October 19, 2019

What Has Changed?

North Point Community Church

By Chaplain Mike

Today, I want to have us simply compare two statements by pastors of large churches. The contrast between the two was, to me, striking.

The first was made by Richard Halverson a long time ago. In his 1972 book, How I Changed My Thinking about the Church, Halverson, staff pastor in a large church (about 7000 in membership), tells how he was led to consider the difference between what he called “church work” and “the work of the church.” In the process, he asked this question: “How many do we need to really do the work of the organization of this church?” To his surprise, he estimated that, if every person only held one position, it would take 365 people to maintain the program of that large institutional body.

Fast forward to 2010, Christmas weekend. Several American megachurches have decided to cancel Sunday services on the day after Christmas. Why? One of the staff from North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga., explained:

The Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s just gives us a great opportunity to say thank you, prioritize your family, enjoy a week off,” said Bill Willits, director for ministry environments at North Point, which draws 23,000 people across its three campuses on a typical Sunday.

Willits told The Christian Post that the church requires at least 2,000 volunteers every week to pull off one of the Sunday morning services.

In other words, if you do the math, in 2010 it takes about twice as many people, percentage-wise, to staff a congregation and conduct ministry within the church institution as it did forty years ago. I think the number may actually be higher than that, because what Willits said was that it takes 2000 to pull off ONE service, whereas Halverson was talking about the ENTIRE institutional ministry of the congregation.

How does this strike you?

I’m not going to comment at this point. I’d just like to see what people have to say about this.

Comments

  1. It’d be interesting to know what all ministries were being run with 365 staffers in 1972, and what all ministries are being run with 2000(!) staffers in 2010. My guess is that the number of ministries has increased quite a bit.

    Some of them are easy to point to: 1972 probably required about 2 technical staff – one to run the sound and one to record the service. Today the technical staff is probably nearer to three dozen. I’d also guess that the number of children’s ministries (and required staffers) has increased greatly, to a great extent due to the high levels of redundancy we now require to ensure that no single adult is left alone with any child.

    • From the article:
      “Hundreds of those volunteers include high school students who help with the middle school worship environments before going to their own service time.”
      Contrast that with 1972, when the “middle school worship environment” needed the following volunteers:
      * one teacher / flannelgraph operator
      * one mimeograph operator / red punch maker.
      * one buzz-cut disciplinarian, holding court in the “Sunday School office”.

  2. I think we might be comparing apples and oranges here. How many services does each hold for example? The I think of the church of 50. Does it take more than 5 people? Proportionally that would be about the same. Is more volunteers a good thing or a bad thing?

    • Our church – 150 people.

      On a typical Sunday

      2 Pastors
      1 person preparing communion
      4 Elders serving communion
      1 Sound person
      1 Powerpoint person
      1 Sermon recorder
      1 Person for announcements
      1 Person for scripture reading
      5 Worship team members (typically)
      1 organist for prelude
      4 ushers
      8 Sunday school teachers
      1 Sunday School Superintendant
      1 Coffee maker
      2 people cleanup.

      Total 34 people. And this is just Sunday morning. And I am sure I have left some out.

      This of course excludes a the people involved in hosting a leading small groups. Volunteering with the youth, kids club, choir, missions craft group, ladies ministry, student lunches, etc…

      If you included everyone involved during the week it would probably involve 60 leaders. And this for a church of 150.

      • I tell you what is nice about this. With so many people willing and able to help, I lead a small group. That’s it. My wife teaches Sunday School, every second month. That’s it. My son plays the powerpoint once every few weeks. In a smaller church we got overwhelmed with the tasks we had to do.

      • A key difference is not numbers but scaling. I bet if you only had 75 on Sunday morning, it would take just moments for the pastor to readjust and have a scaled down service. The production based mega churches cannot scale down, it all collapses like a house of cards.

        Another difference is number of hours. In a production based church, I would leave my home at 6:00 am and get home after 2:00 pm. At least 8 hours, just on Sunday morning. Doesn’t count hours through the week.

        • I like that “production-based church”… my new description for most american churches…it would be nice to see a return to Jesus-focused church.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Because a Production Based Church (TM) is just a live-stage version of the first 2 1/2 minutes of THIS. Just like Holyland except you don’t have to drive to Orlando.

            Just think of how much backstage prep and personnel and time and energy goes into something like this actual Megachurch Sunday service excerpt.

            Ever heard of “This is Spinal Tap”?
            THIS IS SPARTA?
            Well, today This Is WORSHIP!

  3. I’ve heard from a leadership podcast or somewhere from them that Northpoint has cancelled the Christmas break service from the beginning of their church. I don’t believe it has to do with the size per se if they have done it from their meager beginnings. It may have to do with the rest from “Here comes Sunday” but that is another topic than the one I think you are pondering tonight.

    So I believe you are commenting (or wanting comments) more on the ratios of people to service? Correct me if I’m wrong.

    • Yes. Please don’t let the “cancel services” thing distract you. I’m just struck that it takes about twice as many people to “run church” as it did years ago.

  4. Michael, depending on the type of ministries that were being held, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see a church of 50 with only 5-ish people volunteering. Pastor, pastor’s wife, some secretarial help, a pianist (might double as the pastor’s wife), and an usher. Probably ain’t gonna be a rock band worship team or a high-powered children’s ministry at a 50-person church. 🙂

  5. Christiane says

    I’m sure everyone had a good excuse not to celebrate ‘in community’ at Christmas,
    but it does make a statement about priorities. Not to judge, it is a visible sign of ‘something’, but I also don’t want to go there, as I can’t fathom it fully.

  6. I think North Pointe also needs about a dozen iPads and an iPhone to pull off their Christmas music.

    • Don’t forget the holographic projector operators and the satellite feed organizers.

    • Nathan Lail says

      I very much enjoyed the ipad/iphone christmas band that Northpoint put together. Maybe a little showy, but it sure was fun for us younger generation to enjoy!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And a Gospel Blimp to drop tracts while announcing their latest program.

      • …or a Gospel Blimp Pinata that you strike with the glory flags & banners being waved during service! Or, or, or srike with the Sword of David replica sure to cleave open the heavenlies to release God’s fantastic blessings! Gold dust! Jewels! Angel feathers (er, sorry there Michael, you were a wee bit too close to the glory cloud when the sword was thrust up toward the rafters!)…

        NOTE: This is now my personal trademark idea! All wannabe spiritual types that attempt such inanity must pay me royalties. However, plastic gold glitter, rare unearthly feathers & plastic/glass baubles will not considered legal tender for such transactions… 🙂

  7. I’m frankly gobsmacked. What on earth needs 2,000 people? Okay, it’s split over “three campuses of 23,000 people” and they’re obviously doing at least two services (and probably more) per campus, but still – just how big are those praise’n’worship bands anyway?

    This sounds like an awful lot of congregants, but then I thought “Hang on a minute, that’s only the size of one diocese or – in very populous areas – one parish. Three churches, with three Masses each, could easily account for that amount of people. And certainly not need 2,000 to do it.”

    So I do wonder what are they doing all day? It’s a very full Sabbath, sounds like!

    • I agree!

      After visiting several of these large churches and sitting through their “praise’n’worship” teams’ performances, I’ve learned that you can tell what people are worshiping by what takes the majority of the “stage.” One church I’ve visited even had an entire altar area constructed for a drum set and speakers!

    • I also agree… but then it could account for the different style of worship. High liturgical worship that follows a familiar pattern with mostly low tech does not need as much support. If we lump religious education outside of a standard parochial or religous school that could bring the numbers up but if we are talking only things surrounding the service and ancilliary things that go on around that time it does seem excessive.

      If there is a lot that goes into the technology end or lots of resources to “put on” the service I would weigh that against what the congregants are actually getting out ogf it – if the goal of the service is soley to feed the congregants. If though, the service is more focused on worship then I believe the numbers should be a lot smaller (unless you lump worship entertainment into that focus).

    • You’re forgetting the Altar and Rosary Society volunteers. Someone has to wash the vestments & linens, shine the chalices, manage the candles, arrange the incense, swing the thurible, fill the holy water fonts…

      OK, still not going to get close to even a 100 people, but it does take more than just the priest, deacon, altar servers, extraordinary ministers of communion and gift presenters.

      • Oh, sure, but that’s the sacristan/chapel woman who looks after the altar linens etc. (or at least, that’s who it is round here).

        Granted, you have altar servers, lectors, whoever turns up if there’s a choir, a couple of guitar-strummers (that sounds unkind so I apologise particularly as I can’t for the life of me play a note of music), the ushers and the ministers of communion.

        So yes, a big(gish) church could have 20-40 people for all of Sunday or even just one Mass (I was looking at a couple of American parishes online) but the sheer number – 2,000 – does seem excessive. Maybe it’s just the sheer size of the place requires that amount, but it does seem like what a lot of people are saying on here – it becomes such a major production that it wears people out so ironically, at the highest Christian festivals such as Christmas and Easter, they need time off to recover.

        That is, the one time we most should be worshipping in community, we’re all in our little family bubbles.

  8. I think it all strikes me as wrong.

    Church was never meant to be a concert and light show that required vast numbers of volunteers (or paid staff members). Mega churches like those mentioned above are large consumers of energy and resources. But why? The early church is described as being mainly small-group oriented, with people meeting in each other’s houses. There’s no need to find ways to foot the bill for air conditioning a huge sanctuary when we’re welcoming one another into our personal homes for corporate worship. It may be because I was fired from a youth pastor position because the church I worked for couldn’t afford their utilities, but I often just find myself thinking, “Jeez, what a waste.”

    • Although I do think the mega-church is a waste of resources and congregations are better served by smaller footprints I will confess that I am in awe when I walk into a great cathedral, the workmanship, the architecture… but I will assume that even these places do not need the staffing that a modern megachurch is used to.

      • Agreed

      • No, a large Cathedral typically does not need that kind of staffing to pull off “a service” but….
        Depending, a big midnight mass might require 300 or so at a stretch directly involved day of the Mass and between the 5 main masses on Christmas eve. and Christmas day ti would get up there a ways. But Midnight mas is one of the 2 or 3 biggest ‘productions’ of the year. At a Cathedral you might have up to100 people just in the choir and orchestra.

        But at the same time, much of that is Way tip top effort for the 2 big masses on Christmas eve – the family / children mass and the midnight mass. It is all scalable and optional.

        Most Cathedrals also do Mass several times a day with 6 to 20 people involved in each Mass.

      • I’m not Roman Catholic, but I would make the assumption that the tradition of cathedral building has been geared more at providing some visible representation of the glory of God, while many contemporary “worship factories” are geared more at making people as comfortable as they can. I’m sick of seeing multi-plexes with carousels and coffee bars and theatre seating and massive staffs of paid individuals when there are people living in sleeping bags under overpasses down the street.

        When cathedrals were (are?) built, they were there, in stone, and massive. Open to anyone and everyone. But many of these newer places are locked up tighter than Fort Knox when they’re not having some sort of insider Christian program or worship concert. Why? Because millions of dollars of equipment and merchandise are at stake if someone breaks in. I recently spent some time in a Benedictine monastery that was open to the public–it was a beautiful, colossal basilica. But there was nothing in it of extreme value. Hymnals. Some hard, wooden pews. An incense burner. If the only thing you value is the Spirit of God, you are free to worship however you desire. But if we place our value on things that the world values–then of course our churches and places of worship cannot be as open as they should be.

        Sorry about this rant. It’s a pet peeve of mine.

  9. what I want to know is how many Brink’s trucks & armed guards for the tithe?
    was this a paid Holiday for the pastors or leave w/o pay?
    I especially like the “prioritize your family” – this is Family-mas – right?

    • What gets me is(assuming “prioritize your families” was said to the volunteers) what exactly are they prioritizing the rest of the year?

      In other words, I’m reading that the church extravaganza/rock concert drains so many resources that people are, even if for just a few hours, putting each other on hold because they have contribute to the show. And that’s not only understood, but perfectly acceptable to the guy in charge, who’s “allowing” people to prioritize their families at Christmas.

      Babylon?

  10. Sounds like a lot of effort to ‘do church’…

    Within all that doing (good, bad, indifferent) how being church is done?

    This all ties into the Programs article & also the vocation convos. And yes, the bigger stage presentation will require a full scale stage crew to pull it off. Church has evolved into a high tech event & with something to attempt to cater to everyone, that can put quite the demand for volunteer participation.

    To maintain a modicum of ‘professionalism’ with each performance/service, the coordination & choreography of supporting parts a very demanding requirement. For the most part if it goes off seamlessly, the average pew audience none the wiser as to the effort involved. To the volunteer knowing what happens behind the scenes, that is another story.

    Extensive, modern church campuses need quite the budget for overhead+maintenance. That is just the physical structure/land. Heck, it can be quite breathtaking as I had the chance to be at Joel Osteen’s church prior to them moving into their bigger+better digs. Wow! What a campus. But to think of the additional demand for volunteer help just as astounding. I was there attending an non-church convention+trade show type thing. All agriculture/missionary themed. I can appreciate the servant heart of many people taking up the call to help out with, you know, ‘their church’ (roll eyes), but it is an artificial burden only there to support the trappings…

    • It does become a vicious circle – we need more programs to bring the people to God… then we need more people to keep the programs going… sounds exhausting and self perpetuating. I like it simple – go to Church on Sunday – with the ability to go to a simple low tech service during the week (scripture/short talk/communion), and the church to be open for silent worship at other times of the day – no production – low overhead.

  11. If it takes that many people just to “pull off” one service, I’ll go out on a limb, especially based on the photo in the post, and say that it indicates an increasing tendency to turn a church service into a major, high-tech production. In fairness, 2000 might indicate the total number of singers, Sunday school teachers, nursery workers, ushers, etc who usually take part and might not be ridiculously out of the ballpark—all those people may not be actually *necessary* to run a given service but on a typical Sunday do participate. But I tend to think it has to do with the contemporary, high tech, major production approach.

    Another factor may be increasing fragmentation in groups that meet on a given Sunday. When I was a kid, there was basically one adult Sunday school class and that was it. Now it seems even in smaller churches, there are multiple classes, other independent small groups that meet—a lot more choices, just like there are 50 varieties of coffee anywhere you go now instead of just one!

  12. My Orthodox church (usually about 30 people, up to 100 at Christmas and Easter) has a missionary priest, his secretary, three or four people who sing (actually everybody sings, but only a few can read music and do harmony), and somebody who bakes the bread. No Sunday school, though anyone who wants can study with the priest. No audio-visual aids, cameras (usually), or special lighting, though there is a website. Occasionally services are cancelled so the priest can do liturgy somewhere else, but everyone understands.

    Catholic and Episcopal services are usually quite a bit larger, but similar in terms of staffing needs. (Basically just a priest and an organist, plus volunteer ushers, choir, altarboys/girls, and Sunday school teachers.) I suppose this must be considered retrograde in Protestant circles..?

    • But you do make up for the high tech stuff with all the beautiful icons on the walls and ceiling for illumination…

    • Sounds just right to me.

    • The Guy from Knoxville says

      Retrograde?? No in contemporary protestant churches similar to Northpoint I think the word Anathema would be more appropriate as most of those churches lothe just about anything and anyone that dare have a twinge of anything simple and traditional…….. oooops that word – traditional – that anathema too.

      Quite honestly guys, after spending my childhood, youth, and a good part of my adult life in the southern baptist church I can say I’m pretty much over church and I’m at a point now that it would not bother me in the least if I never attened an sbc church again. Give me a good MS Lutheran or similar and I would be much, much more at home but that’s another story for another time.

  13. Churchianity, with its programs, budgets, and demands for people’s time and resources — well, many of us have decided we don’t need it. And we don’t. It’s a drain of resources that are better used to do the things that the church is supposed to be about doing. A good place to start is tipping generously … just ask the waitstaff serving Sunday lunches to the after-church crowds.

    • YES, Patricia!! I like your “ministry outreach.”

      • AMEN!!!

        • …and another of my personal convictions: I will not now or ever ‘give’ any money to a building program. No special earmarks for facility upgrades either. No special giving ‘above & beyond’ sacrificial speeches will be tolerated. I do not like to be manipulated. But when it comes to money & how leadership browbeats the sheep to support the lofty ‘vision’ of greater whatever, I have no patience with such abuse…

          • Amen ! brother…I too have had enough with church self-pampering-aggrandizement

          • …although I would support a renovation program since some of our churches are falling down around us (especially after last winter)….

          • Hi Joseph,
            George MacDonald would very much agree with you. In his Unspoken Sermons, he made a great point about how, instead of building great, impressive houses for “worship” that those resources would be better used AS worship to house those “least of these” who are in need.

          • Radagast: I would help out with renovation work to the best of my limited construction ability, but I would not give money to it.

            Our little church facility was actually donated to us, but it was not in the best state of repair either. Much volunteer labor+materials have gone into keeping it functioning, but I have not given any of my weekly offerings to any builiding related needs.

            It isn’t a matter of practical needs being mentioned & met, but it is the ‘just throw money at it’ mentality that irks me. I already know some of my weekly offering is used for facility upkeep, so I give that freely & joyfully while joining others in team labor to do other things I can help out with.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            There is a balance to be sought here. The “expand or die” mentality of the modern megachurch is well worth not supporting. (The same mentality, not coincidentally, plagues much of modern corporate culture.) On the other hand, the roof is going to need replacing at some point. Volunteer labor and materials can sometimes work, but my church’s two hundred year-old building with a slate roof requires a specialist. We have to go to the next state to find a contractor who really knows how to work in slate, but it is worth it: going the cheap route has caused problems in the past. Better to pay now to have the work done right than to pay later to repair the water damage.

            Unless you go the house church route, maintaining and repairing the building is part of church membership. Indeed, with a church literally centuries old, we regard it as an obligation to both our ancestors and our descendants.

    • You mean a fake money tract isnt good enough?!?!

      • In the collection basket? I approve!

        Handing it out to a waitress (particularly in America, where as I understand it, half the wages are made up of tips)? That warrants a smack in the face!

        • Hear! Hear!

          Dump all those tacky tracts into the offering plates! Do not use them as some useless witnessing tool. Lord have mercy. In this day & age all of us get enough unsolicited mail advertisements/flyers to stuff a small landfill. And Christians resort to such marketing strategy when leaving a religious tract for the blue collar worker barely making a living in this tuff economy?

          If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Handing it out to a waitress (particularly in America, where as I understand it, half the wages are made up of tips)? That warrants a smack in the face!

          No, that’s beyond ‘smack in the face’.
          That warrants a Christian Sack Tap.

          (Thirty years ago, I worked at the HQ of a major restaurant firm, including payroll-related tasks. Waiters/Waitresses/Watrons/Whatever are paid BELOW mininum wage because of “Tip Credit”. Tip credit is added into their income to calculate income tax regardless of the amount of tips actually collected — if they’re undertipped, they’re still taxed on it.)

    • conanthepunctual says

      Yes, yes, yes! My wife worked in a chain pizza shop for years helping us with a little extra money in the budget. There is a large christian organization (growing by leaps and bounds and more leaps) that is based in the town we live in. She could almost always spot the people that were a part of that organization. They were the ones that left the biggest messes and no tips. That was, of course, after they spent their meal conducting a Bible study loud enough that all of the other tables would be sure to “over hear” it.

      Why don’t we get that it starts with basic things like being nice? All the lights, streaming sermons, and mini-amusement parks for the kids’ Sunday school don’t mean anything without basics like love (which I strongly assert can be shown through things like being kind to strangers). It’s almost like clanging cymbals or something.

      • Plug time. Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer. Similar story to the one about the pizza place as told by our very own Internet Monk (moment of silence).

  14. I’ll be honest, here…I find this whole thing very, very sad. I feel a grief in my spirit…

    I’ve marked my time in various and sundry Northpoint-type Churches. And I left that type of Christianity due, in no small part, to the reality of the Worship Machine, the Worship Show, the burnout as a volunteer in Music that comes from rehearsals as demanding as anything I ever did in preparing for professional music.

    There was no distinctive difference save the brief prayer at the beginning…

    I was saddened to be a part of the Show. The Congregtion, the audience, was pandered to just as any rock concert audience in which I participated either as back-up or as ticket-buyer. And I grieved the loss of awe, holiness, communion, personal-ness.

    The Worship Machine is manipulative, emotionally-driven, programatic concertising…carefully orchestrated for full emotional effect; carefully planned with lights, powerpoints, drama, and The Message. My God! How far we’ve come from Jesus sitting on the ground, cooking a couple of fish!

    Is God really at the core of it all? Or the powerhouse Preacher with his Message, and his PowerPoint, and his packing them in to the tune of a 6-figure salary??? When the music dies, and it almost always does as this is all the cult of personality, what then???

    Church is a multi-billion dollar business and it is failing. We aren’t so much saving heathens as we are sheep-stealing in the quest to save ourselves. The difference between 2010 and 1972 is the difference in the explosion of media technology and the use of it in driving ’em in and filling the auditoriums, filling the baskets, filling the ministries, filling the perceived needs. Make everyone feel necessary in the most unnecessary way by giving them Something To Do. Somewhere To Go. Like in childrearing, substitute the inappropriate toy with the healthy one.

    And my heart breaks and my grief grows. Like Malachi, I long for the day when we might offer unto the Lord offerings in righteousness because it isn’t about us, it’s about God. It’s about Thanksgiving in Communion, Breaking Bread, singing Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs with voices that we can actually hear…our own and our neighbours. It’s about the work of the Kingdom of God (which is actually AT HAND!) being done from a heart filled with love using gifts we already have and enjoying the process; seeking the need and filling it quietly, humbly, the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing…

    American Christians would do well to visit, oh, Haiti comes to mind and watch circuit Preachers in white shirts and dark suits there with their wreaked buildings and lack of basic facilities, preaching for hours in the hot, fetid air, to SRO Believers by the hundreds and thousands…and walking or catching a ride to the next Church…and the next Church because the harvest is so very plentiful and willing workers are so few.

    • Laura, that may well be the most eloquent and poignant lament about the state of “churchianity” that I’ve ever read.

      • I agree…one for the archives IMO.

      • The Guy from Knoxville says

        I agree Mike – that is one of the best I’ve read and I relate to that beyond words to describe – especially the burnt out musician……… the worship machine – classic. As I mentioned in response to another post above – being in the sbc with many churches moving in the direction of just what Laura wrote…….. I really have no desire for “church” if the only choices I have are things like Laura mentioned – the Northpoint type churches and we’ve got our share of these worship concert venues here in Knoxville. Yes, Laura hit the nail squarely on the head and I know many of the folks I used to “run with” in church who would lothe what she wrote because it’s cuts to the heart.

    • “I was saddened to be a part of the Show. The Congregtion, the audience, was pandered to just as any rock concert audience in which I participated either as back-up or as ticket-buyer. And I grieved the loss of awe, holiness, communion, personal-ness.”

      The loss of awe….

      I love music – grew up on early seventies folk and guitar rock – and that music could swirl around me at a concert and totally engulf me… I got that same feeling experiencing worship bands – but was I caught up in God.. or the familiar encounter with the music itself? For me, I lost that sense of awe, that sense of holiness in this worship setting. Again, this is from my perspective and everyone looks at things differently – but for me big production doesn’t work.

    • Oh… and one more comment…

      “Like Malachi, I long for the day when we might offer unto the Lord offerings in righteousness because it isn’t about us, it’s about God. It’s about Thanksgiving in Communion, Breaking Bread, singing Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs with voices that we can actually hear…our own and our neighbours.”

      Here Here! -Right with you

    • Great comments, Laura, “And I grieved the loss of awe, holiness, communion, personal-ness.” Are you involved with a small congregation that now has this? I hope so.

      • In a word, “Yes”, at least half-time. The back-story is a bit more complicated. 😉 Thank you, all, for your kind reception of my thoughts and thank you, JoanieD, for asking after me. I deeply appreciate that.

    • Dear Laura,
      I share so much of your perspective, and you said it so eloquently, in how churchianity has derailed the Church.

      Deitrich Bonhoeffer noted, “It is not with the beyond that we are concerned, but with this world as created and preserved, subjected to laws, reconciled, and restored. What is above this world is, in the gospel, intended to exist for this world…” and

      July 21, 1944
      “I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In doing so we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world–watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia [translation: conversion, repentance]; that is how one becomes a man and a Christian… ” -from Letters from Prison

      All that God has done, Emmanual “God With Us” has been about us, so we can be about others, too. Blessings,
      Patricia

    • David Cornwell says

      After attending one of these mega type churches– I’m always in awe– of the massive, modern technology and the wonderful show that’s put on up on the stage. But they do nothing to enhance my awe of God.

  15. I wonder how many staff the typical first century church needed. Oh, that’s right. They didn’t have all the programs we have today. They just went out and turned the world upside down.

    • And that’s the point – they were focused on people from pagan backgrounds – fresh fodder. Let’s be honest – most of us are from a christian background -culterally, if not spritually. So that means we are stealing from one pot to fill another. The biggest pot being those cultural Catholics, but there are are cultural christians in other pots as well. What does this mean – bigger marketing, better performances to entertain those who are floating on the surface. Hopefully this brings them in deeper. Many times it just feeds the me, me, me narcisism.

      I live in a community with a large Catholic population. Those that leave the church don’t leave because they disagree with the theology – most are probably to lazy to go deeper – they’re bored, they want entertained. That’s what the comments boil down to. Most end up at the Abig ssembly of God church down the street where they get the big productions and rock bands….

  16. I would say 2000 is a conservative number. I was part of a church modeled in some ways after North Point, and the number of volunteers is incredible. I have heard numbers out of Willow Creek that go in the 4000+ volunteer range. It also does not scale well, they need almost all the volunteers every week. Even if attendance is light, the number of volunteers is the same. One missing volunteer could mean that all the off sites of a multi-site congregation may not get a video feed. And, don’t get me started at how angry people get when they show up to church and don’t get their free coffee and donuts that the volunteers bring in.

    It also focuses most of the volunteers in areas outside of their spiritual gifts. The production itself needs a number of extremely skilled musicians and technologists. Less than stellar musicians and technologists need not apply. Children’s ministry needs the most volunteers. If you breathe and don’t have a criminal record, they will throw you in with the children, regardless of spiritual gifts. At some churches, even the criminal record is acceptable.

    My current Lutheran church seems to be able to scale down much better. On the Sunday after Christmas, we had a fluke snowstorm for the southeast U.S. , and only 25 out of 200+ normal attendance was present. They were able to quickly and easily scale down to a pastor to serve communion, and some volunteers to read Lectionary scriptures. Our Lutheran pastor even made a joke about it to jab at some of us former Baptists. He said with humor that the 25 who made it to service earned a work to get into heaven, then reminded us we are saved by grace 🙂

  17. Good comments have already described how the proliferation of small groups and narrowly focused special programs, and the professionalization of worship, create a demand for more people.

    An additional contributing factor is, I think, that many professional church staff nowadays are performers rather than servants. Forty years ago there were still some pastors who wanted to be with their people and to serve them in as many ways as possible. He’d be just as eager to pour the coffee as to preach the sermon. Not so much anymore. It is NOT just a matter of scale, because I’ve seen ministers who were just as distant in a church of 120 people as one might expect in a mega-church. (I’m not sure if I’m adding anything new, or just restating what Laura has already said.)

    The same problem exists in missions, by the way, where many people claim to be called but few will go and live over the mountain where the unreached people are.

  18. I would suggest the difference lies in a combination of

    1. Movement from a song leader and pianist to a worship team approach.
    2. Increased use of video/drama/arts
    3. Increased complexity of audio/visual needs (mostly because of the above)
    4. The desire to be a more “full service” type of church, with sports, coffee shop, and various special interest or special needs ministries.
    5. Increased church shopping leads to increased competition between churches to be more appealing than the church down the street in facilities, amenities, and programs.

    Perhaps underlying all this is a more disturbing trend: a focus on the church, rather than on Christ.

  19. I would add that the numbers of volunteers by itself is not a bad thing. One of the worst things about the church becoming institutionalized was how the focus of service in the church shifted to “the clergy”, while “the laity” became the recipients. Having more people serving others, in church and out of it, is healthy both for the church as well as those serving.

    The problem, as noted by others, is when the service primarily is focused on putting on a show.

    • and the ‘showmanship’ really is just a matter of technical advancement…

      Having ‘charismatic’ (not spiritual gifting) preachers has always been part of how we idolize the flamboyant. Just an observation here. If there wasn’t the ability to project the larger-than-life image, there was the power of personality & the resulting cult-figure status.

      Big crowds are possible with the simplest arrangement if the ‘main attraction’ of sufficient charisma to draw them. As a rule, we do like how a message is communicated. That is part of the skill of people of persuasion. They can present their message in such a way as to carry with it more truthfulness or weight. Our court system a good example of how this is played out. Politics of course. And churches too…

      Aimee Semple McPherson comes to mind. Only because I have attended 4-Square churches in my prior experiences. Kathryn Kuhlman another. Heck, Billy Graham had the knack also. They command attention by their sheer weight of their personality. Now whether one wishes to attribute this to God’s anointment or not a topic for another day…

      • Joseph, thank you for speaking specifically to the matter of technology. A few musings…

        Are some of us just too suspicious of technology and new methods and change? Have some of us become that dreaded “older generation” saying, “I’d rather have it like we did before”? Evangelicals, Americans in particular, seem to naturally gravitate to new technologies without much of a second thought, assuming that anything that will help us reach more people must be great. Others think it’s more complicated than that and that the medium really does affect the message or even become the message or overwhelm it at some point.

        I’m just asking questions here. At some point people like Bill Hybels thought the Richard Halverson-style 7000 member church carried by 365 workers wasn’t cutting it. It wasn’t reaching the lost. It was losing the youth. It wasn’t modeling Biblical community. It wasn’t equipping people to minister or giving them a place to exercise their gifts as the Body of Christ. It wasn’t practicing excellence with regard to the arts. It was stuck in tradition and out of touch with a rapidly changing world. It wasn’t dreaming big enough dreams of what God wants to do in the world through his people.

        One result has been the megachurch movement, which has tried to counter all those weaknesses by providing a much higher level of organization and accountability and exercising much stricter quality control over the way the community functions. The megachurches have become mini-denominations, replacing the old style bureaucratic organizations (which were also modeled after corporate America—though older patterns) with newer, lighter, more efficient entrepreneurial models. So, in one sense, this may be apples and oranges insofar as we are comparing Halverson’s CHURCH with North Point’s DENOMINATION.

        Or maybe a better word would be MISSION. My sense is that megachurches have always seen themselves as mission organizations rather than churches in the traditional sense of the word. When I was in school we used to complain that the parachurch organizations were doing what the churches should be doing. Now the children of people who built the parachurch organizations are building churches, and guess what models they are using? Willow Creek and many other ministries grew directly out of parachurch organizations.

        This comment is getting long, but I thought I should throw a few more snacks on the table for us to chew on before I go to bed . . .

        Please keep talking. This is a wonderful, and vital, discussion.

        • There is the consideration too of just focusing on a Sunday service, vs. say, what the ‘church’ in greater mission is doing the other 6 days of the week…

          Community ‘worship’ is thee unique prerogative of people of faith. It is something that should be as ego free as possible. Many people already pointing out that worship really is our focus on God, not the manner which it is presented. Our participation should be as worshipers, not audience. Something active in the process of worship should not be distracted by either the lack of technology, nor the excess use of it.

          Balance? Too wishful to quantify really. Some have said a quiet chapel sufficient sacred space to worship. Others can be lifted to heavenly heights by a full choir & pipe organ. Rich liturgy. Artful expression. Loud music & I mean ‘loud!’. Some like more active participation. Some like to be left alone in their meditative connection with God…

          I cannot say that what I deem outright excess not of some value to others. I do know what I am attracted toward. I know what I always will avoid also. I do not like ‘stagey’ presentations, but then that is subjective I suppose. But I also know when I am ‘invited’ into a worship experience that is actually uplifting & transforming. And it is a corporate atmosphere that encourages such a thing. Gifted (God honoring) musicians do provide such an environment. Performers of various skill levels can either detract or release a worshipful praise time. And the sacred space arrangement & just what rituals will be included help the worshiper to focus on the One we do gather together to worship. To lose that focus on why we worship can be where the process jumps the tracks. And no amount of technology or the deliberate avoidance of same will ever ‘create’ worship in this instance…

        • “Have some of us become that dreaded ‘older generation’…?”

          When people accuse me of being an old man regarding church styles (which I get a lot, and I’m 23), I’m always struck by the fact that if every Christian who ever lived was alive today, they’d all be super old.

    • I’ve been thinking of volunteers in my church as a good thing.
      This church is new—only months old—–and our pastor is only part time (<20 hrs/wk).
      There are about 180 worshiping at one service. We share a building with a social service agency, so volunteers set up and tear down the whole thing each weekend.
      We have discovered that not relying on a full-time paid staff to do everything, means that
      there is a lot of work for volunteers to do. In fact, I'm counting about 1/2 of the congregation
      involved in "helping" in one way or another. Maybe more.
      What I'm thinking is good about it, is that people's gifts are being used and I think the practice of using one's gifts is strengthening. Church isn't passive.
      People here feel needed, like what they are doing is valued.
      And they take that out into the community.

      I think that if you look at those people worshipping with all their hearts out in the mission field you will discover that some of them volunteered to build the place they worship in. They gathered the planks for people to sit on, They prepared a meal for the person coming to preach. Not high-tech, but volunteer work, just the same.

      Still comes back to it's a heart thing.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        I don’t think anyone is suggesting that volunteers are a bad thing. The problem is when volunteering turns into an obligation indistinguishable from work. The Sunday becomes just first day of the work week, and canceling services the day after Christmas becomes a welcome relief from the grind.

  20. one more Mike says

    I wonder how many of the volunteers wanted a “day off”? For some people who don’t have a lot of other social/work interactions with others, handing out donuts or programs is the high point of their week. But they were probably outnumbered by the performers, campus security team, parking lot attendants, barristas and bookstore staff all of whom are probably exhausted by their “ministry”.

    BTW, ditto Laura above.

  21. Dan Allison says

    It’s really gotten out of hand in this country. Megachurches, satellite churches, PowerPoint, rock bands, coffee shops….just give me a little Anglican stone chapel somewhere where I can find Jesus. May God have mercy on us all.

  22. I don’t think churches had latte bars and kiddie slides 40 years ago. Most churches are caught up in the notion that attracting a large audience requires a diverse number of attractions – quilting groups, reading groups, movie groups, diet groups, exercise groups, teen basketball teams, etc., etc., etc. Adiaphora has become the main attraction.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Latte bars and kiddie slides?

      Try on-site video production studio and on-site amusement park with pony rides. THAT’s literally what my writing partner (the burned-out preacher-man) has to compete with at his local MegaChurch.

  23. In 2009 my church produced a list of volunteer positions and ministries available in the church. After adding them all up we needed more positions for ministry than we had members. My conclusion was that we had too many ministries, the senior pastor didn’t agree.

    • Wow.

    • Double wow. Sounds like the bubble needs to burst.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      After adding them all up we needed more positions for ministry than we had members.

      Talk about “trying to get everybody on the other side of the Altar Rail in vestments”…

      You have just achieved the “All Clergy, NO Laity” theoretical end state of Clericalism.

    • The Guy from Knoxville says

      Maybe the “senior pastor” doesn’t need to be senior pastor anymore………. Folks, many of the megas have a staff that resembles multi-level-marketing structure and the competition to go with it! Ego driven and over the top to the point of it being nauseating.

  24. I think maybe the church of England has had some insight for us the whole time. How’s this for a Jesus centered community: Four friends, four books of common prayer. One leads singing on a few hymns, one prepares the bread and wine, one gives a brief homily, and one leads the liturgy. Simple, easy, sustainable, hassle free, and darned easy to expand. Can meet in a living room, and easily expand to 50 people with the only added need being additional prayer books and song books.

    I say sustainability ought to be a key. Churches burn people out, and usually it is not for kingdom building results. Imagine if we had to export what we’re doing to a third world country where open belief is not tolerated. What would be taken and what would be left? Prioritize those things and keep the rest in perspective.

  25. Funny. Saint Benedict coined the phrase, “Work and Worship”, which many translate, “work as worship”. Megachurches have turned worship into work. Sad.

  26. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose. I do wonder, though, what would happen if these 2000 people spent the same amount of time loving on the community in Jesus’ name, getting to know their neighbors as well as the marginalized and showing these people the love of Jesus in tangible ways.

    How many of the 23,000 will still be there in a few years? How long will it take them to get tired of the big show and free donuts? Will they move on to another church of some sort, or decide that they’ve “been there and done that” and move on to other life choices?

    This looks like religion run amuck to me. Everyone I know who used to be part of a production crew in one of these kinds of megachurches eventually burned out on it and now want nothing to do with this kind of religiosity. They either want to stay away from church, or want something small that looks entirely different – something that looks a lot more like the Jesus we find in the Gospels.

    • The Guy from Knoxville says

      My question – what happens when there is 230 in a 10,000 seat venue? What happens when these guys building these “churches” get old and pass on…….. what happens if things go bad and they loose 1/2-3/4 of the regular attenders and on we could go on……. total collapse and a big multi-million dollar facility which probably has a nearly unbearable mortgage on has to be sold off or foreclosed on and then it sits there and crumbles to the ground in a short period of time.

      Other thing came to mind – what of the older churches that have been totally destroyed and people kicked out after a new admin comes in with a fresh new “vision” and starts cracking the whip – showing the “old people” (aka troublemakers and non-conformists) the door and tossing out other folks who dare to raise a hand for a simple question about something that’s even slightly different than what the “vision” of the “staff” is. Been pretty much kicked out of two churches because I didn’t “fit in the plan/vision” the staff had in mind and they were glad to let me know about it.

      Coral Ridge Presbyterian in Fort Lauderdale, Fla comes to mind – elders extend a call to a pastor of a somewhat smaller church nearby and he comes in and brings the somewhat smaller church with him and proceeds to turn Coral Ridge into something I’m not sure it was ever ment to be and got rid of anyone – especially the musicians – who didn’t play along and now we have “The Ridge” which is almost disrespectful – it’s Coral Ridge…… I know – too picky but you get the gist of my rant here – another Rick Warren PDC situaiton of sorts – identify the enemy and marginalize and/or kick out and get rid of those choirs and organs though one wonders what they will do with a 7,000 pipe Rufatti organ installed in the front and backs of that room.

      Well enough – this is already too long.

  27. This is a truly wild guess. I was not around in 1972, nor have I heard much about church at that time. But my guess as to why it requires 2000 now as opposed to 365 then is the growing “sufficiency and supremacy” of the Sunday morning service. With the explosion of the entertainment market, especially since the media revolution, Sunday productions have become more of a commodity than ever. Since the goal is a large, entertained congregation, competition quickly develops around this, as in all industry. The large ones are successful because they are able to pull off a more impressive, entertaining show, and they do it by funneling a larger and larger amount of resources into it to keep their crowd satisfied(after all, the secular world is doing the same thing, and if we don’t keep up, they’ll probably just go to the church that can, or stay home and watch movies on their 80-inch hDTV.

    Incidentally, I just had a rather disturbing thought. How long till we have entrepreneurial visionaries that have nothing to do with Christianity at all holding “church services” with a higher production-level than the Christian ones, simply because there’s money in it(advertising can foot the bill where tithing doesn’t). The market is ready-made, and they may do a better job of entertaining and hyping up a “flock” because their background is in business or entertainment instead spending all those years/dollars on ministry or Bible college. Their one motive is profit. By a quick observation of the buzz-words and song-hooks in Christian churches, they can fabricate knee-level spiritual content for their own service in order to satisfy the nagging suspicion people have that church is somehow connected to God and Jesus.

    I’m going to stop there because I’m getting the shivers.

    • “How long?” I think we are already there.

    • >> How long till we have entrepreneurial visionaries that have nothing to do with Christianity at all holding “church services” with a higher production-level than the Christian ones, simply because there’s money in it(advertising can foot the bill where tithing doesn’t). <<

      Wasn't that already happening in the mid 1990s?

      • ^^^^ Damaris didn’t write that. Sorry.

      • I seem to remember a song-writer admitting some time back that he wasn’t actually a Christian. But since he could speak the lingo he was able to put together songs that had been accepted as being “Christian.” And yeah, I seem to recall that being in the mid 90s.

        And while I don’t know about other areas, I suspect he wasn’t alone in this. He’s just the one that I managed to hear about. I’m sure there’s far more of this going on than we’re aware of.

        • Yeah, Marjoe Gortner comes to mind as well…

          • Now wasn’t that an eye-opening documentary…

          • addendum…

            Marjoe Gortner yesterday…Todd Bentley today…

            Lord have mercy… 🙁

          • And while we’re at it let’s not forget Mike Warnke!

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            And while we’re at it let’s not forget Mike Warnke!

            Whose fanboys still defend him “because he Saved Lots of Souls.”

          • HUG,
            People don’t save souls. God does. 😀 (but you knew that. My “tongue-in-cheek-o-meter” just beeped)

          • Heck, Todd Bentley will drop-kick the er, sinner/saint, into the heavenlies with a, “shaka-boomba-shaaaazzzzaaaam!”

            Todd “Slam-Bam” Bentley is so much more, well, ‘hip’ than Warnke ever was…

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Are you sure Tatted Todd and his pet Angel Emma didn’t fall through a Dimension Door from the World of Wrestlecrap?

            I mean, he had the look, he had the angle, he had the heel-face-turn in his Testimony, and he really put those butts in seats — SHEEKA-BOOM-BAH! BAM!!!!

    • TED conferences – a bunch of like-minded people of the same socio-economic background gathered to hear something cool and fraternize with each other. We’re definitely there. http://www.ted.com/

  28. Wow. Church as spectacle–church as entertainment event–is certainly costing us dear. Every pastor I’ve ever known has talked about breaking the 80/20 ceiling (20% of the people doing 80% of the work, or something like that) but I’ve always wondered why it should take even 20%. The missionals have it right in decrying the “attractional” model. My opinion.

  29. I understand the concern many are expressing, but as someone who has attended Northpoint, and one who has respect for Andy Stanley and Bill Willits, let me say something about the numbers.
    They have a lot of people who want to help out, and because of that they have an abudance of people in some positions, such a greeters. Likewise, the parking team is huge.

    Next, let me say that if you prefer a smaller and/or more traditional church, that is great. In the comments, Dan Allison stated “just give me a little Anglican stone chapel”. That bring a smile to my face. However, many prefer the megachurch style of church. We should not try to fit all personalities into one box.

    Finally, please keep in mind that Northpoint is not Lakewood. Christ is preached at Northpoint. Scripture is emphasized. Small groups and like-communities are considered a higher priority than the Sunday service. Northpoint is heavily involved in promoting charities and justice ministries.

    It may not be your style, but thousands of people are coming, getting involved in helping out, and hearing about Jesus. Since that is the case, we may want to back off on being overly-critical.

    • Point well taken, Rick. As I’ve read through this thread I’ve considered the points of others as they pertain generally rather than to specific churches. I know nothing about Northpoint or Lakewood. What I do know is that very many smaller churches are trying to emulate the successful megachurches, and the result is bad.

      Where a “successful megachurch” has a pastoral staff of several individuals, each of whom specializes in a particular ministry, the smaller churches merely have preachers who refuse to do things like homes visits because its “not their job.” Where a “successful megachurch” has a pastoral author who can tailor a ministry program or Bible study to his current members’ needs and level of scholarship, the smaller churches just buy the book or program that is hot at the time, which results in lower and lower Biblical and theological knowledge. (Lots of my contemporary evangelical friends know less today than they knew 20 years ago.) Where the “successful megachurch” has a variety of spaces, allowing someone who wants a quiet place to pray to get off by themselves, the smaller churches steer you into the inevitable main hall where the worship team is already blasting away, making private prayer — or even private thought — impossible.

      I wish the “successful megachurch” all the best. But even the biggest one of those represents a tiny part of Christianity. Those “successful” models cause a lot of harm when ambitious pastors and entertainment-hungry congregations in thousands of churches throughout the US and the world emulate only their glitziest and most consumable facets.

      • one more Mike says

        Excellent point Andy. Mega-church wannabe pastors will wear out a small congregation quickly trying to follow the church growth model in areas that wont support Mega-churches. I know of several churches that are killing themselves trying to follow the church growth model. They all have they’re own “food pantry”, homeless ministry, recovery programs, all trying to draw from the same small “needy” population. Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for the truly needy, Catholic charities and Ecumenical ministries led by the Episcopalians have been in this business for many years and are good at it. But the wannabes have to have their own programs so the minister can put a successful “Community mission program” on his resume’, no matter the cost in burned out volunteers and the ineffectiveness of misdirected effort and resources.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          They all have they’re own “food pantry”, homeless ministry, recovery programs, all trying to draw from the same small “needy” population.

          Anybody remember the dot-coms of 10 years ago?

          Where even when their business plans were viable, you had a bandwagon of hundreds of dot-com startups piling into a market only big enough to support two or three out of that hundred?

          Guess they’ll have to pray for a Greater Depression to increase the market for those ministry programs; just make sure their own Tithing Units stay employed to Tithe and Volunteer…

  30. No wonder Piper needed an eight month sabbatical!

  31. Dan Allison says

    The problem here is all the money and effort we spend on ourselves. There are a million orphans in Malawi. My missionary friend in Peru can feed a hundred kids with 25 bucks. The megachurches are little more than shrines to suburban, upper-middle-class, bourgeois religiosity. They wreak of consumerism, self-obsession, and American Empire. If a church spends ONE MOMENT discussing whether the chairs should have two-inch padding or three-inch padding while kids in Malawi sleep in the dirt because they have no mattresses, that’s shameful, and it borders on wicked. I couldn’t be more sick of the whole deal.

    • THANK YOU DAN!!!!!!!!!

      “The megachurches are little more than shrines to suburban, upper-middle-class, bourgeois religiosity. They wreak of consumerism, self-obsession, and American Empire.”

      Amazing.

    • Meanwhile people, many formally un-churched, or were no-longer churched, are attending and hearing about Jesus.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I wonder if Jesus is joining the Big Show at these MegaChurch Spectaculars or whether He’s going to be hanging out with the Furries (the bottom of the geek heirarchy) at the con I’ll be attending a week from tomorrow.

        • And you would be attending as a …

          headless unicorn? 😀 I think Jesus will be there.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            And you would be attending as a …
            headless unicorn?

            No, but if I ever ran into a two-legger unicorn maiden for real, I’d be trying to put a ring on one golden-hooved finger.

            Because imaginary critters are part of the Cosmos, even if they only existed in our imaginations. And (as the prevalence of furry porn can tell you) they have also been affected (and victimized) by the Fall. I’ve written a couple of fantasy shorts where imaginary critters hope for Redemption and Resurrection into Reality instead of imagination.

          • Are unicorns cloven-hooved or otherwise? Might be something in the OT about that… 😀

      • Does hearing about Jesus really require what’s happening on Sunday morning at a megachurch? May I suggest that, when everything that is NOT required to hear about Jesus Christ and knit one another together in love, when all this is removed from the service, THEN it will be truly evident that Jesus is the priority?

        • “Does hearing about Jesus really require what’s happening on Sunday morning at a megachurch?”

          No. But Northpoint sees it as a very effective method of reaching people in the context they find themselves in.

          TheLedgers comments below (Jan 6, 12:55am) explain the strategy well.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        This is the inevitable reply to all such discussions. I have seen it put forward in response to criticism of Joel Osteen’s largely Christ-free preaching: someone might (mirabile dictu!) find Christ in the occasional passing mention, so we ought not criticize.

        But look at what is being criticized: volunteers burning out, often leaving the church altogether. We often also read of the challenge of the megachurch to keep people coming in the front door faster than they are leaving out the back.

        Yes, some people may find true religion via a megachurch, and even have it stick. But if the institution is in the meantime driving others away, and leaving yet others so unmoved that they merely wander off, then I don’t see this as a net positive.

        And it is worse than that. Any Christian church puts itself on display, at least implicitly as an exemplar of Christianity. Those people burning out or wandering away are leaving believing (quite reasonably, since this is what the church has taught them) that this experience which left them burned our or (worse?) indifferent is Christianity. And they will tell their friends and family. When we are confronted with the militant atheist or the bored agnostic, this often is what we have wrought.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          This is the inevitable reply to all such discussions. I have seen it put forward in response to criticism of Joel Osteen’s largely Christ-free preaching: someone might (mirabile dictu!) find Christ in the occasional passing mention, so we ought not criticize.

          i.e. “SOULS MIGHT BE SAVED (TM)!”

          All that does is shift the units of currency whose acquisiton justifies all else from money to “souls”.

    • I too completely agree. On the other hand, these churches think they are providing what some people want, and apparently they are providing what some people want for now. I think the pendulum will swing the other way in a few years.

      A few people I know find these big churches thrilling, but these people find themselves relationship poor in a culture that is relationship poor. Attending a church with thousands in attendance or having a whole barn full of stuff does not satisfy most of us forever. Following the Jesus of the Gospels and living the life He taught and modeled (as opposed to other interpretations and models of Jesus), on the other hand, does provide a satisfying life. Then perhaps we will find ourselves sitting with an orphan, a lonely person, a sick person, a person in prison or with a neighbor.

      Whatever church we may be connected to, I am tempted to ask “Are you finding Jesus there? What does that look like? What does following Jesus look like to you? What does your following Jesus look to others?” Perhaps some can find & really follow Jesus in a church of twelve. Some can do it in a church of thousands. Others can do it in a loose-knit community of believers/followers.

      But how, oh how, regardless of the size of the church, can we salve our consciences by throwing a few dollars at the orphans, widows, poor, sick and you-name-it of the world, making only a small dent in those problems, while at the same time pouring billions upon billions of dollars into huge church properties & salaries and boatloads of stuff for ourselves that we do not need? Jesus has a whole lot to say about this that we are pretending not to hear. It’s about more than money, but most of us to tend to put our money and time where our priorities lie. Who among us is immune to being sucked into this by our culture, whether it be the secular culture or the religious culture of which we are a part?

    • Stephen H. says

      The problem with this line of argument is that it’s hard to know where to draw the line. Two-inch padding vs. three-inch padding on chairs for a megachurch is one thing, but what about less extreme scenarios? Is it “shameful,” bordering on “wicked,” for a Christian to buy a Lexus instead of a Toyota, or a $10,000 used car instead of a $5,000 used car? Is it shameful or wicked for me to buy a data plan for my phone for 30 extra dollars a month, instead of sticking with the basic service package? The difference in price could feed a lot of orphans. Megachurches may be guilty of excess in many instances, but buying nicer things for ourselves is not _necessarily_ shameful, sinful, or wicked. We are called to be good stewards. Charitable giving is clearly part of that. But we can’t always say for certain what other Christians ought to be doing with their money.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I think what it all boils down to is “Don’t be Stupid.”

        To paraphrase both St Paul and that Louisiana National Guard General, “All things are lawful unto me, but some of them are stuck on stupid.”

  32. I wonder if (in dealing with such a large number of volunteers) that the reason the services are cancelled is not *really* in order to offer a break the day after Christmas, but maybe to preempt trying to have a service while a bunch of volunteers don’t show up (because they’re out of town and can’t get replacement volunteers or maybe people don’t want to show up). Maybe it’s just another sad part of the reality of megachurches.

  33. In the 1970’s (for those of us who can remember them) the big hue & cry was that we needed more people to be involved. Leadership was tired of having to be the whole show, a one-man band, a jack-of-all-trades ministerially speaking. So voila, a new position was created – the Youth Pastor. With that humble beginning, we have seen 40 years of growing involvement and worship has become far more participatory than it was back when The Old Time Gospel Hour was on TV.

    Now that we have a “cast of thousands” orchestrating a far more engaging worship service than in the past as an antidote to pew-potatoes blandly consuming whatever is dished up to them, people are complaining? Reminds me of Jesus’ complaint to the Pharisees where he said, “You are like children in the marketplace. We’ve played happy music and you haven’t danced, sad music and you haven’t cried.” I guess there’s no pleasing those who are determined to “fix” things.

    To put things into perspective, I would recommend a reading of 1 Kings 7-8 to see what an “involved” worship service looks like. King David appointed whole courses of professional musicians and by the time Solomon built the temple, there was a whole worship industry established.

    And nowhere in the Bible do I see anyone rebuked for it.

    • Well said.

    • There is quite a difference between a national Temple in a theocracy and a local congregation.

    • I also question “a far more engaging worship service”. Really? You certainly can’t mean more participatory. More entertaining, yes. More “professional”–yes. I question if these stage programs can rightly be called worship.

      • Then please define “worship”

        • Rick, I think you and I would differ about that in very significant ways, so I won’t bog down the discussion with a full explanation here. There are plenty of articles in the archives to which you can refer. Suffice it to say that I have come to embrace a liturgical pattern of Word and Sacrament as the most participative and formative way for people to approach God through Christ in the Spirit together.

          • We probably are not as far apart as you might think about that.

          • The Guy from Knoxville says

            Chaplin Mike,

            Thanks for that little post – I have come to that conclusion myself – Word and Sacrament – and that can be acomplished in a traditional church setting/style or
            a contemporary one. I tend to favor traditional but I really like the simplicity and focus on Christ.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says
      • I have to agree with CM here. “Far more engaging” would be relative to the participant, I suppose, but if you really examine the situation, and for a bit ignore music styles, and watch videos of a liturgical, Word and Table centered worship service, compared with a “contemporary” worship service, you will see that the only times the congregation is involved in worship in the contemporary setting is while there is singing going on, and during the altar call (if there is one). In a Book of Common Prayer service, the people are engaged and active throughout the entire service. The longest silence the people experience is during the homily.

        I’m not against contemporary music. in fact, I like it a great deal, and use it, incorporating it into BCP-prescribed liturgy. It’s not about music at all. It’s about people being actively involved in the ENTIRE worship experience. I spent years in large, “contemporary” churches, and just didn’t find it happening there.

        • I’ll add that not only is the individual verbally engaged in liturgical settings, but physically engaged…kneeling, lifting hands, tasting, hearing, etc.

        • Am I “engaged” in singing if I can’t even hear my own voice over the speakers and the drumset?

          • That’s a tough question. You’re probably engaged. But if you care more about hearing your own voice, there might be something to pray about. 😀

            Seriously, though. Yeah. I get you.

        • The Guy from Knoxville says

          Cudos again to Lee – on the music…….. as mentioned above I favor the traditional setting/style (organist here) but in the Word and Sacrament liturical pattern the tradtional or contemporary settings/styles can work very well and it’s simple and the people are involved start to finsh. I’ll take this anytime over the mega contempo style shows and the wanabe smaller churches and that situation (wannabe smaller) is a whole other story for a thread all it’s own!

    • Ditto to Chaplain Mike. The analogy to the Hebrew Temple is inapt.

      And you mustn’t say that worshippers in the ’70s were pew-potatoes. I wasn’t.

    • OT examples are not good models for NT worship. We’re the temple.

      “a far more engaging worship service than in the past as an antidote to pew-potatoes blandly consuming whatever is dished up to them”

      What you describe as “in the past” is exactly what many of us are seeing as the norm now. The zillions of resources in the average megachurch precisely DON’t go toward making a more engaging worship service. They go towards a more entertaining show for an ever-larger group of consumers. This isn’t a critique of Northpoint, but it is a critique of the culture in which it’s assumed that Northpoint-style churches must be Biblical because they’re attractive.

  34. The P word. I’ve been waiting for that ubiquitous Christian swear word to come up. I’m pretty sure Christians on the Internet need a Godwin’s Law, but for Pharisees instead of Hitler.

    Can we please have this discussion without basically saying to each other, “If Jesus was here He would like everyone but you”? Because that’s how he was towards the Pharisees, and that’s the bludgeon we’re using on each other when we make accusations of Pharisaism.

  35. Scott Miller says

    1970’s church probably had a greeter, organist, ushers, and Sunday School workers. Modern day megachurch needs a volunteer for every crazy program and service that the megachurch has to offer (one local church in Wichita even has a bowling alley on the campus). And megchurches need more volunteers to pester people as they come in so they can try to get the visitors to come back.

  36. Interesting thoughts all the way around. I was once involved at a church of about 2000 people, and It probably did take about 150-200 on Sunday mornings to make all of the programs possible. Northpoint, I believe, has about 20,000 people in several different locations, one location as far as 75 miles away from the main campus.

    To contrast, I grew up in a church of about 150 people, and I’ve sat here counting the number of people who served on Sunday mornings…about 15-20. No technology or smoke machines or rock bands…just a little country church. Is it safe to say that it takes about 10 percent of your congregation to make church happen?

    A part of me answers that question with a big “no”. Many churches absolutely program themselves to death…a Sunday School class for every possible clique (most of them poorly attended), two or more worship teams, plus all of the church staff. Then there’s a part of me that believes that we as pastors ought to be motivating way more than 10 percent of our folks to serve in some capacity.

    The discussion about technology is very interesting. In planning an Anglican church plant, I plan to use technology as a money saver…We’re small, I already own a projector, and we don’t have cash for prayer books right now. It only makes sense. I’m not anti-technology, but anti-performance when it comes to Sunday worship. If your morning worship requires a lot of “rehearsal”, people refer to the pulpit area as a “stage”, or if preparing for Sunday worship requires figuring out how to get a back hoe or some other piece of heavy equipment into the sanctuary, then you’ve gone over the edge.

  37. Andy Stanley’s church. It figures.

  38. I think the big program model is why churches have replaced teachings on vocation with teachings on “spiritual gifts”. Spiritual gift surveys are geared toward plugging people into church volunteer jobs, rather than helping members be salt and light in their daily lives. That makes the closing of mega-churches after Christmas puzzling: after telling members to spend all of their time volunteering at church, they are told to take some time off to “prioritize their family”. They seem to be admitting that big-church “spiritual gift” culture is antithetical to the call of the Christian life.

    • Interesting….how would they feel if some of the vol.s , after prayerfully considering their priorities, decided to spend some of “GOD”s tithe” on aged shut in relatives……hmmmmm…… but that’s a different thread….

      • Jonathanblake says

        Actually the pastor who asked for his congregants bank acct. #’s (Ed something) actually spoke against giving the tithe to any one or organization other than the local church itself. In the message he spoke against giving it to a charity that feeds orphans or buying groceries for your neighbor in need because it’s not the “house of the Lord” that they are bringing their tithe and offering into and if they don’t then they won’t find blessing.

        I’m not going to argue the rest but I’m not in this thing for blessing but to do what the Lord Jesus would do (as seen in the Incarnation).

        • Yes. Ed Young, Jr. “house of the Lord” indeed. So much for “living stones.” This is institution/leader centered manipulation at its worst.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Interesting….how would they feel if some of the vol.s , after prayerfully considering their priorities, decided to spend some of “GOD”s tithe” on aged shut in relatives……hmmmmm……

        Ever heard of “Corban”?

  39. This is SO interesting. I hope that EVERY Sunday ALL my people are inspired to SERVE Christ in some way. No church, whether it’s a rural church of 50 or a megachurch of 23,000 in a very large city should have the goal of having the FEWEST volunteers so everyone else can sit on their butts and “worship.”

    Someone bragging that they only have to volunteer once every other month or so??? Um, Christ died for THIS?

    Wow. Just wow.

    • I think loving our neighbors can do far more for the Kingdom than being the first one to open the doors and the last one to leave…

      When I led music and a men’s ministry, and teaching Sunday School, I was in the building or preparing for about 40 hours a month, easily. I was not giving to my family, nor was I available to hurting people who might need me.

      Perhaps the reason that there are MORE people serving now is that people are doing less, but doing it TOGETHER. And realizing that they don’t have to say “YES” to every little opportunity that arises.

      One of the best verses in Scripture is Christ’s telling his disciples to let your yes be yes and your no be no. I think there might be less bitterness in the church if people could learn to accept no – or say it themselves.

    • I don’t know if it’s the fact that people are not inspired to serve, it’s just that people get burned out by all that “needs” to be done to run a church on a Sunday morning. We left a large church after seeing that Sunday mornings was more about “doing church” than worshiping God. Between running the preschool Sunday school (for one service), leading a homeschool group, serving as a high school leader, attending Sunday school classes, and going to special prayer groups, it got to be too much. When I began spending more time at church doing things to make the church run than time with my family, that was enough. Then, there was the guilt placed on me by others to do more.

      Our family found it more important to serve others by taking a meal to a struggling family, volunteering at a homeless shelter, volunteering at a maternity home, inviting others over for a meal, listening to a friend as she talked about going through her divorce, or hanging out with a neighbor. Sitting in a “worship” service to be entertained or be a part of running the show was not serving Christ in any way.

      Acts 2:42 says that the believers devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. It doesn’t get any simpler than this.

      BTW – When I attend my parent’s megachurch (the one that I grew up in, but wasn’t mega at the time), I have to close my eyes during the music. It’s a production. But, I appreciate the teaching so much. It’s very sincere.

      • Jonathanblake says

        I’ve felt the same meaninglessness of trying to find my purpose in running the show for Christ. To me as well it is much more meaningful as a disciple to serve others in the ways you noted. Much of the time trying to run the show left me with little to no time or energy for people or service in the ‘real world’ because I was so involved in the church world

    • Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
      But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

      Surely you see the difference between every Christian being inspired to do something beneficial for the Kingdom in the days to come, and every Christian being distracted during church instead of allowed to focus on Christ. That last is the problem we’re discussing here.

      (Cue Leslie Nielsen)

    • So you believe that “serve Christ” means “be involved in a church service?”

      • No, of course not. But for the people who walk in, sit on their butts, and then leave, SOMEONE had to turn the lights and heat on, SOMEONE had to prepare a message, SOMEONE had to work in the nursery, SOMEONE had to make sure the sound equipment is on and running properly, SOMEONE needs to make sure visitors know where the restrooms are, SOMEONE has to clean up… we can just pay people to do those things, I guess.

        The word liturgy literally means, the work of the people. So yes, worship is about work.

        Worship is not about hearing a message only or receiving only. It’s about giving.

        Worship is 24/7. And service takes place both in the four walls of the church and outside the four walls of the church. It’s all BOTH/AND.

        • >> SOMEONE had to work in the nursery <> SOMEONE had to make sure the sound equipment is on and running properly <> SOMEONE needs to make sure visitors know where the restrooms are <> Worship is not about hearing a message only or receiving only. It’s about giving. <<

          Yes. But it is specifically about giving to God the honor and praise that is due to Him. These administrative works you speak of are worthy, but parking cars ought never to be considered worship. You can say that those works of service are good things in their way, but you mustn’t say that they are worship.

          The underlying problem beneath this whole discussion is whether a church that aims to guide people to a closer walk with God (and knows that many of those people spend exactly zero time with God during the week) oughtn’t to maximize the possibility of sitting and praying and listening and singing — rather than maximizing opportunities to park cars or change diapers or brew coffee.

          • So, would it be safe to say that breathing is not considered an act of worship? Or reading a book to my children? Or taking a meal to a family in need? Worship is not relegated to a particular activity. Heck, I’m worshiping right now by giving honor to God (even if I do so imperfectly). 😀

          • Derek says:

            **So, would it be safe to say that breathing is not considered an act of worship?
            Or reading a book to my children? Or taking a meal to a family in need? Worship is not relegated to a particular activity. **

            Those good and necessary acts are NOT worship. Sorry.

          • Saying ordinary, menial tasks are worship is about like Nick the bartender jingling the cash register and saying, “Look at me, I’m givin’ out wings!”

        • The question for me it, of all this stuff that needs to be done(and volunteering to do it is commendable, as long as you’re not guilt-tripped), what really should need to be done? Much of it my experience seems like a stomach digesting itself. Is worship making sure a Sunday service functions properly? Minimally, perhaps. But simply because people are doing something doesn’t make it necessary. A community gathered around word and sacrament, and that’s about it. I’m not begrudging anyone keeping the heat on, but some places need to seriously ask which of the zillions of things going into a service/production really have to do with word and sacrament, and which are just creating a volunteerism that could just as easily satisfy if they did it at a Justin Bieber show.

  40. I know one thing that has not changed.. Christ!

  41. david carlson says

    Ok, I will be the villain (i.e. the mega church supporter)

    To me, 9 % of total attendance does not sound like a lot of people. Mr. Bell’s church of 150 requires 20% participation to pull off a Sunday.

    If your point is to bash big churches, bash away.

    If your point is how many people does it take to make a Sunday work, then it looks like they are far more efficient than any small church. So, the mega church does more with less.

    • flatrocker says

      I’m sure the Ministry of Efficiency is up for special recognition at this year’s “Lean Worship” awards banquet. Just think of all those human widgets lined up so neatly in the pews. Now if we can just focus on increasing the latte and capucino consumption after the service.

    • Jonathanblake says

      The examples he used were two mega churches just from different time periods. Michael’s example was not a part of the original question or critique

      • Jonathanblake says

        And the mega church from yesteryear required much less people to operate than the one today

        • flatrocker says

          So which one wins? I gotta know so I can send the trophy.

          • Jonathanblake says

            I’m thinking the newer one does because their philosophies of church are different. The older one sought to run an operation which equipped its members for their life between Mon.-Sat. So I’m thinking they might not be as big and flashy productions because their purpose for meeting wasn’t to give everyone something to do to be a part of the ministry because the ministry of the Church is every field that its people are involved (to do those vocations in Christ-like ways, loving God and loving Others)

            The newer one seeks as its telos (final purpose) to involve as many members in the actual Sunday morning production and to make it as big as possible to include all who would volunteer. The ministry of the church is the Sunday morning production it puts on in hopes of attracting seekers whereas the other one seeks to equip its members to go out and be salt in light and see their ministry wholly in their everyday lives where people (seekers, etc.) live

          • flatrocker says

            Funny, I always thought what I attended was “Sunday Morning Worship.” Now I see more clearly the modern church’s focus is a “Sunday Morning Production.” Everyone scurrying about contributing…..

            Reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw once.
            It read “Jesus is Coming, Look Busy”

  42. This is a two-pronged comment.

    First of all, nearly every church in North Georgia canceled services on December 26th, 2010, because snow started falling the afternoon of the 25th and continued until 3 to 5 inches (and more!) covered everything, and everybody knows that Georgia completely stops when anyone sees snowflakes. No dares go out on the roads because of the infamous “black ice”…

    Secondly, having been a technical writer/editor for not one but two large corporations over the years (probably Fortune Top Ten), the “how many does it take to run a church” question reminds me eerily of Parkinson’s Third Law, and even a little of his First and Second Laws:

    1. Work expands to fill the time available.
    2. Expenses rise to meet income.
    3. Any company with over 1,000 employees will generate enough internal correspondence to be self-sustaining, and needs no further contact with the outside world.

    God forbid that “needs no further contact with the outside world” ever describes His church.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      God forbid that “needs no further contact with the outside world” ever describes His church.

      With the rise of Christian Enclaving, it already does. It’s a corollary of the Holiness trope of “coming out of Egypt”, staying uncontaminated by the World’s temptations through separation.

      When you can go from Birth or Altar Call to Homegoing or Rapture (TM) without associating with any Heathens (except for drive-by prosletyzing sallies or Culture War attacks)…

      When you have “Just like Fill-in-the-Blank, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!” knockoffs of everything from Altoids (Testamints) to YouTube (GodTube) to Twitter (Christian Chirp) to Guitar Hero (Praise Hero) to Bodice-rippers (Bonnet Romances) to Justin Bieber…

      There’s no need to have further contact with the (outside) world while you wait for the Rapture. You can keep your nose all squeeky-clean and ace God’s litmus test for getting into Heaven.

  43. No one dares…

  44. I’m not a regular reader, but a friend shared the link and I thought it time to drop back in. I’ve had a few completely different church experiences.

    My first (out of college) was a small evangelical church that underwent a split right around the same time my wife and I wed. We were in the “staying” contingent, which totalled about 50 adults. The model was of the “seeker sensitive” type and we used rented space. That takes a lot of volunteers right there. Paster, his wife, 2nd pastor (seriously?), worship team of about 8-10, setup/teardown crew of 4, sound board and someone to work the overhead projector (yes, with transparencies). There was no Sunday School or Youth Program. Oh, and 1 greeter / usher. Total serving (including paid pastors) 19. That’s 38% of the membership. And yes, if I could go back to those friends, I would, in a heartbeat.

    My second experience was in a largish evangelical independent church that had 2,500 people. Some might class that as “mega”. I’m not sure I would because of the importance of small community groups that were actually geographical in nature. Pastoral staff of about 10. Elders of 10 (who were not pastors) and deacons of about 8. 10 or so greeters and “table workers”. Worship band of about 15. Sunday school (adults) must have had about 15 or so, plus people to bring in coffee, juice, and breakfast pastries. Kids Sunday School had 4 to a classroom from ages 4 – 10. So, that’s about 20-25 more. Nursery had 20 plus director and assistant director (my wife, for a while). That’s about 120 or so. 5 in the sound and projection booth. And I KNOW I’m short the 130 people who led small groups throughout the week. Yep. 10%.

    My most recent experience was in a church of about 150. 2 pastors, 7 elders, 1 greeter, worship band of about 8, 1 sound, 1 projector. And 3 others on the “board”. 2 do to coffee and donuts. 4 for children’s Sunday School. 7 for adult (elders, already counted) 29 total. 19%. And yes, it goes horribly wrong when smaller churches try to go “mega” in their presentation.

    I, too, long for the simple.

    • sarahmorgan says

      as a former worship leader, I concur with how things go terribly wrong when smaller churches (especially in smaller towns) try to go “mega” in their presentations….usually there’s simply not enough talent and technical knowledge (not to mention funds for the expensive gear) available to recreate the show to the level of everyone’s “mega” expectations, and all you get is dissatisfaction from the congregation and unhappiness from the leaders who can’t seem to accept what God has provided them and their small church (which morphs into insecurity at how they’re not as “good” as the megachurches), and extremely low morale among the volunteers trying so hard to meet those expectations and deal with the pressure from the leaders.

      • I ran the sound and video at a men’s retreat a few months ago (privately organized and sponsored). It was decent equipment (not mine – transported by one of the speaking team) and included a PC, a Mac, an iPod Touch, an 8-channel mixer, 2 speakers, a cable snake and a projector. Pretty simple, actually. And there were some technical challenges, but God is faithful and they weren’t debilitating to overcome. There was grace and patience by the men on the operations team, prayer team, and those in attendance.

        I think that’s key. Grace. How much of it abounds in “The Show,” as Laura put it. And yes, I used to be a cog in that wheel on Sunday mornings and bore a horrible attitude when things went poorly.

        Lord, forgive me, a sinner.

  45. Jonathanblake says

    I’m seeing the difference between your two examples. One church saw that the most important thing it’s members could do was to do their vocations in the most Christ like ways possible while the other one sees the actual conducted program as the most important thing its members can become involved in. Interesting difference in their two focuses.

  46. The more we try to look/act like the world, the less effective the ‘church’ is. The church needs to stop being production-based and be Christ-focused. The only message we should be communicating is Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection–NOT, how flashy can we be. Last time I checked, Jesus was not flashy, nor did He advocate that in any way, shape or form.

    • regarding “Christ-focused”, not sure if anyone else commented on this, but in the picture above, is the cross most prominent or the singer on the big screens? At least there IS a cross! I’ve noticed flipping between mass on EWTN and whatever megachurch program is on TBN or Daystar that in the mass, the altar or the crucifix are the most prominent and the priest gives his homily from a pulpit off to the side, whereas in the megachurch services, the stage often doesn’t include a single Christian symbol like a cross and the pastor is front and center (and often big screens display the speaker or singers). It really seems that the services are all about a production with the pastor or worship team as the stars, as opposed to the mass where there is no “star” but Christ. I’m not even Catholic but that difference really leaps out at me.

      • I’m not sure a cross is all that important up front. The cross was where he died. Thousands died on the cross. I’d be more interested to see an empty tomb – or a folded pile of burial clothes.

        But then again, I’m currently out of the box. Wilderness. And wondering what God has for me next.

        • flatrocker says

          Thousands died, but only One died for our sins.
          The defining act of our salvation is Christ crucified, not Christ resurrected.
          Christ resurrected is the ultimate conquering action of an omnipotent Savior.

          I think the saying goes, “He died for our sins.” He wasn’t resurrected for them.

          Maybe the Catholics are on to something.
          Could the ultimate iconic form denoting salvation be a crucifix?

          I’ll keep looking to see if one of those is hiding somewhere.

          • Jesus died for us to have a relationship with God. It’s not about the appeasement of an angry God. It’s about Him seeking US out. If God can’t stand to look upon sin (thank you, evangelicals…), then why was He seeking Adam and Eve in the garden in their sin? He wanted to strip them of their shame so that they may reenter into a relationship with Him.

      • JeffB – I think your insight into what is upfront is right on. Just started attending a liturgical Lutheran Church with a crucifix right in the center of the Church. There’s a reason for that – we are to be focused on Christ crucified for our sins. Along with the crucifix, there is the altar for communion, the pulpit where God’s Word is preached, and the baptismal font. These things form the center of the Church, in more ways than one.
        Once I really started learning what worship is to be about, I found myself more and more uncomfortable with the theater seats glory show entertainment model. This does not give me what I need as a sinner. I now realize there was a reason why I found such services either empty and devoid, left me wanting more, or downright depressing – these overcoming Christians rejoicing do not match my everyday experience. Hearing each week that Jesus died for me, a miserable sinner, gives me hope. I am not the over-comer – He is!

  47. I learned in seminary (can’t remember the source just now) that any time the congregation tops about 500 the form of a servcie will tend towards theatre. I think that remains true. I think much of the difference since the 1970’s and now is the extent to which medium sized and larger churches have embraced the form of theatre, and maybe even become servants of it, rather than being wary and skeptical of it.

    Theatre is an easy way to manage a large gathering. But I’m not at all convinced it’s the best way, and even less convinced that it’s what the church is called to. Worship can be lost by being replaced with mere enthusiasm and pasion and show; community can be lost and replaced with programs and structures; service and discipleship can be reduced to support of church functions and programs; and real growth and reach of the church in the world can be lost and replaced with mere attendance numbers.

    To change this, church leaders will have to give up power and control (they can’t control how their congregants will be the church Monday through Saturday) , be willing to live with uncertainty and some level of messiness (life Monday to Saturday is pretty messy sometimes), and start taking some real risks to help people form a true community of believers.

    Those sorts of changes are more likely to take hold on the periphary of evangelicalism than in its entrenched heart.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Those sorts of changes are more likely to take hold on the periphary of evangelicalism than in its entrenched heart.

      Sounds like something I read from Gould about “punctuated equilibrium” in evolution. How speciation is more likely to take place among small populations in edge/fringe environments; the main core environment (“entrenched heart”) has reached equilibrium and stasis.

  48. It seems to me that many of us want to have our cake and eat it too when it comes to criticizing evangelicals and megachurches:
    1. It takes to many volunteers participating in the worship service.
    1a. It’s a show without enough congregational participation
    2. Too many people on the worship team, so it’s a show and the worship team becomes an idol.
    2a. So let’s go back to liturgical choirs (more people) or Gregorian chant (more people)
    3. Evangelicals are too production-based and focused on excellence and quality.
    3a. So we need more excellent paintings/icons, classical music and a focus on incorporating the arts.
    4. Church should be a small group and should reach the community with Christ’s love.
    4a. Those megachurches have too many programs (like small groups and things that reach out to the community with Christ’s love).

    The real issue is one of intent/purpose. There are megachurches that are very Christ-centered and missional. Sadly, there are many that are focused on growth for the sake of growth and their Sunday performance. There are small simple liturgical churches that are very Christ-centered and missional. Sadly, there are many that are just small groups of people checking the church attendance block, doing rote-liturgy, and not impacting their communities at all.

    Sinful, human nature is sinful human nature. The gathering of God’s people that lets the grace of God flow through them to impact their communities despite that sinful human nature is the true church – regardless of size or style of worship.

    • Very insightful comment Calebite.

    • conanthepunctual says

      It’s also interesting how it seems we swing to extremes. My church is about 900-1,000 attending between three services (the building won’t hold us all at once). We have zero emphasis on the physical growth of the church. We have a worship team that’s usually pretty loud but it’s not over-rehearsed, there are no concert lights, no fog machines, etc. and the altar doesn’t get moved for the band (we just kinda fit the players where ever there’s space). The worship music usually feels pretty raw and honest to me. We often read liturgical prayers together or responsively and almost always read the scripture passage aloud in unison. We also have times of corporate silence before God.

      I guess my point is does it have to be either super-slick or super contemplative? Is there no happy medium?

  49. Perhaps I can offer a little perspective since I have studying the leadership culture of North Point over the last five years and attending their streamed services for a year and a half.

    First – North Point leadership is akin to the Simple Church model which involves a number of tenets – one being that you can increase the quality and impact of what you do for Christ if you do a few things really well instead of offering a million programs for every need. Think of Jesus message on pruning in John 15.

    Second – they also realize that volunteers have limited capacity so giving them a break from their labor is reasonable. Even God prescribed rotations in the Old Testament temple and the principle of the day of rest. As a result, all leaders are taught and modeled to control their time and put their families first. Too many pastoral families have been destroyed, including his father’s, because the church became the pastor’s bride. If it’s 5:30 and you’re in a middle of a deep leadership discussion, don’t be surprised if Andy gets up and leaves to go home to watch his son play soccer or meet his family for dinner.

    Third – their childrens’ programs take up the lion share of volunteers in large part because they do not have a traditional Sunday School environment. Part of the kids’ programs involves sitting down in small groups where they can interact face to face around what they have learned and experienced. And their goal is to have that volunteer stay with the same group of kids until they graduate into the next level so that strong relationships are built and that volunteer becomes a real voice in your child’s life.

    Fourth – the reason why they have hosts and parking attendants is that for people who are unchurched, these practical frustrations can distract from the real message. Have you ever gotten upset because you were late for church and there was a slow driver impeding your progress? So why would we expect more of the unchurched? No wonder they come and visit so many of our churches and leave – we are friendly towards them but everything we do makes them feel like an outsider. NP looks at their church through the eyes of the unchurched – not to water down the message – but to remove obstacles to discovering what their heavenly Father has in store for them. Just think of this – who were the people who were comfortable with Jesus? The people who were least like Him! Jesus erased the barriers that the religious people erected.

    North Point’s goal is not a big church environment. Their goal is not to grow – their goal is to reach. They measure success by how many people connect in small groups so that people experience God in community. Everything they do is designed to move people towards being engaged in those environments rather than sitting in rows which is what almost everyone in this discussion has focused on.

    And more than once, Andy Stanley has challenged the Christians who just wanted to sit there year-after-year and not serve the body strategically to find another church where they can sit in perpetuity as a consumer of Christianity. Jesus did something similar to those who were only following Him to see a show.

    If you talk to the NP staff, they won’t claim that their strategy is the best or the only way. It’s the way that God has called them to reach people and they have stayed faithful to that. And the more they serve and see a connection between what they do and how God uses that to impact people, the more they will be energized and excited to continue. And they seemed to be happy doing it.

    A lot of mega-churches have too many programs, no clarity on the process of discipleship so you end up with duplication which leads to burn out and over-stretched resources. And in those moments, it’s tempting to become enslaved to growth as a way to feed the ministry monster that has been created.

    I have attended a NP strategic partner (independent church that uses NP ministry model and messages) that was less than 400 people in size and it scaled down really well. People seemed to be just as excited to be there and it was obvious that they were reaching people.

    • S. J. Gonzalez says

      But what about the Christians?

      I attended one of the authors’ of Simple Church churches for two and a half years. I served in the most sucessful (i.e. largest) youth ministries in said church. I’ve read Simple Church and Simple Student Ministry. I even interned for the church for six months and even when I stopped interning, there was no difference with the amount of work that had to be done.

      Now reaching out isn’t a bad thing, it’s a great thing. In Ephesians it says that the Church reveals the mystery of God, and 1st Corinthians calls that mystery the Gospel.

      However.

      I’ve noticed that alot of people (and of course, I could be wrong) that endorse Simple Church, the Purpose Driven Church, et. al. seem to have a misunderstanding of four things.

      1) The Nature of the Church

      2) The Mission of the Church

      3) The Nature of the Church Service

      4) The Doctrine of Vocation

      Now you say that Andy Stanley pleads with his congregation to serve in his church. Our pastors did the same thing.

      However the whole point of serving in a local church is to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry, the ministry of reconciliation as 2nd Corinthians calls it.

      Or, again going back to Ephesians, to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel.

      In my old church, the whole point of serving was to set up a revival meeting that would hopefully stir the hearts of the unbeliever and lead them to make a decision for Christ.

      The Christian, as a result, is not fed. He/she is not equipped to do the work of the ministry.

      The nature of the Church is that she is visible and invisible, to use Calvin’s phraseology (of course I know my Roman brothers and sisters would disagree, but I digress). She is invisible because only God knows who the elect are (let’s not get into how the elect are elected right now) and visible as many of the invisible gather to hear God’s word preached in Word and Sacrament.

      As God speaks through the elders and pastors in Word and Sacrament, the saints are equipped for the rest of the week to proclaim the Gospel in their God given vocations.

      However in the Simple Church model, and specifically my church, we said that Christian discipleship was to Connect to God, Others, Ministry, and the World. Noble, yes. But some Christians have no time to serve doing lights or to play in a band.

      Does this make them less Godly?

      No, because the busy graduate student is honoring as he/she writes his/her thesis.

      But people that advocate the corporate model would never explicitly say that vocation is bad, but their actions demonstrate other wise. If Andy Stanley (or my old church) is telling us that a godly Christian HAS to serve at his/her local church or else they’re bad, they’re missing the point.

      But, I am rambling. My whole point is this. The corporate/NP/Purpose Driven/Simple Church model, I think, is wrong. It doesn’t equip Christians to do the work of the ministry of reconciliation throughout the week because the whole point of that model is to be… seeker sensitive. Christians are not fed, they get antsy. I know plenty of people (that serve in high positions in the church, no less) that are severely disenfranchised with the leadership.

      As a result, the committed Christians leave. I did. Now I’m part of a liberal PCA (not PCUSA) church. I love it. God speaks to me and I feed on his body and blood every Sunday.

      Of course I would love to elaborate on question and my experiences, etc.

      P.S.

      I love Internet Monk. It kept me Christian while I served in my old church. I was so happy when I found out I could be an evolutionist and not go to Hell. Or that I could believe in the Real Presence. Or disbelieve in the Rapture and literal millennium. Or that I could baptize babies.

      Plus I felt post Evangelical in my old church. In my new one, I think I’ve found a home.

      Though I must say agree with my Anglican, Orthodox, Lutheran, and Catholic brothers and sisters that there’s nothing like liturgy to take you to the transcendent.

      • Well said. That division between a model oriented to spiritual development of those already professing Christianity versus a model oriented to getting more people to make that profession in the first place is at the heart of so many issues. Of course, no-one would say evangelism isn’t important—obviously not. But the “seeker sensitive” model to me turns Christianity into a multi-level marketing scheme with salespeople who have never really even tried the product—their goal is simply to get more people to buy whatever it is they’re selling. I would not impugn anyone’s motives and say that’s what they’re deliberately trying to do, but I think when one step’s back and looks at the net effect, that’s what it is.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          “Amway without the Soap.”

          “Christ as Amway Upline.”

          “Not one starving man telling another where to find bread, but one fat man trying to convince another fat man he’s really starving in order to close the sale on another loaf.”

          It’s no coincidence that Bill Bright (founder of Campus Crusade and “Multiplying Ministry”, i.e. sheep saving more sheep who in turn save more sheep who in turn…) used to be a salesman.

        • S. J. Gonzalez says

          Right, it’s the net effect that I’m critiquing. A lot of people end up going through the back door because of that model.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Though I must say agree with my Anglican, Orthodox, Lutheran, and Catholic brothers and sisters that there’s nothing like liturgy to take you to the transcendent.

        Said liturgies developed into what they are and have lasted as long as they have for a reason.

      • S. J. Gonzalez, I like what you wrote here: ” I love Internet Monk. It kept me Christian while I served in my old church. I was so happy when I found out I could be an evolutionist and not go to Hell. Or that I could believe in the Real Presence. Or disbelieve in the Rapture and literal millennium. Or that I could baptize babies.”

        Also, I had to look up what PCA is, but now I know. Try putting just PCA in a search engine. Lots of things get that abbreviation! I know you are not the Porsche Club of America, though. 😉

      • You mention the Nature of The Church Service. What exactly is that?

        When I open the New Testament I can’t find anything resembling a “Church Service.”

        I guess that is my problem with most liturgical styles. I don’t feel like there really is any point to actually attending a service. I can simply watch a sermon online, and listen to a Tomlin CD, and get a much better experience, for a far lower cost to produce.

        If church is just a place where we all go, sing music, and listen to a sermon, why can’t we have about 25 of them for the whole country and just watch them on youtube or whatever?

        The first century church was an organic outgrowth of the love Christians had for each other, and for those around them. You didn’t go to “church” to listen to a sermon – you went to Phil’s house to have dinner, and maybe talk about your day. Christ was just part of all of it, just like He was part of the whole day. There wasn’t a 3-point sermon on Matthew 5, because there was no Matthew 5 to read. I doubt they did OT readings much in church either – that was probably what synagogue was for (and who owned a copy of OT anyway?).

        I think we’ve really missed the boat on church…

        • Rich, although I have sympathy with what you are saying, I think you seriously under-appreciate the liturgical tradition of Judaism out of which the church began. When it says the early church devoted themselves to “the prayers” for example (Acts 2:42ff), that reflects the liturgical prayers of the Temple worship. There was both personal fellowship and liturgical structure.