous as a Catholic parish can be, and the priest becomes that guy who shows up from time to time to restock the tabernacle.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            I think it’s the former. My direct experience with it was attending Mass in Lone Pine when I’m decompressing on a weekend getaway.

          • Lay people cannot “run” a Mass but can “run” a communion service. As the number of priests dwindle, especialy in areas with large Catholic populations, parishioners will either be attending churches that have a priest consistently (this is happening during weekday Masses) or they will be instituting Communion Services where the Host is already concecrated (we are just beginning to use this model at my church).

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > I don’t think the priest shortage is the explanation,

        Either way it is a passing thing. There is a rise in both Catholic seminary enrollment and applications to the priesthood.

    • Really? Lines around the block for Saturday confession? Who is the confessor, Padre Pio? I mean, the bottom has just fallen out of reception of that particular Sacrament (Reconciliation to give it the name I learned it as) in the US. I remember being amazed when a friend from the Netherlands told me 20 years ago that he had only received that Sacrament once (before his wedding), but that trend seems to have made the leap over the Atlantic.

      I mean, most priests only schedule an hour at most a week now, regardless of how large the parish is, and I’ve heard of some reducing it to a half hour.

    • Mule, the Catholic parish in my community is the second largest body locally, just behind an Andy Stanley plant. The parish thrives, with multiple services on Saturdays and Sundays, and tremendous Hispanic outreach, traditional (Latin) and contemporary (English) masses, etc. It’s a great church, but when you ask locals, “What are the largest churches around here?”, the automatic response is “Well, Andy Stanley’s plant, then First Baptist, then so and so Baptist, etc.” My experience, having served as a Baptist pastor and in sacramental traditions, is that SBC leaders talk about numbers more than any other, so the general perception is that the local Baptist churches are the largest. Then again, some of the SBC leaders I know wouldn’t consider the Catholic church to be a real church, anyway.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        “Andy Stanley’s plant”?
        That’s the (un)official name of the local (Mega?)church?

        (OK, who’s Andy Stanley? And what’s his affiliation, if any?)

      • Catholic Churches down south, tend to be few and very large and made up of ethnic populations. I happen to really love these churches as folks seem to on fire rather than just following the faith of their parents and going through the motions.

  11. I would argue that Phil Cooke’s 4 and 5 on “what’s right about megachurches” are actually wrong as well.

    “Megachurches engage the media.”
    What he means by this is that megachurches are really good at using video, sound, lighting, etc. Reminds me of Paul’s stance that he would “know nothing but Christ” when he was preaching so he could be sure that anyone who responded was responding in faith to Christ, not to Paul’s words.

    “Megachurches are making a global impact.”
    Humans being what we are, a global impact is no impact. We strain at gnats around the world and swallow the camels in our own communities and homes. Funding missionaries is a worthy endeavor, something testified to in Scripture. But more important is living lives of grace towards those we actually know and interact with. It’s easy to bring gifts to the altar and forget the weak in our own families, churches, and communities that we have a responsibility to care for.

    • “But more important is living lives of grace towards those we actually know and interact with.”

      Many megachurches are doing that as well.

      • Marcus Johnson says

        I agree; that is not a generalizable observation.

        I would also ask, is this concept of “living lives of grace” intended for the church community or for the individual? Seems like it would be more apropos to the latter.

    • I think it’s more than that. For good or ill, having numbers means you have a voice. When Piper or Bell (has anyone ever seen them in the same place?) speaks, their voices carry farther than Rev. Sparks who runs a 100 ASA church.

  12. Megachurch = Big business christianity – and christianity treated as a business with recruitment quotas, revenue trending analysis, retention quotas and the like… well it sux to put it bluntly. It sends the wrong message when those at the top are showing off the luxuries of fine living through their matrialistic goods.

    I guess one can try to apply that to the Catholic Church but most parishes are struggling and their priests generally are not showy or rolling in money (unless of course you are a bishop living in Germany and are spending millions renovating your residence before being tossed out on your arse by the Pope).

  13. Richard Hershberger says

    “I recognize that some people may just have an irrational beef with large churches…”

    It is a mistake to conflate “large churches” with megachurches. I speak sometimes of churches which happen to be large. A typical Roman Catholic would qualify as a megachurch on size alone, were it Protestant. There also are some mainline churches which are large, typically in regions where that particular denomination is strong. My understanding of a megachurch is that it not only is large, but used a specific package of marketing techniques to get that way. These marketing techniques, while clearly good at getting people in the door, have at best nothing to do with the Gospel. It might in principle be possible to use these tools while still preaching the Gospel, but the track record is not good. My usual example, writing as a Lutheran, is this place: http://www.joyonline.org/. It was founded with the idea of using those megachurch marketing techniques to build a Lutheran megachurch. They ended up with a megachurch, but any connection to Lutheranism is tenuous. This isn’t to claim that Lutheranism is the sole expression of the Gospel, but rather that those marketing techniques tend to overwhelm everything else, good intentions notwithstanding.

    • This is an important distinction, Richard. “Megachurch” is commonly used to refer to a certain kind of large church — primarily of the non-denominational evangelical variety, that has grown through applying church growth methods, that often relies upon a charismatic preaching minister, that has a “corporate” feel and governance, that is usually suburban in context, etc.

      It is not just about size but also about methodology.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        That being said, I would be unlikely to join any church so large that the pastor doesn’t know the members by name. Or, for that matter, so large that I couldn’t reasonably learn their names either. As a rule of thumb, if it is large enough to need an associate pastor, it is probably too large for me. At that point it is no longer a single community, but rather a collection of communities centered around the church. The nice thing about a smaller congregation is that they notice whether you are there or not. (Of course this is the down side of a smaller congregation as well…) But this is merely a matter of personal taste. I don’t claim that what suits me is best for everybody.

        • From a report on megachurches:
          “64 percent of megachurch attendees knew as many or more people in the megachurch than they did at smaller churches (p. 46). 80 percent of attendees felt satisfied with the level of pastoral care they received (p. 47).”


          • Richard Hershberger says

            Different strokes for different folks. I suspect that my idea of what constitutes pastoral differs from the persons surveyed.

          • And when surveyed, 64 percent of megachurch attendees knew as many or more people in the megachurch than they did at smaller churches (p. 46). 80 percent of attendees felt satisfied with the level of pastoral care they received (p. 47).

            I think the more pertinent question is how many people in the church they DON’T know. I also wonder if the high rate of satisfaction with the level of pastoral care is because megachurches tend to attract a large percentage of people who don’t desire any pastoral care beyond an hour or “preachertainment” on Sunday morning.

          • Similarly to jimbo, my worry in any sizeable church is not how many people know me, but how many people are there who nobody has even noticed?

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            > Similarly to jimbo, my worry in any sizeable church is not how many people know me, but
            > how many people are there who nobody has even noticed?

            Does size cause that problem? When I first began to attend church regularly, about my senior year in High School I went to a very small Baptist church, I went by myself. It was months before anyone spoke to me; older people ignored me, younger people had their established circles. I did not, and do not, hold that against them; it just was what it was. But it illustrates that size does not necessarily dictate this.

        • Isn’t that one of the risks of a smaller church though? That people will gossip about other members? I mean, one of the virtues of the Catholic church to me was that I could come, worship, and leave without having other people talk about me or to me (other than the sign of peace). I mean, some people are just shy so throwing them in a situation where they’re expected to interact a lot with others might not be useful.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            It’s not a risk. It is a certainty. Gossip is part of the human condition. The only way to escape it is to become a recluse. Becoming an anonymous face in a crowd is one way to be a recluse. It seems to me a sad way to live, but to each his own.

      • Branding, hot-boxing, niche-targeting, image projecting, culture mimicking, vision casting, and “felt needs” addressing are all signs of this phenomenon of American culture. It’s truly the perfection of free-market religion.

        However, they also tend to be well organized, highly efficient, have well targeted volunteer forces, have strong funding enabling larger scale outreach and production projects, very effective communication channels and networks, streamlined processes and procedures, and high levels of cooperation around a well defined common goal. The lack of these things often prevent smaller churches from being as effective as they could, so there is much that can be learned from the mega-church model, even if it is applied on a much smaller scale.

    • There is a “megamosque” in my county. Many Sunni Muslims drive well out of their way to attend.

      That is an interesting observation you make about American religion, not just American Christianity.

  14. “For those of you who just crawled out from under the rock where you’ve been hiding throughout the 2000?s, allow me to let you in on something: we have not been shy about criticizing megachurches here at Internet Monk.”

    I’ve been visiting Internet Monk for about 10 months now and I can say that megachurches are not the only thing that gets criticized here. Even as I read some of the comments in this post I noticed that it didn’t take too long until Southern Baptists were made the magachurch culprits. Over the past ten months I have also much criticism heaped on Calvinists and various and sundry individuals. And it appears that the groups which are seldom, if ever, criticized are Catholics, Orthodox and of course, Lutherans.

    Not necessarily making a point; just stating an observation.

    • Oh, forgot to mention the primary target of criticism in this site: Evangelicals (or “Fundagelicals,” are they are frequently referred to).

    • That’s because we are “post-evangelicals,” CalvinCuban. Michael Spencer found himself in the wilderness after being Baptist and Southern Baptist, Jeff and I both came out of non-denominational evangelicalism as did some of the other writers. It’s just the nature of who we are at this moment in our lives.

      • Oh, yes, I understand that. I, too have many issues with the Evangelical world in which I am still a part and in which I serve as a pastor. I visit this site for that reason and have been much encouraged by much of what I read as it satisfies a longing in my heart for the deeper things of Christ.

        But I have yet to find a tradition–not necessarily looking to change, mind you–which has no skeletons in its closet. Consequently, I would think that a little more humility and charity would be in order.

        Just sayin’…

        • Well, let’s start with the fact that today’s post references an article praising megachurches. Second, though I referenced our history of critiquing megachurches, I did not criticize or comment on the article itself but merely summarized it and gave people a link to read the whole thing. Third, I gave people an open invitation to speak about the subject, pro or con.

          Doesn’t that represent at least a little bit of “humility and charity”?

          • Yes, I will humbly and charitably ascribe that to you. 🙂

            And as i stated previously, but will reiterate in different words, there is much more @ IM I enjoy and find uplifting than not.

      • Mike,
        Did Michael ever stop being Southern Baptist? I know he preached often at non-Southern Baptist churches, but he never stopped teaching at Oneida, a Southern Baptist school.

        • Yes, Michael remained a teacher at OBI. He also remained a member of a Baptist church, though he preached and worshiped at other churches from different denominations. I doubt if Michael would have used the word “Baptist” to describe himself in the end. As his bio states: “He described himself as a New Covenant, Reformation-loving, post-evangelical Christian in search of a Jesus-shaped spirituality.” He transcended denominational or even traditional labels.

          • Thanks Mike,
            One of the things that first drew me to the Internet Monk website was that Michael came from a Southern Baptist background and said things that I had often thought but never really voiced. I also appreciated his critques of the SBC because they were often right and were spoken (at least I thought) with love and not disdain.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      ” it appears that the groups which are seldom, if ever, criticized are Catholics, Orthodox and of course, Lutherans.”

      I tried to reply to this previously, but it seems to have disappeared into the aether. My apologizes if it pops up later. The gist is that if anyone wants to hear me drone on criticizing Lutherans, I can do it at length.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        >The gist is that if anyone wants to hear me drone on criticizing Lutherans

        Are you crazy!!! Criticize Lutherans here and it will be a dispensationalist apocalyptic level of wrath!


        • Richard Hershberger says

          In case it isn’t obvious, I am a cradle Lutheran. I have been known to slum it with the Episcopalians, and my family’s habit of marrying Roman Catholics (including the gal I married) leads me to dip my toe in the Tiber fairly frequently, though only for visits. But I am Lutheran born and bred, and belong to a quaintly old-fashioned (two books and pushing forty years behind on the hymnal) Lutheran church. So it would be a critique from within.

        • …and you, my friend, are going to hell for even thinking that!!! DIE INFIDEL!!! 😛

    • Catholics, Orthodox, and Lutherans seem to have no trouble whatsoever criticizing themselves. They really don’t need a whole lot of assistance from outsiders when it comes to this. There are entire websites and online communities devoted to internal critique within these traditions. Generic Evangelicalism tends to do the opposite, idolizing its leaders and promoting brands and celebrities, minimizing weakness and failures and ostracizing anybody with the gall to say the emperor has no clothes. The existence of this website and community of commenters is a result of that.

      Also, people don’t seem to leave Catholic, Orthodox and Lutheran churches with a whole lot of baggage all the time. Often people leave those groups for more recently developed traditions simply because they’re bored. Evangelicalism bleeds members who are deeply wounded, were highly invested, and feel betrayed and hurt on so many levels by corruption in leadership, doctrine and practice. There are systemic issues pervading Evangelicalism as a whole that many of us former adherents would say place it in a worse position than the Roman Catholic church prior to the Reformation. When you see certain aspects of it become more of the enemy of the cause of Christ than advancing it, it’s kind of hard for those who care about the cause to remain silent.

      • I have no experience with self-criticism amongst Catholics, Orthodox, or Lutherans. Now, prior to perusing this site I was well aware of criticism towards Protestants in general from Catholics and Orthodox and from Orthodox towards Catholics and Calvinists in particular (seems that John Calvin wrote something against icons and the Orthodox are still miffed about it). But it wasn’t until I started reading posts and comments on this site that I noticed criticism, i.e., not the constructive kind, towards Evangelicals in general and Southern Baptists and Calvinists in particular. And yes, I understand that this site is for folks who for various and sundry reasons have decided to leave Evangelicalism for other traditions.

        But statements such as,

        “There are systemic issues pervading Evangelicalism as a whole that many of us former adherents would say place it in a worse position than the Roman Catholic church prior to the Reformation. When you see certain aspects of it become more of the enemy of the cause of Christ than advancing it, it’s kind of hard for those who care about the cause to remain silent.”

        are simply way over the top and historically indefensible! I mean, the Crusades, selling indulgences, bordellos in Rome for priests, naked boys popping out of cakes in the Vatican, burning “heretics” at the stake, etc., are way worse than anything I’ve experienced or read about over the past 39 years as an Evangelical.

        As a former Catholic I experienced some abuses (some physical, mostly verbally demeaning, and nothing of a sexual nature, fortunately) at the hands of brothers, priest and nuns that still trouble me to this day. But you will not hear me say something like “Roman Catholicism is worse than the Nazis” nor do I hear anyone in my church or association saying such things. Truth is that in spike of my experiences as Roman Catholic, I am very grateful for the good that the Catholic Church did for me; that would include giving me a great education for 12 years, teaching me the basics of the Christian faith, and getting me and 12K other kids out of Cuba.

        What draws me to this site is that I, too, have some significant issues with Evangelicalism and much of what I read here challenges my thinking and provides me with ideas on how to improve Evangelicalism from within my own sphere of influence. But rather than leaving Evangelicalism for another tradition, which I know only too well would have its own set of issues, it appears to me that I can best serve this part of the body of Christ by being a change agent, albeit a drop in the ocean, I realize. Regardless, I have too much love and appreciation in my heart for these folks. And that is a major life ambition of mine.

        One last note… If Francis Schaffer was correct in saying that John 13.35 is the “Final Apologetic,” and I believe he was, then it appears to me that we can do the most good for the Church and the glory of God by toning down the ad hominem rhetoric in place of something more loving and constructive.

        • You are being very defensive about something that is not an attack, nor an ad hominem. I did not say anything derogatory about Evangelicals, only about the “ism” that has become something I am no longer able to live with. It is not un-loving to critique the system, even harshly, especially if, as I see it, there is a desperate need for reform. If you play the John 13:35 card when somebody calls for reform, how are you different from those who would silence dissent?

          Good for you for sticking around to work for change from the inside. I still see Evangelicals as brothers and myself not as “outside,” even though I’m in a different branch of the family. It is because they bear the name of Christ that I am troubled by the hijinks and gimmicks that turn so many away from Him. No, I haven’t seen any naked boys popping out of cakes (that is really a new one to me!), but the “worse position” I refer to is in regard to the teaching of the church. Much of Evangelicalism has lost what the Protestant reformers recovered, and the ensuing circusry is, imo, merely symptomatic.

          Are we cynical and bitter? You betcha. But we are not hateful. I understand that critique can feel like that. When I first heard Spencer’s podcast I thought he was a whiney and envious outsider (’cause who else would dare criticize upstanding men of God like Rick Warren who are leading countless thousands to Christ?). But stay in the conversation: I enjoy your input, people like you keep it from becoming a one-sided discussion and give us hope for Evangelicalism. 🙂

          FWIW, I think Schaffer was wrong. The Resurrection is the final apologetic. Our love for one another will never be enough to convince people of anything more than the fact that we are Jesus’ disciples. It will not convince them that He is able to save. No matter how nice we are to each other, polite mannerisms do not proclaim the cross.

          • Thank you for your reply and for your clarification. Forgive me for being defensive but I find myself having to defend Evangelicals to non-Evangelicals and non-Evangelicals to Evangelicals. It gets tiresome and discouraging at times.

            Regardless, I believe I understand your use of “ism” to refer to something other than “ist” (e.g., Calvin-“ism” implies a movement or tradition whereas Calvin-“ist” implies a person). And that does make a difference, a big difference.

            With regards to John 13.35 vs. 1 Corinthians 15.13, I will stick with Shaffer on a technicality, that is, our love is how people know we are disciples and compels them to accept the invitation to the kingdom. The resurrection is what they must believe in in order to be converted (Romans 10.9-10).

  15. As others have mentioned, the size of a church is not the issue.

    It is their faithfulness to the Word and to the proclamation of the pure gospel and the administering of the sacraments to sinners in need.

  16. Phil Cooke said:

    So I say it’s time to celebrate and support churches of all sizes, because the most important thing to remember is that the Church is the hope of the world.

    THE most important thing to remember? Stop right there. The Church is not the hope of the world. Christ is the hope of the world.

    Cooke didn’t justify the comment but stated it as fact, and that requires a challenge. A Google search of “church hope of the world” uncovered some chatter revolving around a sermon by Bill Hybels of Willow Creek [Mega] Church, that the [local] church is the hope of the world; also a sermon by Charles Spurgeon in 1905. Spurgeon at least gives the statement context:

    Why do we stay here, then, at all, but that we may be salt in the midst of putrefaction—light in the midst of darkness—life in the midst of death? The Church is the world’s hope! As Christ is the hope of the Church, so the Church is the hope of the world! The saints become, under Christ, the world’s saviors. Then we must not marvel, being here for this very purpose, if Christ does throw us like a handful of salt, just where the putrefaction is the worst! Or if He should cast us, as He has often done with His saints before, where our influence is most needed.

    Dangerous to think that we, the church, are the hope. We are to be salt and light and messengers, not the hope itself. I think Spurgeon meant that, although he could have phrased it differently. But that was in the style of a hundred years ago.

    In another gem, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of this in 1948, and this is exactly what I’m talking about:

    It Is a common saying in religious circles that the church is the hope of the world. This question inevitably leads the objective mind to a bit of doubt. He immediately asks, How can the church be the hope of the world when it is the most reactionary institution in society?” In other words, the church is supposed to be the most radical opposer of the status quo in society, yet, in many instances, it is the greatest preserver of the status quo. So it was very easy for slavery to receive a religious sanction.

    Therefore, I conclude that the church, in its present state, is not the hope of the world. I believe that nothing has so persistently and effectively blocked the way of salvation as the church. On the other hand, the church can be the hope of the world, but only when it returns to Christ. If we take Christ to the world, we will turn it upside down, but the tragedy is that we too often take Christianity.

  17. Megachurches make a dent in communities.

    Yes they do, and hammers put a dent in your car, too. I can’t speak for other places, but in Florida we put megachurches highways or interstates so that we don’t have to deal with any inner-city drunks or homeless people who might wonder in. No “community” is served — people will; drive 30 minutes or more to get there, and if there’s anything nearby, it’s commercial or retail. Communities are hurt because the neighborhood churches — and a pastor you can talk to, and a food pantry, and a music team you can actually join — have shut down. I was invited to a mega-church for the Christmas Spectacular, a slick and professional music production based on 70s TV Christmas specials. It was supposed to “bring the message of Christ to our community,” but with the church about four miles out of the city on the interstate, what was really happening was a particular demographic was getting the entertainment that’s no longer on TV.

    • That’s because they are seeking to create a community…all within the confines of the church walls.

    • Well, to be fair, another reason to built out in the middle of nowhere is property values are lower so the church is cheaper to build. And, interestingly, I haven’t seen a lack of churches in poorer areas. That is where you get the storefront churches (now called urban churches, I believe). The smaller neighborhood churches that were left behind around me are now Pentacostal iglesias or IMB or non-denom congregations. Are things different in other regions?

      • I do see a lot more “weird” churches in downtown and urban environments, nowadays. They always seem to embrace some twisted charismatic form of ministry with elements from everywhere…

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          That’s the flip side of size. These little independent splinter churches can drift off on weird tangents with no reality checks.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Communities are hurt because the neighborhood churches — and a pastor you can talk to, and a food pantry, and a music team you can actually join — have shut down.

      It’s Wal-Mart with God-talk.

      • Exactly. And, as Walmart has gutted the business districts of many small-medium sized towns, so megachuches with smaller local congregation in far too many places.

        Must admit that the idea of having coffee concessions, ATMs and the like on church property sickens me. It’s like the money changers in the temple. And the “fortress”mentality is truly disturbing – we’re supposed to be living *in* the world, and our neighbors are… everybody, not the ready-mades sets of friends that these conglomerates promise.

        It’s all based on the franchise model. If I want that, I’ll go toMcDonald’s, thanks all the same.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      Is this really a criticism of mega-churches or of a physical development model? It seems like the later [Interstates are generally terrible]. Mega-churches naturally involve big buildings and this being the 20th/21st century they need to build those quickly and on the cheap – so you get enormous pole buildings in a sea of asphalt. This does not seem to relate to the unique attributes of the mega-church.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        A lot of this is because Megachurches are MEGA. Like Wal-Mart, some of the problems are due to sheer SIZE and span of command. Like I expect extreme Calvinism to show similar symptoms (and opportunities for corruption) as Islam due to their mutual Predestination beliefs, I would expect Megas to show similar symptoms (and opportunites for corruption) as the Medieval Catholic Church due to sheer size.

        * Massive overhead expenses and need for money to meet those expenses. (Remember Tetzel? He was collecting the funds for a major building/expansion program.)
        ** The secondary “Wal-Mart Effect” listed above as the Mega’s expenses drain the money (and numbers) from all around it. (This effect and its concentration over time was predicted by none other than Karl Marx; consolidation and amalgamation over boom-and-bust cycles ending in monopoly. Marx was a much better systems analyst geek (Das Kapital) than he was a Revolutionary prophet figure (Communist Manifesto).)
        * Large organizations tend to concentrate power at the top.
        ** Opportunity and tendency for Power Struggle to GET that power at the top.
        ** Keeping that wealth and power in the family by inheriting it father-to-son. (Bob Jones I, II, and III anyone? This was a practical reason the Catholic church enforced priestly celibacy, in a time when political power was passed down like personal property.)
        * Pointy-haired Boss effect from all the layers of management needed and isolation of the guy at the top; also corruptive effect of power, whether intrinsic or just attracting the already-corrupt.
        ** Groupthink and bandwagon effects made worse by size, especially if a monolithic empire of “franchises” beholden to the center instead of parishes.

        I think there’s an optimal size range for a church. Just as “Us Four, No More, Amen” splinter churches are too small, so Megas (and now Gigas) are too large.

        • About the enforced celibacy: iirc, it was literally intended to stop priests’ sons from inheriting church property. People were passing on more than “power” – it was land and buildings, and that means $$$ (among other things).

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Just like so many Megas today.
            Hybels, Bob Jones, Osteen, some Calvary Chapels…
            With all the opportunity for “Game of Thrones” succession feuds.
            (Crystal Cathedral, anyone?)

  18. TruthSeeker says

    As Deep Throat said to Woodward, “Follow the money.” Where does the money come from and where does it go in a megachurch? Budgets of these large churches run in the multi-millions. They have to constantly “market” to their audience to keep that audience happy and to keep them giving money.

    I see megachurches as cruise ships. Cruise ships must provide an over-the-top entertainment experience every time they set sail in order to keep the passengers coming back. Those ships cost hundreds of millions to build, and millions more to maintain. They have to keep people happy.

    I’m sure that there are good things that come from megachurches. But for me, I don’t care to be a demographic, I don’t care to have an organization try to meet my “felt needs” so that I keep giving money to them. I am desperately in need of Christ Jesus. I need a shepherd who will lead me to my savior, not a cruise ship captain who makes sure I am entertained and well-fed.

    • I like the cruise ship analogy. Perhaps theme park would work as well. The megachurch as we are describing it (a peculiarly American phenomenon) takes a lot of its culture from the modern entertainment industry.

      There are, of course, megachurches around the world that we are not speaking about today. Perhaps someone with more experience of them could comment on their ethos.

      • flatrocker says

        I’ve heard it said,

        We went from being fishers of men to tending the fish tank.

        (now when is that next feeding scheduled?)

      • I attend an evangelical Anglican megachurch in London, England. Although I have started attending a smaller anglo-catholic service because I like more regular communion and am fed up of starting every service with 30 minutes of singing, I have stayed connected through my home bible study group and because I love so many people there. I think it probably helps that the leadership are accountable to and have their salary set by the C of E bishops, which I’m sure helps to limit the kinds of abuses that are often mentioned here.

        Even though I can feel my own journey leading me to a simpler and smaller church community eventually I think I will always be grateful to the church as the community I belonged to when I came to know Jesus.

        • How many people do you need in a church to qualify as a megachurch in the UK? I’m suspecting it may be an order of magnitude less than in the US.

    • I believe that megachurches thrive for much the same reason Wal-Mart superstores, multiplex theatres, malls and other large-scale retail & entertainment enterprises thrive. And wherever a Wa-Mart is built smaller-scale retail shops often close as they simply can’t compete with Wal-Mart’s lower prices and selection. And then you have online retailers such as Amazon which are even bigger than Wal-Mart (and with better service and convenience, I would add). Similarly, microchurches lose members to megachurches for a wide variety of analogous reasons.

      I am not a critic of megachurches any more that I am of Amazon or Wal-Mart. Frankly I’m not sure that what’s taught in large churches is any better or worse than what’s taught smaller churches. It appears that much of what I hear taught by many pastors is theistic moralism and psychobabble, with just enough Jesus and Scripture thrown in for “taste.”

      If you have not read it I would recommend Michael Horton’s “Christless Christianity,” available on Amazon @ http://www.amazon.com/Christless-Christianity-Alternative-Gospel-American/dp/0801072212/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1389288440. He does not address megachurches in particular but the Christless/gospeless messages often preached in many churches across America.

      • The reason that the doctrine of mega-churches seems no different than what is preached in smaller ones is that the smaller congregations begin to parrot the teaching of the larger ones in hopes of attaining their success. The numerically strong set the trends for what everyone else does. The unfortunate thing is that many of these churches teach a doctrine that reduces to pandering for numbers with a Jesus sticker on it. I believe the Mega-church movement has had a severe doctrinal impact on Evangelicalism as a whole.

        I think you will find many Horton fans among us. Though we aren’t so friendly to his Calvinism, he is a prophetic voice that has called many of us into the wilderness. He receives a significant share of the blame for me becoming Lutheran.

        • David Cornwell says

          “smaller congregations begin to parrot the teaching of the larger ones in hopes of attaining their success.”

          I think it’s called “mega-church envy.” Some large mainline denominations have the same envy and are trying the same methods. So far, after many years of trying, it hasn’t worked.

          It’s part of our gimmicky church culture. If one gimmick doesn’t work, try another. It’s sad and depressing.

        • You might say I have been reformed by Dr. Horton’s books, in more ways than one.

  19. Recently I read an article about the New Atheist movement, and the formation of religion-less congregations. Some of these non-theist communities have blossomed in size to become disbeliever mega-churches in their own right. The article quoted a mega-unchurch planter who sees no offense patterning after the evangelical megachurch model: “If you think about church, there’s very little that’s bad. It’s singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people – and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?” It makes total sense. Ignoring the offense of the cross, anybody can have an enjoyable time at a megachurch, whether evangelical or atheist.

    • My partner is an atheist, and his comment on atheist churches is good grief, I thought one of the main virtues of atheism meant not having to go to church. But I have witnessed a real hunger for fellowship and gathering (and, weirdly potlucks, I’m guessing these are formerly Lutheran atheists) from atheists who were reared in religious homes.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        My prediction is that this atheist church movement will turn out to be a short-lived fad. What do you call a group of people who want to get together and do something which is not religious? A club. What about if you enjoy a bit of ritual? A lodge. What about if you want some church-like forms to the proceedings? Unitarianism. It is difficult to see what this movement is offering that hasn’t been available all along. It could be that the people joining it have been hungering for Unitarianism without knowing such a thing existed. It seems more likely that this is the current trendy thing, and next year it will be something different. At most, these will evolve into simply social clubs, and in twenty or thirty years they will have a membership crisis as they members die off and the next generation wants nothing to do with them.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I believe you saw a similar pattern among Victorian-era Utopian societies.

        • On the one hand, I don’t think they will survive long term, because I can’t imagine 2nd and 3rd generation atheists having any real interest in such gatherings, but on the other hand, I meet so many atheists who really miss their former church services, so perhaps the communities will continue to serve as a halfway house for former religious people. Alain de Bottun has suggested that atheists should steal rituals and traditions from religious folk, since religion has been around for a very long time and obviously provides something of value to large numbers of people.

          I think that there will be different assemblies, though. Already there has been one schism of those who want polemics (why you should be atheist) during their services and those who simply want affirmational talk and self-improvement. I was talking about this with my partner and suggested that perhaps they could come up with a broad church philosophy wherein each congregation could make its own choices. Kind of like the SBC (but without the BFM2000), but for atheists.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > the formation of religion-less congregations

      It will be interesting to see the staying power of these religionless congregations and what the schisms will occur

  20. Meh. Color me mostly unimpressed. I think his first point is his best one. For every person who has felt neglected and lost in the shuffle of a megachurch, there’s someone else who craved that kind of anonymity after getting burned by a small church where everyone knew everyone and was in everyone’s business. Sometimes, close-knit = stifling, and you aren’t a bad person for needing a break from that.

    With that said, I really think he misses a lot of the points of the critiques of megachurches. He says that megachurches aren’t as shallow as you think, because surveys show that their members are just as committed as the small churches, and their pastors are “pioneering” Bible study materials. Well, just because the members are committed doesn’t mean that the churches themselves aren’t shallow. How many shallow, trendy, book-hocking, secular motivational speakers attract committed followings? Additionally, people don’t just say that megachurches are shallow, period. They mention specific ways in which they are shallow, i.e. being all about The Show/flash/entertainment, or being personality-driven, or spotty theology, or a lack of accountability. He doesn’t address any of these actual objections at all. As for pioneering Bible study materials, I guess I’d have to see the materials he’s talking about.

    The next three reasons he mentions don’t strike me as being inherently good. Making a dent in communities, engaging in media, and making a global impact, seem only as good as the church that’s making the dent/impact. In fact, this is probably one of the things that most animates those who are wary of megachurches. “The message is getting heard!” Yes, but what message?

    As for his last point–that’s his second best one. I would just ask, what kind of churches are they planting? I’d also mention that a lot of megachurches aren’t planting new churches, but satellite campuses. In these situations, it’s easy to forget whether you’re spreading the Gospel, or extending your brand. You can’t deny that a lot of these satellite campuses grow not by reaching previously unreached people, but by cannabalizing other established churches in the region by being the New, Sexy Church (TM).

    I’d finally point out that he seems to miss (or ignore) that for most people, the word megachurch doesn’t just mean big. There’s a certain set of assumptions about the methods, focus, style, etc. of a megachurch. Whoever heard, “I don’t like megachurches. They just beat the pipe organ to death.” Yet where I live (Charlotte, NC), the list of the biggest churches includes several Catholic parishes. When you ask a Charlottean about local megachurches, they won’t mention St Thomas Aquinas–they bring up Elevation Church.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      You can’t deny that a lot of these satellite campuses grow not by reaching previously unreached people, but by cannabalizing other established churches in the region by being the New, Sexy Church (TM).

      Until the NEWER! SEXIER! CHURCH(TM)! comes along and starts rustling THEIR sheep.

      (My writing partner has told me about a Mega in his area with an amusement park on-premises that’s siphoning off all the Young Families with Kids in his area. How do you top an on-site amusement park?)

    • Marcus Johnson says

      For every person who has felt neglected and lost in the shuffle of a megachurch, there’s someone else who craved that kind of anonymity after getting burned by a small church where everyone knew everyone and was in everyone’s business. Sometimes, close-knit = stifling, and you aren’t a bad person for needing a break from that.

      Substitute “megachurch” for “big university” and “small church” with “small liberal arts college,” and you have the exact same conversation that a lot of students seeking college environments are asking. Truth is, though, there is really no “wrong” answer from the perspective of the seeker; it really comes down to factors that have nothing to do with doctrine or Scriptural mandates (things like personality, aesthetic preference, etc.).

      However, from the perspective of the church community, it may matter, depending on the reasons for expansion. Those are two separate discussions; I’m always quite wary of people who seek to link them together.

  21. I understand the majority of readers/commenters on this site are in the business, so to speak, and are well read and have devoted lifetimes to study. I see mega churches taking root, and people like Rick Warren standing at the head, and it seems grotesque that people could fall for his particular brand of shtick by the thousands, all with their dollars in their hands making it rain for these places. Why do these people prosper while the truly sincere pastors slave away barely making ends meet? It was a question I had growing up as a southern Baptist preacher’s kid. I thought my dad was the most sincere person I knew, and those high and mighty 1st Baptist people made my skin crawl, while their pastor rode around in Cadillacs living in big houses.
    That was a long time ago. I was a teenager then, now I’m pushing 50. Much has changed for me. I came out a few decades ago, and haven’t really attended church in many years. The one thing I do is set my dvr for 10:30 each Sunday morning to record Joel Osteen. I receive a message from God as I approach the time prayerfully, asking God for guidance. He (God) meets me there each time. I don’t know details about the man (Joel)….I don’t need to. His spirit ministers to my spirit and my life is better for making time for this meeting each week. Joel gets no respect here I realize. I’m not really here to defend him or his church. He doesn’t need that from me, nor will it make much difference here. My only point is not all mega churches are created equal. I believe if the intent is to honor Christ in all they do, God shows up and great things happen. At least, that is the view from here in the cheap seats, and from my own experience.

    • Have you ever considered visiting a liturgical church? (Not meaning to be pushy, just a suggestion.)

      I’ve returned to my own liturgical church background after getting badly burned in the evangelical/charismatic world, and find it refreshingly different and far more peaceful, as well as open to mystery and paradox.

      There might be some lists of affirming churches for your area, too – Gay Christian Network’s site might be a good starting point.

      Btw, I don’t attend church regularly (an understatement), but it’s there and that brings some comfort, too.

      • I just haven’t felt the need to seek it out lately. I am fed spiritually in my daily life and haven’t missed it at all. I do miss the music at times, but there again, I have an outlet for that outside of a church building. My neighbor a few doors down played in a gospel group for years, and is one of the best pianist I have ever heard. We get a few friends together and sing hymns in great harmonies and feel our spirits soar for a while.
        Bottom line for me, I don’t enjoy the atmosphere when it’s tainted with people playing parts that aren’t sincere, and my BS detector is much too good to be able to overlook these things. In my private life I can control those things because I just don’t allow those people access. It was the hypocrisy that finally did me in, not the hatred I felt toward the gays. I can forgive the ignorance that arises from fear. I have no patience for hypocrisy.

        • “not the hatred I felt toward the gays.” should read, hatred I felt toward the gays from the church.

        • Debra – can’t blame you, and I do hear you about finding enough outside of any church. Kinda where I’m at now, though still a Lutheran and likely to remain one.

          As for hypocrisy, well, yes. Sadly.

  22. BTW & FWIW… Would the early church as described in the first few chapters of Acts which rapidly grew to about 5K be considered a megachurch?

    • Good question

    • Not in the specific sense we’re discussing. Besides, many folks at Pentecost were pilgrims who went back to their homes in other places.

      Mega churches as we are defining them are products of the church growth movement.

      • I always figured they hung around for some time; Acts is not clear on this. But you’re probably right. Regardless, they were a megachurch for a few weeks at least.

        BTW & FWIW II… Why are they called “megachurches,” anyway? Mega means million. Shouldn’t they be called “kilochurches”?

        And continuing with the metric prefixes, churches of 100-999 should be called “hectochurches” and those with 10-99 should be called “decachurches.”

        Not sure what to call churches with less than 10 in the congregation. “singledigitchurches”? “unichurches”?

    • Yeah, Peter sure made one hell of a celebrity figurehead leader. 😛

  23. Two related thoughts:

    We attended a mega-ish church after the liturgical church I worked for eviscerated me. Why did we go? We could hide out and no one would care and our boys would have a fun experience related to church as opposed to the trauma they had just endured. I would read during the sermon because I couldn’t manage listening. No one cared. It was great for a season.

    You have to have really large congregations to manage to pay people to do the “work of the church.” I mentored a youth minister in a church that wanted to be mega but wasn’t. They struggled to get folks to pay in the money so they could hire staff. The people paid their cash and in return didn’t think they should volunteer for things. Isn’t that what the paid people do? The church wanted to be “strategic” and “effective” – I left that mentoring time wondering if the job of the church was to be strategic and effective or to be a community.


    • Funny, I left evangelical churches that weren’t mega-churches, but followed the models and practices, after they had eviscerated me, and found my peace worshiping anonymously in a small, liturgical church.

      I’ve encountered the same thing….I attended one church where the worship leader thought all of the musicians should be paid, and many were…again, not a mega-church. My thought was that if we were paying musicians, shouldn’t we also be paying all the Sunday School…sorry…”Connections”…teachers and other ministry leaders who were volunteers. My suggestion wasn’t well-received…

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Maybe they figured if they followed the models and practices of the Megas, they’d become a Mega?

        Cargo Cult thinking?

      • We’re back home in a liturgical church and not anonymous any more. Our youngest was confirmed at Easter Vigil this past year. I still couldn’t work for a church, but I write curriculum and mentor for my diocese.

  24. Bill Metzger says

    Two comments; Virtually every mega church I’ve driven past has NO CROSS on the building. In fact, most of them loook like office buildings or shopping malls. Here’s my mantra: No Cross on the outside means there’s no Cross (message) on the inside.
    Comment number two-specifically for Chaplain Mike and his prophecy concerning my beloved Cubs: “Time, like an ever-rolling stream, soon bears us all away; We fly forgotten as a dream Dies at the op’ning day.” (LSB 733:5). Every year the dream dies at opening day! My two cents.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      The posting of a cross on a building is about as much an indicator of the presence of a gospel-centric community as an organ on the pulpit, or a Vacation Bible School program, or a large church population. Keep in mind that there are also plenty of impoverished church communities across the globe that cannot afford to suit your aesthetic desires. Still, you go inside, and there is a real community, engaged in real worship, and prepared to engage their community with the gospel.

  25. In his article, Phil Cooke asks:

    “After all, what pastor in his right mind is going to turn away potential worshippers? If people want to attend a particular church, let them. Besides, what’s the right number of members anyway?”

    This seems like a practical question that I’d like to hear critics of “megachurches” address.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says


      Mega-churchness reflects a culture to which people belong. As one tries to get specific in ones criticisms it becomes harder, IMNSHO, to keep the focus on the institution and those aspersions seem more related more to the culture.

      Of course these is nothing wrong with criticizing a culture [there is a distinction between criticism and condemnation].

      It has already been pointed out in these threads that mega-churches are not about absolute numbers but their church-growth focus.

    • Well if classrooms have statistics like 35 students to 1 teacher, shouldn’t there be something like 200 members to 1 pastor? Scale from there.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      I’m sure this issue is not so cut-and-dried; besides, it’s not as though there is a dearth of church community options.

      I would also contend that there is a difference between turning away potential worshipers and recognizing the possibility that size is not an indicator of efficacy, or that growth is an indicator of success, especially when it comes to church communities. Sometimes that growth comes as a result of a dilution of values or ethics or purpose, and when that happens, bigger is not better.

    • The ratio of shepherds to sheep is a problem with larger churches. Is there way to resolve this issue within larger churche? Small groups? More pastors?

      Would small churches start turning people away in order to remain a small church? Or should we as believers just stop going to mega churches leaving behind the relationships and ministries we are involved in?

      Just thinking out loud…..

    • I’ve been told that a single person cannot effectively minister to more than 60 people, so as you push past 90, it’s time to bring on additional help. The problem is, do 60 people always sufficiently support one minister economically? Not always.

      Personally, I feel like once the weekly attendance pushes 500, it’s time to focus on planing more than expanding. But that’s very arbitrary. But a 500 member parish has the leverage to reach its immediate community effectively, and after that, you begin to encounter the possibility of imposing on them. I know of one particular community where the local Mega-church is well hated because of what it does to the residential traffic situation Sunday mornings.

      • Miguel this is a problem in the church I attend. There’s simply not enough pastors to tend to all of the flock. The emphasis is on “small groups” but this doesn’t substitute for personal Pastoral guidance and care. Ironically its the largeness of our church that has motivated me to stay and invite people to our “small group” and let them know they are not just as face in the crowd.

  26. Randy Thompson says

    I don’t have feelings about megachurches one way or the other. I don’t know enough of them to be either appalled or enthusiastic. I can’t imagine being part of one, but that’s neither here nor there.

    I do have a mental picture of them, though, in a sort of free associational way.

    When I think “megachurch,” I picture a vast herd of wildebeests or gazelles on the plains of Africa, tens of thousands of them milling about. If you’ve ever seen video clips or pictures of these vast herds, you’re struck by the fact these are not a collection of individuals but a mass of animals, a crowd that has a life of its own. And that’s how megachurches strike me. They seem to me to be a huge mass of people–a crowd–where the life of the church is the energy of the crowd. That may not be fair or accurate,and I know that, but it is how these places strike me. There’s something faceless about them, where, after the service you could go to a local restaurant for brunch and everyone else there attended the same service but you don’t recognize anyone.

    The often quoted line from “Cheers” the old TV show, captures what I think may be missing: ” . where everyone knows your name. . ”

    As to their theological depth. . . well, spend some time in a small, mainline church. Megachurches may not be much different than their smaller, less glitzy counterparts.

  27. I find the language arguments going on here interesting, in that there’s the equivocation with the term “megachurch” with a church that has a large congregation. They are not, as the custom is here in this community, the same. Perhaps we should make a point to make an iMonk lexicon somewhere.

    As I’m moving into a new church tradition, I’ve found myself with a strange detachment when looking back into the Evangelical/American Protestant world. Stuff like megachurches used to piss me off more, but now I kind of shrug it off as the ‘other’ — not really my problem. I won’t go to one, and I surely would never recommend one if I were to be asked, but I’m sure that there is Christ to be found somewhere in many of them, though one would need to wade through all of the showmanship to find Him. I am also sure that there are some that are utterly apostate, but that’s not something that’s peculiar to megachurches, as is theological shallowness.

    I suppose my ultimate hope is that perhaps some of the people who are drawn in by the shiny lights and hip pastor will go on to deeper things, and not be made so disillusioned with the faith that they ultimately leave it altogether.

  28. What I wonder about megachurches is, “What do they offer the mature Christian”?

    I know a couple who are active in one; they both are lifelong Presbys, but she has had some good experiences in Southern Baptist churches and tbey had a bad experience with a Presby. church in their area.

    She’s very active in the church’s music ministry.

    My wife and I attended. And coming away from it, my thought was, “This is good for the unchurched. But what about those who’ve been in the Faith for many years?”

    I don’t mean this as a criticism, more as an observation.

    I guess maybe the mainline churches are where most church veterans hang

    • We’ve written posts to this effect in the past. I have asked, is this kind of organization better defined as a “mission” rather than a “church”? Not in all instances, but I would argue that this may be true for some.

    • Some of them do a good job of “Christianity 101.” Some go deeper. Some sell something different altogether.

  29. Marcus Johnson says

    I’m sensing, as are others in this forum, that there seems to be some confusion between a large church and a “megachurch.” Did iMonk publish something on this definition a while ago, and if not, can we get one soon? Currently, I’m thinking that a large church is to a megachurch as a large, local grocery store is to a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Am I close?

  30. I’m adding this to the mix without having read previous comments… There are numerous megachurches in my semi-rural/suburban county. And I’m sure there’s a continuum but I see two different kinds of megachurches here. I know of one in the big city nearby that seems to occupy a whole block, but its centerpiece is an “Opportunity Center” that is buzzing with community programs especially geared towards the disadvantaged, poor, refugees, immigrants etc and it’s practically running night and day… I don’t have much problem with such an institution and the people who go there and are funding it with their sunday tithes.
    Across the county is another mega – a preacher-piped-in-from-the-mother-ship satellite with the look and feel of a mulit-plex movie theatre and as far as I can tell it’s main reason for existence is to give the area surbanites a sunday morning rock show with cool coffee and its “staff” nice paychecks…etc and it’s attendees a “good time”. I think it’s the latter and that kinds’ ascendancy and proliferation that has given mega-church a well-deserved bad reputation. I’d be interested to know if Phil Cooke would recognize and address such a continuum of good to lousy…

    • I think your comment could apply to any church, not just megachurches. Some megachurches get it right; some get it wrong. Some small churches get it right; some get it wrong.

  31. Brian Roden says

    “Megachurch” used to refer to a church with 2,000 or more in attendance at the primary worship gathering (or gatherings for multi-service churches). More recently I’ve seen that number changed to 3,000. There was never anything about techniques.

    Of course, the game changed with multi-campus. And then you have multi-campus-with-the-preachers-beamed-in, and mother-daughter church relationships where the daughter churches remain under the administrative oversight of the mother church (often following a common preaching calendar for topics and Scriptures) but with a live local campus pastor who speaks at each location.

    One thing larger churches can do is fully fund large missions projects. You still have to get the same number of people on board and donating to the project, but you can do it in one Sunday morning in one church, instead of the missionary having to travel for months to get the project off the ground.

  32. God establishes the times and places that we should live, that we might grope after Him and find Him, even though He is not far from each one of us. Acts 17:28.

    We have several in our congregation who by their own admission would never have come to Christ if they had wandered into our church first. But, by His grace they were introduced to the One who loved them more than His own life in a “mega-church,” and wooed by Him into a holy hunger for an ever-deepening relationship. They are strong, faithful members of our church to this day. And, we have several who have left our congregation to serve in other places, some bigger and shinier than ours, some not, because they were being led by the Lord into a place where they might find relationship with Him. Would it be the place I choose? Probably not, but I trust the Lord has His hand on His sheep, and He cares for them.

    I would also caution you to tread lightly on the ground of judging the direction a Pastor had been given from the Lord to lead His church. God’s ways are not our own.

    • “I would also caution you to tread lightly on the ground of judging the direction a Pastor had been given from the Lord to lead His church.”

      Thankfully, Martin Luther did not believe that way.

      • Steve, you’ve always struck me as more grace-oriented than you’re displaying on this thread. Seems to be a touchy subject for you.

        • Are you kidding, Rick?

          I’m all about the grace of God for sinners. For the ungodly.

          That’s my problem with the Megachurches. They believe that we need to kick-in something. And that’s not grace.

          • I guess the trick is how to show grace to those who should be better at showing grace. Or maybe that’s your point – they shouldn’t be shown grace. Heck, when I think about it, who does Jesus come down on the hardest in the gospels? The Pharisees…the ones who should’ve known better.

    • The pastor does not lead his church- He shepherd’s them. If he’s setting out with a pre-determined vision to “lead” the church into greatness of numbers, he’s already beginning to leave the New Testament vision behind.

      I agree though, that plenty of people come to know Christ in large churches, and continue in fine, healthy relationships with Christ and others. The question is, is this model of church doing anything that couldn’t be done in any other size church? Probably not. The author of the defense of mega-churches is basically saying that they have a greater impact by virtue of their size (Although he does acknowledge that people can go to any size church they want.). I would dispute that vigorously.

      • I guess I’m not really offended by the thought of my pastor leading us. I consider him the under-shepherd to my Chief Shepherd, the One who leads me beside still waters. It’s sorta what shepherds do, right?

        And, Steve, Martin Luther brought reformation as one who was a part of the Church, not standing on the outside chucking rocks.

  33. My pastor and I were talking about a separate issue today and he said that in a previous church, someone made the comment that as they grew, he (as pastor) needed to become a rancher, presiding over a ponderosa, instead of a shepherd tending sheep. He didn’t like that idea.

    I think maybe that gets at the difficulty of megachurches in general. Pastors have to shift from tending a flock of sheep and move toward becoming ranchers tending a huge ranch. Potentially, it’s the sheep suffer.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Cattlemen vs Sheepmen, just like the Old West.

    • Personally, I think they can maintain a shepherd minded approach to leading larger congregations, if it is a priority. Many pastors will invest heavily in a lay elder board, shepherding them so that they can go and shepherd others.

  34. My-my-my – what worms doth flow from this can. These posts could be why a seeker might change direction.

  35. Am I the 200th comment? Do I win a prize? So much to learn here! Thanks!

  36. Cooke fundamentally misses the real critique and why it’s important.

    It would be one thing if it was simply an issue of numbers. It isn’t. As Michael Spencer so well observed, it’s the ethic of church growth and attractionalism that ultimately water down the Gospel, and dehumanize people into cogs in a resource-devouring machine that’s designed to move people from non-member to member rather than invite people into the life of Christ.

    Plenty of small churches fall prey to the same problems because they embrace this ethic. Plenty of big churches don’t play the attractional game, and thus remain Biblical. But I don’t believe megachurches are doing anything good that is necessarily a function of being mega-. That’s because ALL CHRISTIANS in a given region are one, and by nature are able to act like it, and have the requisite impact on a community, if they would see it. The apostles did not write letters to “First Presbyterian Church” in Corinth or Rome. They wrote to “the churches” or “the saints” in such-and-such a city or region. The oneness and depth of cultural impact that these churches are exhorted to in these letters was never a function of all of them going to the same church. It was a function of all of them being one in Christ, and sharing life with one another.

    Just of few problems with Cooke’s logic:

    #3. “…but when it comes to sharing their message outside their walls, most (small churches) might as well be invisible”

    This is a red herring. If you’re not preaching your church to begin with, you don’t need a large, highly visible church to get your message across. The object of the announcement is King Jesus, not church. “Large churches generate publicity…” is right; there’s just no telling what that publicity is for, or what kind of conversation it’s starting.

    Also, I don’t believe there’s any evidence that the aggregate effect of lots of small churches in a given town is any different than one big one, all else being equal. The desire for media buzz is a non-starter: Media buzz is inherently shallow, consumer-driven, and misses the real issues. Christians and Christianity don’t need more media buzz. They need more (and better quality) real engagement with people in the day-to-day.

    4.”Yet most small churches don’t have the resources, know-how, or interest in using media to impact their community. Larger churches have the financial resources, talent, and expertise to use media effectively.”

    Also no evidence to support this. Plus it’s anachronistic. The whole point of the information/media revolution is that it has totally democratized media use and exposure. You don’t need resources and know-how to communicate via the media. You need a Twitter account. You need one guy who can design a website. You already have nearly every single person in every church with multiple social media accounts and 24-7 access to them. I know seven year olds that can navigate 21st century media better than most adults could a generation ago. It no longer takes significant financial resources to do this stuff. It takes inspiration and a $300 piece of equipment.

    To whatever degree a large-scale production requiring a wide array of talent is called for, there’s still no evidence that a megachurch can do this better than any locally connected group of inspired Christians attending many different churches. The point is that they’re Christians, and they’re one in Christ and in their endeavors.

    5. “…they send enormous amounts of money to fund missionaries in countries around the world.”

    Again, is there any evidence that one megachurch makes a more significant global impact than an equal number of people distributed among several smaller churches, all else being equal? I don’t think so. Most ministries I can think of are not single-church based, they receive support and contribution from a wide range of churches. He keeps making the wrong comparison. The issue is not 1 large church vs. 1 small church. It’s ALL the Christians in a given city either A) distributed throughout several small churches, vs. B) those same Christians clustered into a few big ones. That is how we need to think about this.

    6. “Throughout inner cities, suburbs, remote locations, and more – megachurches are raising up new congregations in amazing numbers.”

    This matters if the church is sound to begin with. if its’ just an attractional circus reproducing more attractional circuses for consumers, then I’m not interested in how many churches are being planted, they are folly.

    Another theory I’d posit is that a lot of the current church planting ethic revolves around sustainability of the machinery, and thus it’s nearly unfathomable, at least in polite bourgeois circles, to speak of planting a church that literally ONLY functions as a real-life cluster of disciples who are doing life together, in Christ. The reason that there’s so little inspired imagination for planting churches this way is in part because the attractional/church growth movement fooled virtually the entire culture into thinking that the fancier and more business-like the church appears, the more legit it is; and that the more ministries and visible paraphernalia are floating about, the more comfortable it is. Thus a disproportionately small number of smaller churches actively plant churches. They are largely concerned with becoming big churches, assuming that they need to become big before the plant a church.

    I could probably say more, but I’ll leave it at that.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > 4.”Yet most small churches don’t have the resources, know-how, or interest in using media
      > to impact their community. Larger churches have the financial resources, talent, and expertise
      > to use media effectively.”

      The real fallacy here is that this is simply not true; there are many many large organizations, churches or else, that completely fail to use media effectively. Although a budget doesn’t hurt.

      > Also no evidence to support this. Plus it’s anachronistic. The whole point of the
      > information/media revolution is that it has totally democratized media use and
      > exposure.

      I work in IT and engage is political advocacy… the above is ABSOLUTELY 110% NOT TRUE. Using media effectively is now harder than ever. You can spray out all the messages you want on as many channels as you want – you an ***EVERYONE ELSE***. That is not success. Achieving penetration with your message is hard, success is hard to measure, and you always run the risk of being swept away immediately by the next shiny thing. If this is “democratization” then democracy is trouble. The guy with the bigger fire-hose wins.

      There is notably not much `revolutionary` about the “information/media revolution”. It has played wonderfully into the hands of the established players [despite media hype, mostly incorrect, about the use of Social Media in events like the Arab spring…. where the great majority of people do not have ready Internet access and using the Internet for those purposes in those totalitarian countries would just be stupid].

      > You don’t need resources and know-how to communicate via the media.

      Incorrect. You may not need “resources”, but you need a mountain of savy and some real-world connections don’t hurt.

      > You need a Twitter account

      And you can then smugly send messages nobody reads, accomplishing nothing.

      • I stand on the axiom that what you need to make effective material, either for media exposure, or for disciple-making endeavors, is inspiration, not vast or well-mechanized resources.

        The argument in Cooke’s piece is that megachurches gather and apply resources in a programmatic framework that small churches by nature can’t access, because of their size, and therefore are less effective for, say, missions.


        My point is, if a small group of inspired people do something with few resources, the nature of inspiration in our age more than ever (due to widespread access), is that it will catch on. This is not always the case (we are a hard-hearted race, still) but it’s certainly a fallacy that super-sizing things and turning churches into numbers-driven servants of efficiency (and measurable results), will make us more productive, attracting more people to the Gospel and the life of Christ in the Church.

        • Inspiration and humility will bear fruit (Jesus shaped spirituality, if you will): whether that counts as “effective” might depend on whom you talk to. I don’t think that it matters much if this shows up in a success metric , or not.

          Expertise in an area, any area, is a good thing, but the Lord of the universe is not constrained to get behind the most talented, the most gifted. I think this is true in technology as much as in any area: great resources and skill can be greatly used, but the power of GOD almighty inside a humble heart, that will yield results…. and worship.

          Tozer said once that men (let me add, “and women”) are always looking for better programs… GOD is looking for better men. If by better, he meant “humble and aware vertically/horizontally”, then I think he was on to something. this humility could be found, IMO, in a church of ANY size, but the mega package will always entice us to look at the outside, the superficial, the “show”.

          Random thoughts, anyway, enjoyed the thread…..

  37. My feeling on mega churches is mixed but for the most part I try and avoid them. I have been invovled in two mega churces in my life. Elmbrook in Brookfield,Wisconsin and McLean Bible in the Washington, D.C. area.

    Elmbrook worked for me when I knew how to work the system. The problem with mega chruches is that people fall through the cracks and its hard to get connected. When I did get connected I met a lot of good people who I am in touch with today. Plus under the Brsicos it was more moderate. They had issues, but one of my biggest beefs is them inviting James MacDonald to speak to the Men’s Conference when websites like “The Elephant’s Debt” are spilling out disturbing information. I wonder…where is the discernment?

    McLean Bible I think is a crock. It has lots of issues and I avoid it today, especially since I came back to faith in God, What are the problems? Its too consumed by growth, people are falling through the cracks and can’t get connected and yet its consumed with growth and church planting. My advice….be a steward of what you have….if you can’t manage what you have now, what makes you think you can manage more people and campuses?

    After I left McLean Bible I was disturbed to learn that they joined The Gospel Coalition without telling its members or attenders. Churches that change doctrine or realign themselves should inform their congregation.
    Plus the current pastor has an ego that is bigger than than most of the egos combined on Capital Hill.

    So I have seen both…my place where I go now..is medium sized. And I like that.

  38. I know that I pretty late to the party (after 213 comments), and I didn’t try to read back through all of them to ensure that no one had already made my point. So if this is redundant, please excuse me…

    I feel the need to take exception to one of Chaplain Mike’s final comments. Jesus Christ is the hope of the world. The Church is only the hope of the world to the degree that she remains under His headship, and He is expressed faithfully through her. Pardon my quibbling, but I cannot let your statement stand on its own without comment.

    Thank you!

  39. Bones this is a Phil Cooke quote, not Chaplain Mike

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