Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Megachurch Question - Part New

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.

God bless!


rev-ed said...

Hey, Ron! Good to see you survived the winter!

I was mentioning to someone earlier this week that the prefix "mega" has a mighty nasty connotation. We were talking specifically about "megafarms" but the principle applies to megachurch also. Perhaps it should just be referred to as "the M-word" ;)

Mega + big, and many people have a big problem with big... especially small people. Small is seen as intimate and appealing while big is cold and uninviting. At least that's what a good number of small church attenders have voiced to me. More people means more problems. I think perhaps they are looking for a little more privacy in heaven, or something like that.

Bigger churches infer that they are doing things the right way. We all want more people to come to Christ, right? Instead we make excuses why our church isn't "mega" like the other church. And in those excuses we come up with the idea that the megachurch has sold out the gospel or that somehow it isn't Scriptural to have that many in a church (the first part of Acts notwithstanding).

Granted, some of the megachurches have some questionable teachings, but for the most part we criticize the big because we are failing to further the Kingdom. Those megachurches are making us little churches look bad. We can't have that.

R. Stewart said...

Heh, yes, I survived winter. Softball season starts this weekend, so I think I'll be good to go now.

Interesting perspective. I do think that some people are uncomfortable with the size of a church being too big because they just don't like being around crowds. That's fine, and a preference; as long as they're not criticizing a church that is large, I'm okay with that. The number of attendees has nothing to do with how well a church is accomplishing its mission. Small churches and big churches are all important to God's work in whatever He's called them to do.

But there is a tinge of either resentment or judgmentalism that some Evangelicals have when talking about megachurches that I do have a problem with. That's what I hope to address. I'm also pretty sure I won't end the debate by putting forth my opinion.