January 17, 2021

The Coming Collapse Of Excessive Evangelicalism

I first came to know Michael Spencer following his posts on the Coming Collapse of Evangelicalism, brilliant pieces that stirred no end of controversy. (Not that Michael ever let a bit of controversy bother him.) I want to start off these thoughts of mine by quoting Michael from his post:

I’m not a Prophet or a Prophet’s Son. I can’t see the future. I’m usually wrong. I’m known for over-reacting. I have no statistics. You probably shouldn’t read this.

That goes for what I am about to write. These are my thoughts, opinions and observations. Don’t hold my feet to the fire if I’m wrong. Don’t ask me when these things might happen. And please don’t ask me for statistics. I don’t understand statistics other than they can be used to argue both sides of a debate. I am not debating with you. I am writing what is stirring in my heart. I may be totally wrong, but who knows? Even a blind pig can stumble on an acorn now and then.

We often write about the “evangelical circus” we see in America today, and some are not pleased with us equating evangelicalism with clowns and dancing bears wearing tutus. So perhaps, just for today, we’ll change the nomenclature to “excessive evangelicalism.” The excess can be in the size of the church building, the number of satellite churches, and the number of programs offered by the church to the leader’s preaching style, content of the messages, or personal lifestyle. Just because a church is large does not make it excessive, just as a small church is not necessarily free of excess. Yet I don’t think it will take you too long to spot the excessive evangelicals in your neighborhood or in the nation. Sure, I could kick around some names, but that is not what I want to focus on here.

I just don’t believe excesses like those we see today in evangelicalism can be sustained over the long haul. Thus my prediction that a collapse in churches, parachurch ministries and individuals who practice excessive evangelicalism is inevitable. And I think this is a very, very good thing, as well as a very dangerous thing.

Now, don’t think I’m saying all of the clowns and bears will go away and we will be left with the early church in 21st century garb. (The early church had its fair share of clowns and dancing bears as well; but that is a story for another day.) No, they will not go away, only hibernate for a short time and reemerge in a different fashion. Just as the Catholic Church could not bear up under the weight of its excesses, its collapse did not do away with Catholicism or religious excess, it just spread it after a period of “reform” under different banners. We have had from the time of St. Paul those preaching Christ for personal gain. We still have them today, and if the “collapse” I am predicting occurs, we will still have them tomorrow.

Let me give an example of what kind of collapse I see coming. Eddie Long leads New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, a congregation with north of 25,000 people calling it their home at one time. Long took over the church in 1987 when it had 300 members, growing it to its present size. He was given the title “Bishop” by a breakaway Baptist group of other “bishops,” a group that is considered heretics by many. Before Long was a pastor, he was a sales rep for Ford. He was reportedly fired for turning in expense accounts with personal items listed as expenses.  As he grew his church, he grew his lifestyle, so much so that Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa made him one of the six televangelists he investigated for misuse of non-profit monies. (Long refused to cooperate with the investigation.)

In 2010, several young men accused Long of sexually abusing them while they worked for Long’s church. Those claims were settled out-of-court. Then in December Long’s wife (his second) filed for divorce. And that all led to the circus-like crowning of Long as a “king” by a self-styled Messianic rabbi from Colorado. Yes, Long issued an apology for offending the Jewish community with that ceremony, but the weight of all of these excesses is bound to take its toll. The school he founded that was associated with his church closed in December, causing hundreds of students to scramble to find another school to attend. Donations have been falling since the Grassley investigation. How many of the 25,000 still attend services at New Birth? No one is saying. My guess is that it is fewer than 25,000—a lot fewer. The collapse has started for Long.

The excesses of this one church leader are not uncommon. I am not gossipping or telling you confidential information. This is readily available from many news sources. I was able to gather it quickly via the magic of the internet. And that is one of the reasons I say a collapse is coming. Nothing is hidden for very long any more thanks to Al Gore’s invention. If a church leader is amassing wealth or buying homes in exotic locations or having a fling or six on the side, it is going to come out and spread quickly. And there are plenty of crooked church leaders. Excesses cause collapse. And collapses are coming.

So what will that mean? Let me touch on three areas I see will suffer massive changes because of excessive evangelicalism.

Christian Publishing

The Christian publishing industry is its own example of excess. The advance against unearned royalties (or simply, “advance”) used to be for starving writers who needed something to tide them over while they were writing their book. It was simply a token of what the author and publisher both hoped would be a lot more income once the book was published. Today, authors angle for as large of an advance as they can possibly get to boost their egos. I know pastors who brag to one another about the size of their advance. I know pastors who whine and complain their advance is not big enough, even though they will not actually write one word in their book. One literary agent I know says that if one of her authors earns a royalty check over and above the advance, then she didn’t do her job. Publishing houses have been giving increasingly large advances to authors whom they know will never get close to earning back that money. And no business can last spending more money than it takes in.

The top five Christian publishers are owned by New York houses with stockholders demanding more more more. So these houses spend spend spend on advances hoping to get the next Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer. But when a big-name author collapses under the weight of his excesses, his books are good only for the recycle bin. The collapse of big ministries is going to cause a chain reaction in publishing. New York houses want positive results for their money. When they see authors they have sunk a lot of money into in the news, and not in a positive way, how long will it be before they pull the plug on their forays into religious publishing? Or at least cut back drastically. This will mean less money going after big-name preachers, and thus less money for all authors. It will mean fewer sales for retail stores. The snowball will be rolling and taking a lot of stuff with it as it builds.

Publishers who focus on books they think will be continual sellers—houses like IVP, Baker, and Crossway—rather than big names will still do what they do, but it will be harder for them to get placement in stores as retailers will carry fewer Christian books in general. Authors will have to find ways to get their books before consumers in more creative ways. Again, please hear me clearly. I am not saying Christian publishing will cease to exist. But it will be forced to change drastically. And that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Christian Media

Beyond publishing, other Christian media will also be forced to change. Take the Christian music industry, for example. The excess in the evangelical praise and worship genre is (mercifully) going to collapse. Yes, there will still be plenty of poppy happy-clappy bands covering covers of cover songs. But sooner or later (and I say sooner), consumers are going to say, “Haven’t I heard this five different ways already?” They are going to stop buying albums that have one or two power-ballad praise songs that are sung in big churches. Why? Because these big churches—the excessive evangelical churches—are going to collapse. Circular reasoning? Maybe. But we’ll see.

Christian TV and radio is already on life support. Why does a ministry—say Joyce Meyer or Kenneth Copeland—want to continue paying stations to carry their programs when the vast majority of Americans have instant access to the internet? And the ministries all have web sites where viewers can stream the programs at very little cost to the ministry. Do you want to be bound by the time your local Christian station carries Back To The Bible, or do you want to be able to go to their web site and listen to it at your convenience? (In the late 90s I told Dave and Joyce Meyer that it would not be long before listeners could download Joyce’s radio broadcast to a portable device and listen to it when they wanted. Dave said he thought the internet was just a fad and not worth pursuing. Like I said, every once in a while I, the blind pig, stumbles on that acorn.)

These radio and TV stations rely on their income primarily from evangelical ministries, the same ministries that are now groaning under their excesses. When donations start to dry up at these ministries, something will have to be cut. Radio and TV time will be right there at the top. What will your local Christian radio or TV station do to replace this income? I have been involved in media for going on 40 years now, and I honestly have no idea.

Fish Out Of Water

The excessive evangelicals are like an aquarium that has a crack in it. As water starts to dribble out through the crack, the crack gets bigger and more water flows making the crack bigger and … soon you have water all over the floor, and a lot of fish dying in the dry aquarium. When, say, an Ed Young Jr. collapses (and who can’t see that one coming?) from his excesses, what will happen to all those who attend his church now? Will another excessive evangelical step in to keep the circus show going? Or will the fish be left flopping in a dry aquarium? To think that these big-name preachers are pastors is a joke. They have no interest in their sheep. They are not shepherds who would lay down their lives for their flock. That is what the flock is there for— to lay down their lives for the hireling who will run for the hills at the first sign of real trouble.

I am truly concerned for those who are attending the excessive evangelical churches. When the collapse comes—when, not if—what will happen with those who have been enjoying the circus show? Let’s not say, “Oh, many of them aren’t even Christians.” One, that is not ours to know. Two, if they aren’t, isn’t all the more important that they have someone speaking Jesus into their lives?

When a megachurch collapses, there are sharks in the water immediately. If you don’t think church CEOs are not constantly plotting how they can lure sheep from one pen into theirs, you are going through life with your eyes closed. That is the reason most churches add program upon program and then advertise these programs. They are not fishing in the ocean. They’re trying to steal fish from someone else’s aquarium.

Many will simply go find another circus act to follow. But those genuinely seeking the Lord will be left high and dry. Will they know how to look for another church? Or will they be too wounded to want to go through the whole process again, with the risk of once again being left dry? I’m afraid many will simply give up on church and, yes, on Jesus.

We here at this site spend a lot of time poking holes in the balloons marked excessive evangelicalism. We don’t do it out of an air of superiority or thinking we are better than anyone. We do it because we care. We care for those who are going to be crushed in one way or another when the stage collapses. It’s a given that it will collapse, and it will bring many needed changes to American Christianity. But many people are going to be hurt in the process. Many teachers and preachers will be held responsible for the hurt they cause.

Would it not be better now for the excessive evangelicals to repent and spare perhaps some from the pain that is to come?


  1. I don’t presume to know anything about Ed Young Jr.’s motives. Other than his tall stature and tall teeth, I don’t presume to know anything about Ed Young Jr. period. Maybe you know Ed Young Jr. and you know that he cares nothing for his sheep, but just because he is a clown (and I’m not arguing that he isn’t) does not mean his motivations are purely selfish. I’m sure many a clown does his clownish thing because he sincerely believes it brings people joy.

    It bothers me how often, how quickly, and how carelessly Christians are able to see foolish actions and insinuate sinful intent. We are called to a higher standard.

    Other than that, good post.

    • I agree with Theo. The cocky assurance that you know what Ed Young Jr. and other “big-name preachers” do or don’t care about tarnishes an otherwise good post.

      • Wolf Paul, I do happen to know Young in a way. And I have known him to be very self-centered. As to others, I also know of “big-name preachers” who have zero interaction with those they are over. I know personally those who have body guards called ushers who whisk the preacher (notice I don’t say pastor) away when he is done talking so no one can get to him. We have such a one in my city. (At least one.) So I am speaking from what I know.

        • When I hear about pastors and “bodygaurds” it makes me squim. Why don’t the bodyguards bother Christians more? I mean from Ed Young Jr to Mark Driscoll…why the bodyguards? Is it more about status…than protection? Do they see themself as a miniture head of state? Is their respective church more about fiefdom? If so….I’d gladly give other advice about “leadering’ and being a pastor, and not being greedy or spiritually abusive.

          • I don’t presume to know why Driscoll or Young have bodyguards, since I have never been to their churches and don’t know them personally. But again, megachurch preachers, being in the public eye, are sometimes targets for those who would wish to harm them. Sometimes this can be for a stance on a controversial public issue, such as abortion. Sometimes it is simply a mentally unstable person who becomes fixated on a particular preacher for whatever reason. But do a quick internet search, and you will find multiple incidences of preachers attacked in their churches. I mentioned a couple of these in a recent comment of mine.

          • Jesus has 12 bodyguards didn’t he? 😉

          • I don’t blame Driscoll for having a bodyguard; if I’d been rushed by a guy with a machette while preaching I think I’d employ one too!

      • Matt Purdum says

        It doesn’t take cocky assurance to know what Ed Young cares about. He’s very upfront. It’s power, money, and sex. This ain’t rocket science, people.

        • Power, money & sex? 😯 I agree…I just can’t believe more people don’t see this. For me its pretty clear…maybe that’s becuase I’m way out of the system.

    • Well said Theo

    • Well, for one thing, once a church is bigger than say 150 people or so, it’s just humanly impossible for one pastor to care for all those people. He may want to, and he may have the intentions to, but he just can’t. It’s like saying the manager of a Wal-Mart cares for his customers. He may not have bad intentions toward them, but in all reality, he can’t care for them all. I think what happens in mega-churches is an inevitable disconnect between the pastors and the people, and I think that’s why they feel they continually have to invest in new programs to keep people coming back (or new ones coming in). Pastors really become something more like CEOs or presidents of companies at that point. They’re trusting their middle managers to maintain the congregation.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Troop-size limit. The average human cannot think of any group above around 150 (the size of a small tribe or infantry company) as individuals, only a collective abstract whole. (The number varies from individual to individual; at one extreme are saints, at the other sociopaths.) And once the large number becomes a collective abstract, as in “The People” or “The Planet”, the opportunity for abuse of individuals in the name of the Collective increases.

        • Off-topic alert. But to reinforce what HUG said (while technically not proving Godwin’s Law):

          Joseph Stalin said that the death of one man is a tragegy but the death of a million is a statistic.

        • HUG and Phil…I think that’s because some of these folks become psychologyically detached. When your life becomes about writing books, dispensing duties to others and screaming at your congregation from a mega church stage…what more is there to do? Some of these clowns have reversed the role. Who is there for who? Are these pastors there for the people? Or are the people there for the pastor? I think this is why those is the prosperity gospel crowd and the Neo facsits…eh Neo-Calvinists act like they do. They are detached from reality.

          The best thing that could happen for Ed Young Jr, Mark Driscoll, Perry Noble, John MacArthur, CJ Mahaney, etc.. is for them to get a real job. One that requires them to have a supervisor who lays out their expectations, does reviews, and remind them that work starts at 9:00 not 9:25, 9:10…but 9:10, and that lunch is only 60 minutes.

          My advice to these guys would be this…start applying on Careebuilder!!! 😛

      • Phil, I think you may have disproved your own point. Having worked in retail I can tell you a store manager must care for his customers if he wishes to have any. While it is true he cannot directly meet all their needs, his care for his customers (and his pay check) is the motivating force behind his management.

        Care for the customer is one of the hallmarks of a good manager. I also happen to know a mega church pastor and its his concern for the community that motivated his leadership/management. Does he directly interact with all the members? No that’s impossible. But he cares for his leaders and in turn trusts them to care for the people.

        HUG I think its a mistake to argue that no general cares for the troops. I’m sure there are plenty examples of those who don’t, but seriously doubt that none do.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          It’s not that “no general cares for the troops”, it’s just that he won’t think of them as individuals, only “troops”. And a general may have to order his troops into death.

        • Well, I guess my being on staff at an almost mega-church (700 or so attendees) has perhaps skewed my experience. I believe the senior pastor there was more concerned about people as abstractions more than actual people, and that included the people directly under him. A lot of that was his personality, to be sure, but I think that once you have this administrative structure to worry about, the effects of the decisions you make become harder to notice. They will have real consequences for people, but you don’t know about them until much later.

        • In many cases a manager’s primary loyalty is not to her customers but to the corporation that employs her. If she is an independent owner/operator, then she will be more motivated to care for the customers. Otherwise, she will be focused on meeting sales goals.

          And since a very few corporations will often dominate a particular market, it’s not like the people have anywhere else to go. They’ll continue to come in spite of the poor service they receive. This is what I have seen working in retail.

        • Pastor Brenden when I worked in retail some business almost looked down on customers. They thought….what other choice does the customer have? If they want this “widget” I am the only one in town to sell this…they don’t like it. Tough…

          Some businesses don’t give a rat’s behind…the same holds true for many fundagelical churches.

      • Final Anonymous says

        “Pastors really become something more like CEOs or presidents of companies at that point. They’re trusting their middle managers to maintain the congregation.”

        Yet another reason NOT to model church after big business.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          You could wind up with “Just Like Dilbert Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”

          Middle-managers are the basis of the Pointy-Haired Boss, always trying to look good and climb up to the Top Management Positions above them by stepping on the Peons below.

          And a Pointy Haired Boss is a Pointy Haired Boss, even with a Christian coat of paint.

        • Good point, Final Anon!
          I cringe every time I hear someone say that a church should be run like a business. Should it be financially responsible? Of course, but most businesses by their nature, are, well, businesses and exist to bring in money to keep themselves going so they can earn more money. That is not the mission of the church by a long shot.
          Some businesses put forth a good product, or a great product, or an essential product, but that is not why they do what they do. They do it to make money. Once a church begins thinking like the business, and many, many do, God’s mission takes a back seat. I think that is much of what we are seeing now, and I agree with Jeff that it will lead to a collapse.

          • Final Anonymous says

            Glad to know I’m not the only one who cringes.

            Even in good churches, with the right message and the right intent, I’ve seen the emphasis turning to business models; they have marketing consultants, call in people to teach them how to grow their business-I-mean-ministry, even hire, fire, and evaluate staff based on “quantifiable outcomes” (ie. numbers).

            The entire purpose of one executive team, as described in the opening prayer, was to “do the business of the church,” and, true to form, the meetings were all about business.

            On the one hand, they are totally right — there is a lot of business that needs to be conducted. There are financial considerations, human resources issues, banks and utilities and staff and all matter of business that must be managed. Even “marketing” the gospel — okay. I guess I can see it.

            But the very fact that we must bothers me. It feels like we’ve taken a seriously wrong turn somewhere. I don’t feel God’s purpose was ever to establish Jesus-Mart or Heaven & Company here on earth.

    • You, my friend, are insane. Motivations and actions have no correlation? Really? We are clearly and explicitly commanded in scripture to evaluate TEACHERS by their fruit. (It doesn’t say what to do if the teacher IS a fruit!) We can’t see into Ed Young’s heart, so he might be an athlete of altruism who is simply confused by his methodology? Give me a break. A person who cares WILL demonstrate it. Sure, he’s not Satan and bent on pure destruction. I’m sure he believes he has something of worth to offer his customers. You could just as easily say the same about Hitler. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The church needs shepherds with good objectives: The spiritual care and nurturing of those whom God has entrusted to them. Tell me Ed Young and similar have any inkling what this even looks like.

      • Miguel, are you sure you want to call somebody insane on this family blog? I kinda liked Theo’s comment about Young’s “tall stature and tall teeth”.

        And I noticed you’re over the edge on Godwin’s Law. I barely avoided it with my comment about Stalin above.

        • I suppose I’m guilty of “ad Hitlerum,” but the point wasn’t to say that certain people are as bad as him. It’s just that personal motives aren’t some “holy of holies” which we are not allowed to speculate on. How people behave is a reflection of what they are seeking. Tell me televangelists don’t really want my money, they just want to help me become a giving person. Please.

      • Professor Failure says

        “It doesn’t say what to do if the teacher IS a fruit!”


    • Theo
      I came away from a church a few years ago that had strange goings on. I won’t say the people are not Christian. But they are messed up in practical areas.

      But one thing I noticed was the reticence many people have to looking and seeing things as they are. Maybe they are thinking ‘I don’t want to judge’. In practice what it leads to is looking the other way and ignoring the obvious. I think the attitude is ‘love covers all sins’, so you believe the best.

      It is almost like someone said:

      It is black, bigger than a cat, fluffy tail, short legs, white stripe down its back and tail and it sure smells. What is it?

      Their answer: Jesus

    • When I see Ed Young Jr…I think of the shady car and insurance salesman. I get that greasy feeling….

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Someone in a long-ago comment thread said that where he was from, Used Car Salesman was the most common job for ex-pastors.

    • Some good friends of mine know Ed Young. Were neighbors. Attended his church. Their kids played together. They now live in another state.

      Based on my conversations with them over the last 8 years or so that we’ve been friends, I’d say Jeff got it right. If anything he was overly polite in his comments.

  2. Well put, Jeff. The excess you talk about is echoed in the larger culture. It may be that we all face some sort of collapse, in society if not the church. And as you say, it may be a good thing in some ways — reminding us of our hubris at the least — but it is also dangerous.

    • Agreed, Damaris. Somewhere along the line, I believe us Americans became so enamored with our own cultural quirks and whimsy, we decided that everything we do, even church, should mirror it. It’s foolishness at best, vanity and pride at worst. It’s amazing how we seek to adapt the church according to cultural standards, when she was designed to be counter-cultural. Instead of a counter-culture, though, American Christianity is largely just a sub-culture…a caricature of the greater culture. As believers, aren’t we supposed to be introducing a different way of doing things, instead of poorly copying culture in hopes of being appealing?

      I believe that throwing tradition and history out the door has severely damaged the concept of Christianity. All Christians should read the report from the First Ecumenical Council, to see examples of how counter-cultural Christians once were; or the Didache; or, heck, the Book of Acts….

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        American Christianity is largely just a sub-culture…a caricature of the greater culture.

        Not just a caricature. A funhouse-mirror reflection filtered through South Park.

        “Just like Fill-in-the-Blank, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!” Where fill-in-the-blank can be anything from Google (Seek and Find) to YouTube (GodTube) to Twitter (Christian Chirp) to Justin Beiber (Johnny Hammer) to sex toys (can’t work with that one). Where you can go from Altar Call to Rapture/Homegoing without ever having to encounter one of those Heathens or anything without a Bible verse engraved.

        “And you’ll only drink milk
        If it comes from a Christian Cow —
        Don’t spend your hard-earned bread
        Keeping those Heathens well-fed;
        Line Christian pockets instead!”
        — Steve Taylor, “Guilty by Association”

    • Could we compare excessive evangelicalism to the Titanic? The iceburg is in the distance but no one notices…

  3. I think you left out one very important dynamic in all this, Jeff. As I look at the moves of our government to translate “freedom of religion” into both “freedom from religion” and/or an anemic “freedom of worship.” As it becomes less and less comfortable to be a “ministry” or a Christian, many will go looking for other opportunities in other arenas.

    I’m not prophet, either, but as I look at the world around us, I see things getting very uncomfortable for the church around the world (it already is in many places) in the next…..while. That will winnow some chaff from the wheat.

    • Chris

      Please tell me

      -why do you make a difference between “freedom of religion” and “freedom form religion”? They go together!!

      -let’s be serious: it’s not difficult being a Christian in the West, and especially not in those good ol’ USA.

      • I disagree. I should not be able to force my religion on you. Neither should you be able to force your aversion to it on me. The free exchange of ideas, religious and otherwise, is crucial if we are ever to uncover truth.

        And while it is pretty easy being a Christian in the US, I can find a few Catholic bishops who are starting to feel the squeeze. If you don’t know what I’m taling about, do a little reading on the current administrations stance against religious exemption for many institutions with regards to abortion and contraception.

        Freedom of religious speech is already regulated in Europe and other more secular western countries. We ignore the death of 30,000 Christians in Nigeria in the last 10 years at the hands of Muslim fundamentalists. That there is not moral outrage at such is telling of our attitudes.

        I am not claiming we have it as bad as most of Africa and Asia. I am claiming there will be a day when we might if current trends continue.

        • We have a few places where we have decided need to be free of religious coercion this includes public schools (more so in elementary schools less so in high school where the students are less credible). I wouldn’t call that putting religious aversion on other people. Most corporations would rather their employees keep their religions to themselves though most are also pretty accommodating at the same time. It’s just one person’s witnessing is another person’s hostile work environment.

          I prefer a religious diversity theme. If a cross is up on public land for historic reasons, I see no reason to also put a Buddha, idol or other religious image up beside it. It then becomes a symbol of our nation’s diversity and less one of Christian domination.

          One of the most telling things I’ve seen is that when, for instance, Bibles are being offered to students at one school district and a pagan parent comes in offering pagan material, the school wouldn’t accept it. Even though the reason they claimed they offered the Bible was that any religious group could offer materials. And it was humorous to see the gnashing of teeth over having to share holiday space with the atheists in different areas.

          I think this is the direction that will be taken in future, rather than one of religious nihilism, and it’s a good one. It’s all about sauce for the gander. You want to have your child say a prayer at graduation, OK then this other child is going to lead a Om chant. You want Bibles distributed OK so too the Holy Books of other faiths.

          • @Chris,

            You claim that “Freedom of religious speech is already regulated in Europe and other more secular western countries.” Living in Europe, I would like to know what you mean by that?


            this reminds me the story of this American Baptist friend of mine who was disgusted we could not have Bible distributions on campus ground but who thought that the US pagan military chaplaincy was a shame that had to be erased…

      • Sure, wearing the label “Christian” is by no means difficult in America. And, depending on what part of the country you live in and the social circles in which you run, it can actually be a benefit.
        But actually following Christ as a way of life in this degenerate, self-seeking culture — that’s another matter entirely.

  4. Does this mean that soon will be the end of fundamentalist Catholicism? We can only hope! I’m tired of the self-appointed inquisition waving the Catecism of the Catholic Church in my face and pointing out their limited knowledge of the text, taken out of context to support their hard-line rules. It is this polarization and fanaticism that drives potentially healthy and spiritually mature disciples from the Church and into the arms of Buddhist, Congregational, Unitarian and New Age communities (not that there is anything wrong with those belief systems….I’m just pointing out where disillusions Catholics go. )

    • I became Jewish.

    • I think the Catechism is a good summary tool to teach faith and morals. No? Without a law code or ordinances there is no sense of transgression.

      • There are 2 entire books of the Scriptures the Catholic church promotes that are filled with law.

        Besides which, I thought canon law was the Church’s law. The Catechism is just supposed to be an easily understood guide to the faith for the non-canon law specialist.

        But I will say that if people actually lived their lives by constantly checking with the CCC, their spiritual lives would be a bit dry. Catholicism seems as though it has always been about popular devotionals AND orthodoxy.

        I’ll have to say I’m having fun with the Bishops reaction these days. I’m wondering just how many of their laity they’re going to alienate before they’re through. Oddly, the universities in IL seem to cover these same items and Loyola Health care systems (it’s my primary provider of health care) offers those items, plus IVF, plus sterilizations, through some kind of magic and a shell company of some kind.

        • If laity are alienated by the bishops standing up against gov’t violations of freedom of religion, then let them be alienated. No one should be compelled to pay for others’ contraception, abortion, and sterilization.

          Many “Catholic” colleges and hospitals have long ago sold out, often literally, to big companies and are really Catholic in name only. They may even have some heterodox nuns or priests in leadership somewhere in the big company, but they do not follow Catholic teaching. Some bishops are stripping the designation “Catholic” from these organizations.

          • Should people be compelled to pay for others’ food and housing and medical care?

          • No.

          • I just joined a religion that doesn’t believe in blood transfusions. Should I really be forced to pay for others blood transfusions? And if I found a hospital, it shouldn’t have to provide blood transfusions.

            My friend doesn’t believe the disease even exists anywhere outside the mind, so he’d like an exemption from paying for anything.

            The Bishops’ conundrum is a difficult issue, but it’s not ONLY about religious freedom. We’re not talking about churches, but hospitals run by churches and insurance programs that cover a wide diversity of people.

          • Danielle, with respect, pregnancy is not a disease. And abortion (and contraception) are moral issues regarding our sexuality, so the comparison to a blood transfusion is not a good one.

          • I did not say that pregnancy was a disease. The common denominator between access to contraception and blood transfusions is simply that both are medical services that relate to personal health. From a public policy standpoint, I don’t need to relate them any more intimately to discuss them as at least vaguely comparable.

            On morality, I think what you really mean is that blood transfusions are not a moral issue to you, whereas contraception is. To a few people, blood transfusions would be a moral/religious issue. To me, neither contraception nor blood transfusions are a moral issue (at least not in and of themselves; only contextually). So this things are highly perspectival.

            In any case, I am not coming down firmly on either “side” of the recent controversy over this issue; I just mean to point out that complex problem are raised when one discusses the public obligations of hospitals that are responsible for public health.

            Clearly some kind of compromise, if imperfect, is needed between conscience and public obligation. Perhaps the recent proposals get closer to that.

          • Danielle,

            We need blood to survive. Blood transfusions are needed when someone loses blood (my wife was one). Sure, Jehovah’s Witnesses and maybe some others I don’t know about reject blood transfusions, but they have to make arguments regarding the natural law to explain why (ones I have never heard).

            Contraception, say the Pill, inserts hormones into the woman’s body to interfere with its normal functioning, to “fool” it, if you will, into not ovulating. (Failing that, if the woman ovulates and a new person is conceived through the sperm and ovum joining, the Pill makes the uterine lining inhospitable to the embryo and can abort the newly formed baby. This is problematic in itself and is a moral issue–no matter which side you stand on–for all but the most confused.)

            Comparing these two, then, by trying to class them as broadly as possible as “medical services that relate to health” doesn’t work. Yes one relates to health by healing the person and the other relates to health in deleterious way.

            Perhaps we can see it most clearly by the following statements:

            Emergency blood transfusions save someone who is dying.
            Emergency “contraception” kills someone (the new baby) who is living.

            These are not the same.

    • Lauri, if you don’t want to be Catholic (which means believing in the Church’s teachings), you don’t have to be. Lots of non-Catholic Christian communities would accept your beliefs, as would non-Christian ones.

      • Well, in the US the general attitude is that Americans like being Catholic and whatever their personal beliefs and practices are is between them and their deity. Most have long since dispensed with the sacrament of reconciliation (penance or just plain Confession) or they have gone into a don’t ask/don’t tell mode with it. Since the church can only excommunicate known offenders, and it’s rare to be exed for just behavior, the church kind of has to live with it. Plus they like being able to claim however many millions of Catholics they represent when they make political statements, so they too have a stake in keeping the flock very, very large even if somewhat diffuse.

        The church can either put up with it or start excommunicating wholesale. I’m guessing they’ll put up with it.

        • The church can either put up with it or start excommunicating wholesale. I’m guessing they’ll put up with it.

          True dat.

        • Pope Benedict himself has said the Catholic Church very likely will (and must) get smaller, and even the parish system might need to go as well. To hell with a large “flock” of people who don’t believe in the Church’s teachings. It is better to have a smaller number who are Catholic and act like it.

          Many U.S. Catholic bishops have largely been MIA regarding enforcing disciplinary measures for blatant public rejection of the Church’s teachings. That is changing now. The bishops are starting to stand up and take action.

      • I think there’s some muddyness in the water on this issue. On one hand, you have people who really don’t care and/or don’t think the Catholic church has anything like authority.

        Then you’ve got those who follow the Catechism on everything.

        And then you’ve got those who believe in most of it and have some good-faith disagreements or uncertainities, who keep being Catholic and letting the tension stand. They show up to Mass every Sunday and do go to Confession, but there’s just places where they and the hierarchy don’t line up. It’s not like they don’t care: they care deeply.

        I’ve never really been able to figure out what the thinking of the Church is on group 3, even though I know a large number of Catholics who would fit this description. If I became Catholic, I would also fit this description. (I would have no way out of it, at least not initially, and maybe not ever.) Consequently, I don’t become Catholic, since the last thing I intend to do is somehow agree to do something I am not planning to do. I also won’t risk saying, to myself or anyone else, that I think something 100 percent with true certainty, when I know deep down that I am lying about it. In other words, I desire to avoid the moral risk of placing myself in impossible moral and intellectual situations.

        I keep walking along a long road that seems all the time to be taking me closer to Canterbury and Wittenberg. But perhaps I’ll be surprised!

  5. It may have been poor judgment to name any particular mega-church preacher by name, but I did not read this as specifically saying EYJ was going to fall, but that there will be a big fall when someone like him does. And Jeff expects that one of them will.

    But his point about lack of shepherding is worth noting. Too often, the sphere of shepherding of the leads of the larger mega-churches is less than what it is in the small churches. The 150-300 member church is looked after by the pastor. The number he looks after decreases as the size increases. There are others to do that job.

    That is not necessarily an entirely bad thing. 300 may be too many. But once the number is too few, there starts to be a disconnect from the group. They become stars to appear on a platform to preach another sermon and retreat to their office or their house.

    I have attended a smaller (but still very large) church just “down the street” from Fellowship and have noted that there is a level of distance between the pastor (and the staff in general) from much of the flock. The kind of “take a number” approach to addressing issues that surfaces at times is disconcerting.

    I hope that the metaphor about a cracked fish tank proves wrong in most cases and an example or two helps them see the gaps in their servant-hood. (Or the idea of servant-hood returns from exile.)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      That is not necessarily an entirely bad thing. 300 may be too many.

      Not too many to plug a pass at Thermopale.

    • I’ve heard that a church staff can only minister effectively to 60 people. After that, it’s time to bring on additional help. But that could be a statistic. I think the problem isn’t so much the numbers as it is the leadership model. The pastor of the independent, non-accountable church becomes a figurehead with too much spotlight time for his own ego. Introduce a plurality of teaching elders, and Billy is now only on the stage monthly. Suddenly, he has more time to be with people. I’m a fan of when churches take a sermon series and divide it among several preachers from the congregation. It keeps too much attention from being on one person.

  6. I failed to prove my humanity by checking the box, and thusly lost my post…

    maybe God was silencing my rant.

    I think I’m just gonna pray for His church. :^)

    (box checked – Check!)

    • That has happened to me several times and each time, I’ve just been able to use the back button and my post is still there, all I have to do is check the box and hit post again. I’m using a firefox nightly 64 bit build. I’m not sure if it matters.

    • Yeah….I check the button first. I’ve worked on some long posts, then forgot to check the box; thus doing a Homer Simpson impersonation!! 😛

  7. Challenging and thought-provoking post (although I agree that divining motives of fellow believers, no matter how obvious they may seem, should be avoided).

    I think you are quite right about the Evangelical industry and subculture. You made some fascinating insider observations that I had not considered before about why and how the tenuous web of publishing, media, and ministries can (will) unravel. However, I wonder if that is being driven more by technological change than by excessive Evangelicalism. In a Darwinian meta-business model the weakest (Evangelical industry) will die off first, and the fittest (secular industry) will survive.

    I think you may be less right about the Evangelical megachurch movement. Yes, it will change, but I doubt it will go away. Too many Christians in our generation have been trained to the programmatic model of church, and if their current program provider falls apart, they will simply look for another church to provide the programs they want. In our free market economy, someone else will see that market and seize upon it. As more and more “you lost me” youth leave the faith, there may be fewer megachurches serving a shrinking Evangelical populous, but they will still be there. We can only hope they will be led by godly Christians with pastoral hearts. At the same time, many will renounce the mega model and return to the small church model. The big question is whether there will be enough godly and mature Christians with pastoral hearts coming out of this generation to lead those congregations. I think God will make it so.

    • What I wonder about is the ability of megachurches to maintain their facilities and programs on offerings and donations. With the economic problems our country is facing, it seems more and more untenable to me to ask ordinary people to support large staffs with impressive salary and benefit packages and multimillion dollar campuses. I have visited one large church (not an “excessive” evangelical church by any means but still a megachurch) the past two years near the end of their giving year, and each time fervent appeals were made for several million dollars to help them end the year in the black. How long can such organizations go on like that?

      • Not long, IMO. The collapse or shrinking of the American and world economy will likely precede and precipitate the collapse of Excessive Evangelicalism. That system is built on money and “entertainment,” so when prosperity disappears, so will they. Expect to hear more and more sermons on tithing and “seed faith.”

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          And more EYJ clones demanding more routing & account numbers for more Automatic Tithing shakedowns.

          “If you don’t, our security cameras are so good We Will Know Who You Are!”

        • THIS: or sermons on “faithfulness to the vision”, or “persevering with the vision” or something along those lines. You’ve heard the drill: ” build with a bible/trowel in one hand and a sword in the other…..”

          Those “fish” who live by the big extavaganza will go the next big pond (while they last) when theirs dry up, and on and on. Some will snap out of it and find older but purer water. Some will just stay beached till their bones are ready for coral.

      • Good point, CM. How long will I be willing to contribute to paying a pastor’s salary, who makes substantially more in income than the surrounding culture, but isn’t available to me as a shepherd and friend? How long will I contribute to a building fund when there’s already a facility in place that seats hundreds, if not thousands? How long will I give to support my pastor’s mileage reimbursement, clothing allowance, housing allowance, and gas card, when he’s in an Escalade, and I’m driving a ’97 Chevy pickup?

        Not long.

        • The Guy from Knoxville says

          Folks, this is what happens when “touch not the Lord’s anointed….” and “the worker is worth his pay” (not exact quotes but most here know the scriptures I’m referencing) is taken too far and out of context. We’ve come to the point that it’s nearly the unpardonable sin to question any excess of mega churches and their celebrity pastors and staff – all the while they take the people in the pews for all they can get and hardly anything is questioned and those that do, in some cases, pay a hefty price doing so.

          This is not to say that in the past some pastors have always been treated well by churches – they haven’t and were not…… when I was growing up at my home church the pastor there was one of the most humble and godly men I’ve ever known – he and his wife lived on a meger salary, lived in the pastorium (church provided house), had no retirement and minimal benefits and they had a daugher with MS who passed while they were with this church. The deacons and “ruling families” of the church made life for this man and his family a living hell on earth! They lived in constant fear of being “put out on the road” if he did the least little thing outside the prescribed norms of the deacons and “ruling families” or preached the “wrong things” or preached too long etc. It was horrid and there was no excuse for it. On the flip side it no more right for the celeb preaches to build their kingdoms on the backs of the sheep in the pew – living lavish lifestyles in multi-million dollar houses, multi-acre estates, top end luxury vehicles, yachts on the lakes, private jets or church paid for jets….. on and on we could go.

          No, all this will collapse in a big way at some point – folks in these churches in our current economy will not be able to continue to support this kind of financal output or will see it for what it is and refuse to do it anymore!

        • That’s patilaly why people leave fundagelical mega chruches. When the system gets to be “give,give, give, give…” but receive nothing in return. It’s draining.

      • I’m already seeing this in KC. A large “non-denom” went under just this past winter. It was NOT a prosperity gospel place, primarily, but their was the usual 4 or 5 family members on the payroll, and the pastor did not mind at all letting us know what kind of watch, and American express card, he used. EricW has this pegged: the economic collapse IS happening, or at least a severe downturn, and you can only fleece the sheep so long before there is no more wool to be had.

      • I know of one megachurch (one of the largest in the country) that actually brought in more than it needed, so it gave a large chunk of the extra $ to another church.

        • Interesting: I think we host the largest, or close to the largest, Methodist church here in KC: Church of the Resurrection. They have a massive budget, but they also have a very vibrant ministry(ies) to the urban poor. They seem to very strong in both pastoral care, and in giving to others.

      • And so comes the test of the church’s ability to think creatively, outside the norm, to reach the people around it. Not to mention the test of the church’s priorities: how many churches will continue to reach out to others outside their doors when that involves sacrificing their own pet projects to do so? Let’s not forget, in the Book of Acts, the church in Jerusalem was continuously & notoriously poor.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        it seems more and more untenable to me to ask ordinary people to support large staffs with impressive salary and benefit packages and multimillion dollar campuses….How long can such organizations go on like that?

        Crystal Cathedral (originally Garden Grove Community Church) has already crashed and burned. Last news item was the Catholic Diocese of Orange bought their physical plant at the bankruptcy fire sale.

        • Headless, is your quote about churches or the Federal Govt?

        • The fact that the Roman Catholic Diocese bought the Crystal Cathedral makes me smile every time I read it. God does indeed have a sense of humor.

          But I think we will be seeing this over and over. It wasn’t that long ago that the Crystal Cathedral was the model megachurch. There is a similar megachurch near where I live that was the be all and end all when I was younger, then went into bankruptcy when the head pastor left (I think there was an affair or something) and the building was taken over by another denomination. The original congregation no longer exists.

          I had an interesting conversation recently with a friend who attends one of the original megachurches in town. They are technically Baptist, but try to downplay that. He admits that they have lost many members over the last 10 years or so because several of the pastors left and started their own churches and one of the original pastors came back to town and opened his own church in a wealthier part of town. This friend admitted that the bottom line was that his church is not that cool anymore and people are going elsewhere looking to ride the next wave.

      • Chaplain Mike,

        Mega-churches should be able to withstand economic shocks much better compared to smaller churches. In a mega-church you always that the ability to cut expenses quickly by cutting staff. A smaller church doesn’t have that ability. With staffing taking up about 50% in budget (more in smaller churches and less in mega-churches), then a 10% drop in income will result in a 20% drop in staff. A church of 200 may be forced to go from 2 pastors to 1. A church of 1 Pastor may require its Pastor to go bi-vocational. Both of these scenarios have huge impacts on the church. A mega-church? They might drop from 20 pastoral staff down to 16-17. The impact in the mega-church model ends up being a lot less.

        • Michael,

          The normal mega-church model is that each staff must meet a quota. Normally, each staff member must be capable of bringing in at least 50 but preferably 100+ people based on their personality and charisma. Once the downsizing starts, not only does the staff member lose his job, but the 100+ people connected to him will move to the next mega-church down the street. The downward spiral happens quickly. I was in a church in this situation that went down to 40 people in a matter of months.

          • This is the danger of persona driven leadership. Who is there for who? Is the pastor there for the people? Or are the people there for the pastor? Plus when a person goes to a church to hear John Piper, and that is the reason for going there…what are they going to do when he retires or croaks? What are a lot of evangelical churches going to do when people retire, leave or pass away?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            That’s been happening for a LONG time. Remember:
            “I AM WITH PAUL!”
            “I AM WITH APOLLOS!”

          • I’ve seen this, The mega-church in KC (not CORE, the methodist church, but the non-denom) went down this spiral in less than two yrs; once it’s not seen as the big deal, ####’s start bailing, lose a few more programs, and wham…… I have no stats, but I dont’ think they are as insulated, at least not always, as M.Bell states.

        • Staff is one thing. But facilities are something else. At some point in the shrinking keeping up the facilities gets to be hard. And I think easier in a smaller church. A building that can handle 5000+ people on Sunday requires a non trivial amount of money to keep the lights on, mow the lawn, maintain the building, etc… In a smaller church you have the option to at least ask for volunteers. I worked on patching some water leaks when I was 18 on our church that typically had 400 or so on Sundays. But a much larger building would need a pro crew.

  8. I think this is a good post. It will be interesting to look out on the horizon to see if your predictions, and those of Michael Spencer’s will come to pass. I, for one, think many of them will.

    I appreciate the needed emphasis on pastoring that is constantly addressed here. While it is true that there are many self-centered preachers (perhaps “performers” is a better word) gathering thousands for their own benefit and ego, it is also true that those thousands are getting exactly what they want. I find that most people do not want a pastor and the kind of spiritual mentoring that he might offer. They want a celebrity, a funny entertainer, a light show and a rock concert. The excessive leaders are successful because the the people they lead like excess and they like the people who deliver it. They despise the ordinary means of Word and Table that the Lord ordained. Perhaps the collapse is the only thing that will communicate the folly of it all to both the leaders and those who follow.

    • Well said, Chill.

    • Chill: you might want to read today’s post over at Rachel Held Evans “On Celebrity Pastors” the post is not about THEM, its about who is asking for them and why. Sounds a lot like your comment, IMO.

      • Thank you greg r. I read the article and it was excellent. Maybe some of the “celebrities” we criticize would be a bit more palatable if they were not idolized to the degree that they are. What would any of us be like if thousands came to hear us preach and millions read our books?!

  9. Every time in my individual life when I feel like something is threatening to demolish my faith and my understanding of God, I discover in retrospect that that “something” was actually God, tearing down what had become an inadequate way of relating to God in order to lead me into something deeper and fuller and more life-giving. Granted, there may be _years_ of desert in between the tearing down and the building up, but in the end it always turns out to have been God’s love at work, all along.

    I suspect the same thing holds true for the church as a whole. I don’t look forward to the wanderings in the desert that evangelicalism will be subjected to more and more in the coming years. But there were fundamental flaws that go much deeper than the “circus act”: our individualism, our acceptance of violence and emotional manipulation, our rejection of the mystery of the Gospel in favor of formulas, our “answer book” approach to Scripture. All of that had become a barrier between us and the living God, and when it crumbles, there’s no need to mourn its loss.

    The important question isn’t whether people will give up on Jesus, but whether Jesus has given up on us. We see him hammering at the walls of our evangelical edifice and assume that he’s turned against us. But the truth is, he never gives up; he never stops trying to woo his church back to himself. He’s just trying to break back into a church that’s shut him out.

    • Good points!
      Still I wonder if we will have learned from our mistakes and be willing to apply a little Godly wisdom when it comes time to start rebuilding from the rubble of what was poorly or falsely built. I certainly hope so. And I hope we will include some long-term strategies for keeping evangelical Christianity firmly centered on Jesus and His Gospel — and for avoiding those things that in the past have distracted or derailed us from the simple purity of pursuing, serving, and worshipping our Lord while He teaches us to serve and love one another.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I’d start checking Furry Cons & Brony Meetups for Christ.

      He’s got a track record of ditching the Holy God Squads and hanging out with messed-up losers.

  10. Jeff, a few things:

    1. You didn’t mention that Rupert Murdoch now owns the lion’s share of Christian publishing. How will that end?

    2. Christian music will always have an appeal, no matter how bad it may be, because it is “Christian” (TM) and it will evolve to accommodate the cash register.

    3. Christian TV is here to stay because of the remote. Even with 100+ channels, one can easily flip through and find Christian programming and get hooked on it. Not so with the internet, with a gadzillion websites and growing. It’s hard to find new programming that way, or to continue to have it in your face on a daily basis.

    4. You didn’t mention the possibility of evangelical excess developing its own system of checks and balances. You mentioned a few preachers that have started to crumble, and I could name a few more (in fact I can’t wait) but other Christian writers, bloggers, pastors etc are also noticiing the excesses and are speaking against it. For example, my pastor is preaching through Ephesians and is now in chapter 5. The week before last he gave a very balanced sermon on vs 22, “Wives submit to you husbands as to the Lord…” and tied it verb-wise to vss 18 and 21, “be filled with the spirit…” and “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ”. This past Sunday he preached on vs 25 and following: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” And to illustrate this, he read Pat Robertson’s little rambling, where Robertson advocated that a man may leave his wife if she suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s disease. My pastor didn’t rant against Robertson, rather leaving the man’s own words to speak for themselves, but used this as the antithesis of Ephesians 5:25. The point here is that people are seeing through some of these personality-driven excesses and are speaking out against it.

    I agree with you and with Michael that there will be a collapse of sorts. The question is how widespread. Let’s pray that it be primarily at the top, and that the smaller churches thrive as a result and continue to spread the real gospel of Jesus.

    • Mass media is general is going through a major metamorphosis. While Christian TV (and radio) may be here to stay, how they are delivered and consumed by the audience will change. If I want to listen to most radio preachers all I need to do is download a podcast and listen at will. Same goes for many well known preachers as well. I don’t believe that that those daily/weekly shows will disappear. I believe that the delivery systems will change. TBN, Daystar, and Salem will become obsolete if people can get the same programming without the idiotic “Praise a Thons”.

      Truth is that media delivery is changing all over. Secular media companies are having a hard time figuring out how to adapt to an environment where they have lost control over when and where many people can watch/listen programming. This makes it difficult almost impossible to figure out how many people are actually watching content.

      • But in the “how will they know if they have not heard” department, I wonder how people will know to download a podcast if they haven’t already stumbled upon the show on cable TV or radio. I think podcasts will increase, but I think they’ll need broadcast media as their anchor.

        • Maybe via something like TuneIn. It’s a app for the android platform (and maybe iOS as well?) that essentially acts like an old-fashioned radio tuner except all the stations are for digital streams, some of which come from old fashioned radio stations like 94.7 here in Chicago and some of which are purely digital such as Radio Paradise.

        • How will they know?

          Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Itunes to name a few. More and more teens and twenty year olds no longer watch TV, they watch shows on the web. There’s less and less centralized media. Even cable TV has fragmented. We are in the middle a media revolution.

    • Wow!! I never heard that type of approach in any of the chruches I heard. Just references to John MacArthur, John Piper, etc.. which re-affirmed them and their reformed theology. I have heard people and churches go after Brian McLaren, etc… and demonize them. It tends to be a one way street. Brian McLarne can never do anything right and is a heratic; while John MacArthur and crowd is preaching the word of God and can never say anything wrong.

      Go figure….

  11. There’s part of me that really wants to say “amen” to this post, simply because there’s a lot that goes on in evangelicalism that I see as ranging from just silly to downright dangerous. But I’m not so sure that I believe that there are enough people to see through it. There are a lot of people who like big productions, who don’t see anything wrong with mixing entertainment in with their church services. They like going to the big church. I see it analogous to the NFL or other professional or college sporting events. The production that goes into these games hasn’t gotten simpler. They become more and more elaborate every year. The broadcasts are becoming less about the games and more about the whole entertainment and, well, advertising packages they offer. I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing advertisements in church services. Actually, I already have seen what amounts to ads in different services.

    So I guess what I’m saying is that I think the mega-church movement is closely tied to the American lifestyle itself. If it collapses, I think there will be other things that go down with it.

    • And advertising during church would be different from having ads on the back of the church bulletin? I can’t wait to see what kind of product placement opportunities there are.

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    When, say, an Ed Young Jr. collapses (and who can’t see that one coming?) from his excesses, what will happen to all those who attend his church now?

    Some of them will start quoting Richard Dawkins and/or Ayn Rand chapter-and-verse…

    When a megachurch collapses, there are sharks in the water immediately. If you don’t think church CEOs are not constantly plotting how they can lure sheep from one pen into theirs, you are going through life with your eyes closed. That is the reason most churches add program upon program and then advertise these programs.

    It’s called Sheep Rustling. And it’s the source of ALL those Megachurch Growth Statistics.

    Many will simply go find another circus act to follow. But those genuinely seeking the Lord will be left high and dry. Will they know how to look for another church? Or will they be too wounded to want to go through the whole process again, with the risk of once again being left dry? I’m afraid many will simply give up on church and, yes, on Jesus.

    Type example: Eagle. After the burn job he took, he periodically goes into “Christianity is a Cancer” mode. If he’s following the same pattern I did, these mood swings/cries of pain and betrayal should subside over the next few years.

    • You beat me to the post HUG. I was going to ask…when this excessive evangelism collapses what will that do for the post-modern United States? Will it accelerate our secularization? Will more people be cold to the concept of God when they are left holding the bag? Will people be more suspicious of faith? Will it confirm the fears that some poeple have of faith and God. Some people on the IM and other blogs are able to divorce the two. They are able to realize that Ed Young is not God and they can walk away with a faith in God. Others will not…many people will hear the likes of the Ed Young’s etc… will be burned; and their concept of faith, God, etc.. will be thrown out together. Many I would suggest will not have a faith based ystem.

  13. Adam Palmer says

    A few things:

    Jeff’s wisecrack about not understanding statistics reminds me of this wonderful quote from author and columnist Gregg Easterbrook: “Numbers don’t lie, but if you torture them long enough they’ll confess to anything.”

    As a fellow insider (though not Russell Crowe, nor with as many years in the biz as Jeff), I can definitely see things playing out the way Jeff describes here. There was a valid point made above about the stumble-ability of Christian TV, as opposed to seeking it out on the internet, and there will ALWAYS be gullible people who crave the easy life fix that much of Christian televangelism provides, but the point remains valid. A downturn in Christian media is all but inevitable.

    Also: please stop harping on the inclusion of Ed Young, Jr. or Eddie Long as examples. This post is not about them–it’s about things much, much bigger than them–namely the people in their congregations. Stay on task, everyone. (And now I say to myself, a la Professor Kirke in “The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe”: “Logic! Why don’t they teach logic in these schools?”)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Grinning Ed Young and His Majesty King Eddie Long are the type examples, and retty spectacular ones at that.

      “Logic! Why don’t they teach logic in these schools?”

      Deleted to make room for Self-Esteem and No Child Left Behind testing.

      Or if you’re talking Christian (TM) schools, to not interfere with Young Earth Creationism, Pin the Tail on The Antichrist, and Culture War Without End, Amen. (Speaking of which, God’s Mantle for Next POTUS has apparently been transferred from Godly Gingrich onto Santorum. (screaming baby dinosaur voice) “NOT THE MORMON! NOT THE MORMON! NOT THE MORMON!!!!”)

  14. I’m going to connect three other dots that, IMO, will be players: excessive authority >lack of pastoral care> and Al Gores wonderful internet; In environments where real pastoral care is minimal (often downplayed in lieu of ‘correct theology’) and the authority structures are rigid to the point of abuse: word will get out , and onto the internet, and what started as a post on ____, will go viral; This is kind of good news , bad news; everything viral is not necessarily TRUE, but on the other hand, real abuses will be very, very, difficult to hide for long.

    • Joseph (the original) says

      there is a greater visibility+accountability+scrutiny with the use of the internet to post things that are questionable, controversial, downright wack…

      but in most cases (disclaimer: i am not a statistician) i would think the readership/viewership of such information is really just preaching to the choir. and the same can be said of the fan base of any Christian celebrity pastor/teacher/evangelist/faith healer/prophet/apostle/bishop/king…


      the popularity of certain topics, whether they be an expose, or theological challenge, or financial issue, will take on a life of themselves by those that are desirous of some type of disclosure regardless of motive. it is the motive of those that champion such things that is the true litmus test of it being constructive vs. destructive…

      heck, give me a sledge hammer & i would gladly go after what i truly believe are the false foundations of the more X-treme signs+wonders supra-spiritual fiefdoms. i think their approach to the faith the most warped. those Mega-Church types & their PR antics, books, interviews, broadcasts, etc. do not have the same hold on youth as the more flashy supernatural ones. that is the danger i see in this whole charade…

      Lord, have mercy… 🙁

      • but in most cases (disclaimer: i am not a statistician) i would think the readership/viewership of such information is really just preaching to the choir.

        Yes, but here’s what’s changed (in many cases, at least): you couldn’t call in and dissent on Pastor Bob’s TV Hour of Power. Or they could select out the calls. Much more homogenious , IMO. Yes, you can moderate your blogsite that way, also, but I think the intrusion of outside thinking is much more a possibility.

        Much tougher to do herd control: but that will depend on how you use and supervise the medium, I suppose. I’d welcome JeffD’s take on this

  15. Myself, I hope and pray that the collapse ultimately breathes new life into the small churches. Lord knows they aren’t perfect, and as Jeff said, there can be sideshows and clowns in any arena, large, medium, or small. But the small church is where Christianity has the best chance to put down deep roots. Small groups of people willing to invest in each other and led by a pastor who is invested in them can be the thing that brings real and lasting change.

  16. Randy Thompson says

    It seems to me that Max Weber, the 19th century sociologist, sheds some light here. He developed the concept of “routinization of charisma” to describe the phenomenon of how charismatic leadership in a group will ultimately give way to management and bureaucracy. Robert Schuller and the Crystal Cathedral are a very sad example of this. With the charismatic leader gone, the institution couldn’t survive. How many other large churches with huge facilities and huge budgets and huge staffs find themselves in the same pickle when the charismatic leader/preacher retires or dies? Maybe some of them will keep chugging along. However, I suspect many of them won’t.

    Another helpful concept is Jacques Ellul’s “technique.” “Technique” refers to the means used to accomplish a purpose. These techniques grow ever more sophisticated, speedy, and efficient. As he pointed out, once you go down that road, there is no way out. His books sketch out what happens when people rely on such techniques. “Technique” applied to communications and broadcasting produces propaganda; “technique” applied to politics gives us what he called “the political illusion” (which was also the title of one of his books). My point: How much of contemporary American Christianity is technique driven rather than Spirit-led? How much of worship confuses love of God with the impact of good rock music? How much of TV evangelism is based on effective communications and media techniques—and how much of its funding is gained that way?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Robert Schuller and the Crystal Cathedral are a very sad example of this. With the charismatic leader gone, the institution couldn’t survive.

      The inheritance fight among the Schullers sure didn’t help.

      How many other large churches with huge facilities and huge budgets and huge staffs find themselves in the same pickle when the charismatic leader/preacher retires or dies?

      Assuming the charismatic leader/preacher’s son doesn’t inherit the Megachurch/Ministry? That happens a lot among the Extreme Evangelicals — the church is inheritied father-to-son like any other feudal fief.

  17. I’ll note one thing about church spaces. I’ve always thought it was a shame that they were not used more than they were, and I always admired the churches downtown that kept their doors open during the week for folks to come in for prayer. When I was making my journy from Baptist to Anglican I would often stop by the local gorgeous TEC church (don’t tell anyone) and just go inside and sit and pray and read the office from the BCP.

    Also about space, while the obvious best result would be for a true unity, I am seeing and hearing about a lot of church space sharing going on. My parish is a good example. When we were looking for a bigger space ( the business basement we met in was too small) I reached out to a local beautiful UMC church in town. The pastor their said that they had in fact been praying about opening their space up to a group looking to worship. They thought given their location it might be a Hispanic group, but felt that homeless Anglicans would work as well:) It has been a good relationship and a good expereince for both. We have a financial arrangment that benefits both parties, we share worship space and each have our own Christian Ed space. We invite them to our Shrove Tuesday pancake supper, and our Lenten Soup Dinners and they in turn invite us to pot-luck from time to time. I have filled in for their pastor when he had to be out of town, and we are having a joing Maundy Thursday service.

    • Austin, I totally feel you on the idea that church doors being open is a good thing. It’s good to have a spot you can consider holy to go to at anytime. I know our Bishop has a chapel that is open 24/7.

      In England, ecumenical dialogue between the UMC and Anglicans is even greater than here. My prayer is that as the BCP makes its way back into the UMC (there are pockets here and there), we might see some increased unity here in the states.

      • GREAT IDEA, Lee and Austin: give me a quiet place to go 24-7 and I’ll (usually) say “not today” to the great “PRAZENWERSHIPAGANZA”. Our culture is screaming for a little hush time.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Didn’t the Methodists originally branch off from the Anglicans?

  18. This has become the “Occupy Megachurches” post.

    Where does an effective ministry become an excessive ministry?

    • I think the question is “What is the definition of effective?”

      If it’s just putting people in the pews, then the megachurches have it all together. Then again, the local college football team draws bigger crowds. Does that mean we aren’t as effective as we imagined, when four quarters of football is outdrawing eternity?

      • The college games are a limited # of home games, so the crowds will be high, especially in certain parts of the country. Likewise, some of those same areas have numerous megachurches in close proximity.

        But if effective means getting people interested in attending church, and attempting to get them to go deeper in their faith, is that wrong?

        Furthermose, what defines “excess”? Is excess the spending of $ on “tools” that get people interested in attending?

        I agree their is excess, and too much focus on just #’s (not to mention services that are more “behavior modification sessions), but what if the “excess” is in large part used to be “effective”?

    • Also, who’s measuring ministry effectiveness and HOW? I’d say the metrics matter. Measuring by attendance is part of what has given rise to excessive evangelicalism in the first place.

      • I agree, and although they still count attendence, many of those same churches say they are counting baptisms and small group involvement for measuring effectiveness.

        • But then we encounter this little gem from Allen Krell…


          I guess the point I’m wandering toward is that Christianity isn’t necessarily intended to be measured as “effective” or “ineffective” in quantitative terms. I was impressed by the numbers as a young pastor, but realized after years of obsessing over them that quality ministry and relationships are far more important. In the grand scheme of eternity, are we more likely to hear “well done” if we say we have delivered attention-grabbing, dynamic messages in front of large crowds, or if we have have developed, nurtured, and fostered deep, quality relationships with people.

          It hurts me to see pastors who feel like failures in ministry because they’ve tried the megachurch methods, and aren’t able to draw the crowds. “Better a dry crust with peace and quiet, than a house full of feasting, and strife…” (Proverbs 17:1), in my own humble opinion. Sometimes the dry crust, or the dinner of herbs, as related to a few deep relationships, is more significant and meaningful in terms of love than the ability to draw a crowd. Didn’t Jesus often draw crowds, but wind up with just a handful of true followers?

  19. There’s a beautiful Catholic Church in Louisville (don’t tell anyone) where I have been known to drop in and pray from time to time. It’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

    Agree with you lots on the concept of keeping the space open. The temple of God is the temple of God, and the people should have more access to it.

  20. Good post. I think things may get worse before the collapse, though. If radio is any indicator (and I know that it’s economics that drives some of the change in radio, but if we’re honest I think we have to admit that economics drives some of the change in churches and publishing as well). Our local Christian radio station still has some decent Christian programming but also a regular program hawking gold, another hawking a system for getting rich quick in the stock market, another featuring two local Christian women making small talk for an hour or more with a few evangelical catchphrases thrown in, and yet another hosted by someone from a wealthy local family and focused entirely and in an utterly paranoid fashion on the threat of radical Islam in America, Sharia law, unquestioning support for the state of Israel, and anti-Palestinian rants.

    What does all this mean? I think as the numbers dwindle the desperation to grab attention and attendance will grow, and with it the tendency to play up the more extreme elements and/or appeal to the basest instincts.

    This is one of the reasons my wife and I have pretty much exited evangelicalism and are starting to look more seriously at mainline denominations.

    • well…on the bright side…there’s some local content there. Many religious radio channels just act as a local affiliate to some bigger religious network with very little connection to the local community.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Our local Christian radio station still has some decent Christian programming but also a regular program hawking gold, another hawking a system for getting rich quick in the stock market, another featuring two local Christian women making small talk for an hour or more with a few evangelical catchphrases thrown in, and yet another hosted by someone from a wealthy local family and focused entirely and in an utterly paranoid fashion on the threat of radical Islam in America, Sharia law, unquestioning support for the state of Israel, and anti-Palestinian rants.

      A Hal Lindsay of Gold Futures, Hot Stock Tips/Get Rich Quick, clucking hens, and a Glenn Beck Wanna-be, all claiming Divine sanction…

      All they need is Art Bell’s Coast to Coast from midnight to 6 ayem and they’ve got all the bases covered.

      Or “Home Anarchist”, “Israel 666”, “The Dude Hour”, and other classics from Nineties-vintage Tucson Public Access TV.

  21. I wouldn’t be so concerned about space in retail stores, because publishing is all going digital anyway.

  22. Richard Hershberger says

    I don’t disagree with anything in this post, but I want to add that most of the excesses are implicit in the structure of modern American Evangelical Protestantism.

    Back in the day (say, fifty years ago), the mainlines had a de facto truce not to poach members from each other. This isn’t to say that no one moved from one church to another, but it tended either to be for specific personal reasons (e.g. marrying someone from a different church) or slow-moving long term trends. The rise of Evangelical Protestantism changed this, as its early growth was almost entirely at the expense of the mainlines. The self-image of gathering the previously unchurched has always been mostly (though not entirely) a myth. Then there was the rise of megachurch culture within Evangelical Protestantism. By that time the easy pickings from the mainlines had already been picked, so the megachurches mostly recruited from smaller Evangelical churches. So this is the first ingredient: a culture which accepts as normal the constant poaching of members from one church to another.

    Once church growth becomes an end unto itself, any means necessary becomes an acceptable ethos. We see the lowest common denominator of the “seeker friendly” church and the substitution of trendiness for substance. Then there is the stuff simply irrelevant to the church mission: coffee bars and gyms and the like.

    Another effect of the culture of church growth is that a successful (meaning large) church is tied to one guy. This is a big problem, even if that guy is ideal in every way. It is a truism among the mainlines that when a beloved pastor retires after decades of service in one church, the next guy will be lucky to last a year. The only problem with the new guy might well be that he isn’t the old guy, but everyone there loved the old guy and wants the new guy to be just like him. Wackiness ensues. Eventually everyone will come to realize the inevitable, but it will often be the next guy in line who benefits from this realization. Many mainlines as a matter of course encourage clergy to move around, staying in one place only five years or so. This not only avoids the problem of succession, it establishes the individual congregations as institutions apart from their pastors. Members don’t belong to Pastor so-and-so’s church, which is called such-and-such. They belong to such-and-such church, whose current pastor is so-and-so. The megachurch is created to fail by virtue of relying on a charismatic senior pastor. He isn’t going to live forever. What is the church going to do after he is gone? Sometimes we see his son taking over, turning the church into a de facto hereditary monarchy. This shows more than a whiff of desperation, as charisma, much less vocation, is not a reliably heritable trait.

    The next ingredient is the lack of institutional hierarchy. Back in the day (once again), if a mainline church outgrew its facilities it had two options. It might build a bigger facility, or it might spin off a new congregation. The members from one side of town would form a new congregation initially with financial assistance from the old one. In the first few years the two congregations would have close ties, with people going to each others’ church suppers to see old friends. Gradually the next generation would give the new congregation its own character, and eventually the connection would be a matter for the church history. This worked because “church growth” was not equated with the growth of any one congregation. The success of the offspring was also a success of the parent congregation. Modern Evangelical Protestantism works hard to de-emphasize any formal connections above the congregational level. Taken to its extreme, church growth and congregational growth are one and the same, so as a congregation grows its only alternative to building a bigger facility is to build a satellite facility under the strict control of the home office, complete with closed circuit television feed of the senior pastor’s sermons.

    Another benefit of higher-level church structures is that they provide a steadying influence. If a pastor begins to head out to sea, the denomination can give a doctrinal anchor and some sort of procedure to implement it. This is by no means fool proof, particularly if the pastor is charismatic and has a strong following. And yes, sometimes an entire denomination can jump the rails. But when the system works it can head off a lot of wackiness. When an independent Evangelical Protestant church jumps the rails (prosperity gospel, anyone?) there is no one higher up to point this out.

    My final point is education. This is the one that I expect will tick people off. When Luther found himself in a position of influence, he looked around and was appalled at the ignorance of both the clergy and the laity. This is why he wrote his two catechisms, the large for the clergy and the small for the laity. A great gift of the early Protestant tradition, both Lutheran and Reformed, was the belief that one’s soul is one’s own responsibility. It isn’t enough to support a ecclesiastical structure to pray for you, and the priestly responsibility goes beyond being able to parrot some snippets of Latin. This led to universal education (at least as an ideal), and highly trained clergy to teach the people. Then a few centuries later some branches of Protestantism lost this tradition. The vocation was the important thing, and no training was thought necessary to answer the call. Modern Evangelical Protestantism largely, though not entirely, came out of this. It makes me twitch when I read about someone serving for years as pastor in various churches, then deciding to go to seminary. I’m not suggesting that all Evangelical Protestant pastors are uneducated. Far from it. But education is an option, more valued in some circles than others. In this cultural context it is wholly unsurprising to see people recycling old heresies. The Devil isn’t creative enough to keep producing new ones–you didn’t think the prosperity gospel was a new idea, did you?–but he doesn’t have to if the church leaders don’t know enough to recognize them. One can sit and watch Christian television and identify which ancient heresy is being propounded. I don’t question anyone’s call, but I often question the response. If you felt called to race a marathon, you would train for it first, wouldn’t you?

    So when I read Jeff’s post about the excesses of Evangelical Protestantism, I see them as the logical outcome of the underlying structures built in decades ago.

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  24. Ted, I agree with you especially on point 1. I believe Murdoch empire impact on publishing is biggest unreported story in “christian” publishing industry.

  25. Interesting post and comments, which I would characterize mostly as an “insiders” discussion.

    Most of the people I know are outsiders and fringe folks. Reading this reminded me of some of the excesses of evangelicalism they see and discuss among themselves:
    *Excessive political involvement AKA “the culture wars”
    *Excessive moneys spent for the benefit of the members (properties, staffs, programs, etc), with little left for the poor of the world or even the neighborhood
    *Excessive opposition and focus on LGBT issues
    *Excessive power trip issues by leaders in many of these churches, including, but not limited to, the unequal position allowed women

    As one friend said “This stuff is going to come back and bite these churches in the (rear end) and I see that happening already”.

  26. Good post Jeff,

    As a former member of the traveling idiots circus, I look back and wonder how in the world it took so long to figure out just how bad the whole thing was. Once the elephants are loose, the whole tent is going to go over in a giant calamity.

    The sad part is there are generations of people who honestly don’t know any other way, they have no been taught theology, doctrine, church history or anything beyond the spoon feeding they’ve gotten from their mega church and they are going to be lost. I work with someone right now, who is finally beginning to realize that the whole thing is a circus, but where else can he go? He’s been told so many times that the mainlines are bad, that there are only other circuses left. And when those leave town I worry that he will become like so many who come out of the cults, and become atheist at best. I worry for him, and hope that I can be useful in some way no matter how small, to help him to a better place. It breaks my heart…

    This collapse will not just destroy the Circus, every christian institution will be effected, including the mainlines.

    Lord have mercy on them, they just don’t know any better, but they will soon.


    • Paul, I have been amazed by the lack of basic understanding of the tenants of the Christian faith in people I have encountered who “got saved” by some mega-church and have never been anywhere else. All they read are “10 easy steps to a better_____________” and the versions of the Bible they are told to read. They cannot conherently state the WHAT they believe (except in catchphrases and cliches), they have ZERO sense about the history of the Church. They are really the underpinning of the “happy-clappy” crowd, and are often shaken to their very core when bad things happen to them, and/or the sin they were so sure had been “washed away” comes roaring back with a vengance.

      I don’t know where they will go or what they will believe when the mega-church fails, especially if it is due to the pastor-idol having feet of clay.

      There is something to be said of the older, more tradition faiths (Catholics of all ilks and Jews come to mind) that require a time of study and discernment before accepting a convert into the faith community. To me, it is like the time spent in pre-martial counseling…..if the AH-HAAA! of the conversion feeling can be compared to the flash of “S/He is the one for me!”, then the learning the details of our intended spouse/faith is the time spend learning the details before the final committment.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I don’t know where they will go or what they will believe when the mega-church fails, especially if it is due to the pastor-idol having feet of clay.

        There’s always Richard Dawkins, Phil Pullman, And Madelyn Murray O’Hair…

    • Richard Hershberger says

      “I work with someone right now, who is finally beginning to realize that the whole thing is a circus, but where else can he go? He’s been told so many times that the mainlines are bad, that there are only other circuses left.”

      This is the point you need to work on. He has been told that the mainlines are bad, but who was it telling him this? The ringmaster of the circus. Recognizing the circus for what it is is the first step. The next one is to recognize that he has internalized unreliable information. You need to help him to reexamine ideas like “mainlines are bad” in this light.

      • But its hard. It really is hard. When I was a fundy I was told the mainlines were bad, Catholics are heretics, and that atheists and agnostics had no conscience. I moved outside religion all together but I feel stuck. If I could be a Christian again it probably would be at a more liberal denomination. But for funageliclasim to work it needs to have an “us” vs. “them” mindset. I still feel like mainline are heretical…and that’s after being out of the system for 3+ years from an agnostic.

        • Eagle, I look forward to you coming to some kind of peace on this. I was agnostic for almost 8 years, this after being a missionary and street preaching!

          I have found something that resonates with me deeply in the Anglican Church of North America, perhaps the same way Chaplain Mike has in Lutheranism.
          After our Wednesday get together my wife was reflecting how one new person to our group is struggling with doubt and what faith means.
          We were able to rejoice that in our fellowship that is okay, we know that God is working in this mans life and we don’t need to convert him or get pushy or tell him what to do. I am truly glad that he just comes along to be with us.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        This is the point you need to work on. He has been told that the mainlines are bad, but who was it telling him this? The ringmaster of the circus.

        North Korea tells its population units that everything outside of North Korea is bad. That North Korea is the most Perfect Place on Earth and everywhere outside is worse. Much worse. Only under Comrade Dear Leader (or whatever his successor is titled — Comrade Beloved Leader?) is there Salvation and Perfection.

    • Paul
      I sometimes wonder if people spend more time choosing a car or watching TV than they do wrestling with their faith.

      When I was in University getting my faith pounded by naturalism the Pentecostal Chaplain siad to me ‘get in there and wrestle your faith to the ground’. He was not about to offer bromides. Of course, he is no longer with that group, they found him too broad. But he was right.

      Maybe when friends come to us not knowing where to go we can encourage them to seek, ask questions, check out their faith for themselves. This story will sound weird to some of you. When I was a fundamentalist and some of it began to crumble a friend went to a Presbyterian church (they are not Christian you know…). He tried it out and reported back to me I discovered Christianity comes in more flavours than vanilla, there is pistachio and all these other flavours! I went with him and discovered a wonderful, humble and thoughtful Christianity. My bent had been that they were not even in the Christian fold!

      Some evangelicals (not all by any stretch) have a lifeboat mentality. Our little group is where there is truth. And if you leave it is like Where else can we go for the words of eternal life? If I hear that now, I tend to run the other way.
      If I had people I knew who were questioning I would encourage them to be bold. Check out other churches, even mainline ones. God is at work in all kinds of places, and in wonderful ways.

      • Regarding my friend,

        I do what I can to encourage and share, but I left the hard sell of the Gospel a long time ago. Not that I find anything wrong with sharing, but it cannot be about ‘winning’ someone over, or making them see the error of their ways. I never want to be *that guy* who shoves his faith and beliefs down everyone’s throat, as if he has been given a special message from God.

        Instead, I have to show that not all mainlines are bad, and that like you say Ken, Christianity comes in other flavors (some of them you find are made of unmentionable ingredients, and when you get older (read wiser) you can no longer stomach their taste).

        Eagle is also right, it’s a hard hard thing to accept and trust when you realize just how far it’s all gone off track, and you’ve been told for forever just how bad Catholics are (maybe Eagle and I long lost brothers, because I *get* everything he says ;).

        I share when I can, correct gently when needed and try to live as an example that Catholics are not raving Pope worshipers, with statues of Mary in the garden and Joseph buried in the front lawn. He has known me through my journey and knows me well enough to understand that I take my faith seriously. He has been very supportive, if a little bemused. I’ve taken no end of ribbing over my decision to eat meatless on Friday’s, and my plan to go vegetarian for Lent. There’s really nothing more I can do, but pray and leave it in God’s hands. It’s a decision that he and his wife have to make on their own, and it’s not a snap decision.


  27. Excess may be in the eye of the beholder. One might look at the soaring gothic cathedrals as excessive. From seeing the world from both sides now, I’m not convinced that smaller is better. In my experience, there is a greater risk of emotional abuse, manipulation, and power-mongering in smaller churches. My family is currently attending a large church, and I have to admit that getting lost in the crowd is kinda nice right now. No one knows who I am, but my kids have friends there. No one is guilting me into “service” or a small group. No one is pushing us into new member classes. The church is not lead by a powerful personality with everyone under his thumb. The church is not controlled by a few key families. What’s ironic is that there have been more worship lead by one guitarist than I ever saw in smaller churches, where the pressures was always to emulate a big worship band like the big churches have. We have participated in communion more in this large church -which isn’t even liturgical – than in smaller churches, of which many were liturgical. Excess is a very real problem in small churches, too. Anything that takes the focus off Jesus, no matter how great or small, is excessive.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      You make valid points. Size per se isn’t the problem. It is when size becomes a goal unto itself. At that point the church will do whatever it takes to get people in the door, and so the circus act becomes inevitable, pushing everything else (such as Christ) out of the way.

      Oh, and as for gothic cathedrals, they are much less excessive when you realize they are built to last. Yes, they were ridiculously expensive. But here it is centuries later, and they are still being used for their original purpose. Part of what makes the modern megachurch excessive is the failure to build lasting institutions.

      I belong to a church which is over two hundred and fifty years old. (Yes, our European brethren are commenting that they can still smell the paint, but it is old by American standards.) The sanctuary is over two hundred years old, while the auxiliary structure is new construction, a bit under a century old. We have a real sense that when we worship, we are part of a larger body of Christ which extends not only to other congregations, but into the past and future. This institution is bigger than we are, and is certainly bigger than whoever happens to be the current pastor. Maintaining the institution is part of our responsibility to future generations, just as previous generations maintained it for us. (In other words, yes, replacing the roof is ridiculously expensive: we do it anyway.)

      This mindset seems to be completely foreign to the modern megachurch. The megachurch is driven by the personality of its senior pastor and supported by whatever is trendy at the moment. It is understood by everyone that if some church down the road gets a more charismatic pastor and trendier music that of course people will leave in droves, and even if that doesn’t happen there is only the vaguest sense of what they will do when the senior pastor retires. When you consider that the property is probably heavily mortgaged, the whole thing is built to fail. Exhibit 1: the Crystal Cathedral. They at least were fortunate to find a ready buyer.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Exhibit 1: the Crystal Cathedral. They at least were fortunate to find a ready buyer.

        Who will most likely convert the Crystal Cathedral into a REAL Cathedral.

      • Agreed. I am subscribed to a Facebook page which daily posts slideshows of the interiors of Catholic cathedrals around the world. It’s breath-taking and as an American makes be both jealous and quite embarassed by our ticky-tack, utilitarian churches/entertainment centers. But as I have pointed out a few times, it will all eventually end up like the cathedrals of Ani on the border with Turkey or the St. Nicolas cathedral of Hamburg: beautiful ruins.

    • Very well said. Excess is a mindset, not a particular number or church size. You can be $$$ poor and not necessarily poor in spirit, as an analogy. Strong thoughts, sir ox.

  28. Jeff,
    The coming Evangelical “collapse” will be nothing more than a “correction,” very similar to those experienced by economies, business sectors, commodities markets, stock markets, and so on. In the business of packaging and selling Jesus Christ, the individual purveyors may come and go, and their business activities may wax and wane, but the industry will survive in new and evolving forms as long as there are buyers. As long as people continue to seek their happiness in consumerism, they will continue to seek their spirituality in consumer Christianity, aka, Evangelicalism. And that, I believe, will never actually end.

  29. Large or small church ought not be the question. Faithfulness should be.

    Are we faithful to the Lord and His gospel? What is His gospel?

    Is it the spirituality, and ladder-climbing project? Or is it the forgiveness of sins for Jesus’ sake for the ungodly and those who do not deserve it?

    He is really present in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper? Or do we have to conjure Him up in our heads and hearts?

    Does the message invariably turn round back to us, and what we should, ought, and must be doing?

    If it does…then there won’t be any gospel there. They have given it with one hand…and ripped it back from you with the other.

    Don’t walk out of a church like that.


    • While I would agree, we must recognize we’ve practically told them to ditch anything that’s not Lutheran. I mean, some other groups fit this description, but it seems more like a novelty than a norm. Also, in terms of size, I believe the church growth movement is the next step down the logical progression of ideas from the Wesleyan revivals. When people who raise their hands at altar calls are added to the tally of “salvations,” we’ve swapped our mission of making disciples for the ladder of making converts. But of all people, I really think Rick Warren got it right when he said we ought not focus on numbers but on the spiritual health of our congregation. Do this, and it should experience natural growth. This could include in depth or numbers, but not likely in headline grabbing explosions. The difference is in what we would describe as a healthy church, Warren taking a very typical SBC position.

      • Good point, Miguel. Although we would love that they would all become Lutherans, and finall get a bit of rest and freedom.

        I work right down the street from Rick Warren’s church. Many of my co-workers attend that church. I feel terribly bad for them. They never quite get there. They are constantly on a project. Constantly working at becoming closer to God. And the ones with kids cannot get their kids baptized there, so there is no assurance for them, or their family.

        At it’s core, it’s really a different religion. Christianism might be a good name for it. I really believe that it is damaging to faith in the finished work of Christ.

  30. This post and the comments about it remind me of a favorite quote of mine:

    “Some of my friends believe we should abandon the word evangelical. I do not. I simply yearn for us to live up to the meaning of our name.” ~ Philip Yancey

    If only we would live up to the meaning of our name… Sadly many do not, but that should not stop us as individuals from striving to do so, and I mean “the meaning of our name” in the best sense, minus the accrutements of cultural evangelicalism that I would not miss at all if it went away…. One of the bright spots in my own experiance has been in rediscovering over the past 10 years a vibriant Evangelical Biblical theology, (Russell Moore, D.A. Carson, Walter Kaiser and others.) that flamed a fire in my soul that had been doused by previous involvement in a narrow self-focused reformed puritanism… Let popular Evangelicalism go the way of all flesh…. That does not at alll mean I or anyone else will have to give up the core Evangelical theology we find in the Bible… It does mean we may find a better, more positive way of expressing it. I am driven back to the personal historical fact that , warts, wrinkles and all, the Evangelical church was in the providence of God my mother, that church He used to bring me to faith in Himself…

  31. Noticed a lawsuit by a TBN family member claiming moneys diverted to TBN board directors the was claimed to be used elsewhere. This news today and can be found elsewhere on the internet. Orange County Register.

  32. About the only way I can maintain any sense of sanity in view of the reality of the ever-present clowns and bears in tutu’s is to revert to an old DeadHead joke;

    “What do you do when you see dancing Bears in the woods?”

    Play Dead, of course.


  33. I don’t necessarily disagree with the premise of the original post. But it seems to address a different issue from the 2009 posts that predicted the fall of evangelicalism.

    We have always had our share of religious hucksters. If they’ve gained any additional influence recently, it’s only because mainstream evangelicalism has started its decline–a decline made inevitable by the forsaking the gospel of Christ in exchange for a man-centered effort to transform culture via the “Culture Wars”. From the 1980s until today, mainstream evangelicalism has become increasingly identified with the political fortunes of self-identified social conservatives (i.e., the family values movement). In some instances, this realignment has been explicit, as with the politically focused preaching of the late D. James Kennedy. In other cases, the realignment has been tacit, as those who abstain from the Culture Wars increasingly find themselves excluded from church life.

    For example, I recently expressed to a friend some of my concerns about the legal implications of the policies advocated by Personhood USA. Shortly thereafter, the friend’s family stopped reaching out to my family. Soon other families stopped reaching out. I called my friend to discuss things with him. He said that we had nothing to discuss because he and others had determined that my failure to stand behind Personhood USA meant that I was not a “true Christian.” Apparently he had talked with the session about the issue, and had been advised to socially ostracize my family in the hopes that we would just “get the message and leave the church on [our] own.”

    Social conservatism and its bedfellow, social populism, have slowly overtaken most mainstream evangelical churches. As this continues, the dissenters and abstainers will withdraw from active involvement in evangelical churches and will gradually direct their charitable giving in other directions. Eventually, they will leave altogether, finding a new home in orthodox-leaning mainline churches (or, for some, in the RCC).

    This shift will have dire consequences for evangelicalism. As James Davison Hunter noted in his recent book, social change happens from the top, not the bottom. A movement that can’t tolerate elites will find itself impotent and irrelevant. As evangelicalism increasingly aligns itself with social populism and purges itself of folks with nuanced views of culture, the movement will disintegrate. It will become something akin to organized labor.

    For the most part, I have kissed evangelicalism goodbye. I now attend a mainline church. Sometimes the experience seems akin to a Babylonian captivity. Oh the other hand, I have to remind myself that the evangelical church I once knew and loved has been plundered by marauders–marauders intent on winning the Culture Wars, even if it means that we forsake orthodoxy in the process.

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