A while back (oops! a loooong time back) I raised a question about the megachurch "movement" in America, and whether the criticism of megachurches is valid. I'd like to get back to that today as a way of...I think this is called blogging, but that would imply a more frequent rate of posting. At any rate, I'm going to kick this series off.
Willow Creek. Saddleback. Lakewood. North Point. What do most people think of when asked about this list? For some these are the names of famous churches. For others, these are the churches associated with a famous pastor. Some are associated with books written by staff members or pastors. For most of us, these are all examples of what is called the megachurch.
By some definitions, a megachurch is any church with a regular attendance of at least 2,000 people in worship services in a given week. Many, like Willow Creek, are independent of a denomination. Modern American media services and mythology also associate megachurches with the Republican party, or the "Religious Right." Hence some megachurches are seen suspiciously by folks on the left side of the political spectrum. As to those criticisms, most are often leveled at conservative Christianity as a whole, and so are not specific to megachurches. As a whole, I'm not going to look deeply at those criticisms because (a) I agree with criticism of a church that delves too deeply into politics, and (b) they are not specific to any particular form of church organization. Small churches can be too political, as can liberal/mainline churches. As I'll touch on later in this series, churches are not political tools. When any local church steps outside its purpose it's bound to encounter problems.
What I really want to touch on in this series is why conservatives, or evangelicals depending on one's classification, so often have problems with megachurches. There are two general principles at play that I'd like to explore in this little conversation. The first is that Christians are to judge their own. We should be discerning and diligent not to let either doctrine or purpose slide. The second, though, is that we should show love and grace in matters that aren't critical. Where do we draw the lines in the megachurch question.
I'll admit this topic isn't burning across Evangelicaldom, but it is of interest to me and so I'm going to think out loud about it. I hope it's interesting, and please do feel free to chime in as you see fit. As always, politeness and civility, grace and charity in commentary.