Christian Life 

Megachurches in meltdown?


by Watchman



Megachurch1It could well be that the current economic crisis is a blessing in disguise; in one area of church life at least.
Trends in UK churches have a habit of following developments taking place on the other side of the Atlantic, and one of the significant features of the last decade or so in America has been the growth of the megachurch. (Indeed the term ‘giga-church’ is now being used.)
These churches, typically having around 2000 plus members have been proliferating to the extent that according to one survey there are more than 1,300 of these gargantuan congregations in the US. An almost universal feature of these churches relates to the fact that they are established in very wealthy heavily-populated urban settings.


Whilst it is encouraging in any situation to see church growth, it is most likely that many of these large congregations have drawn Christians from much smaller churches. Critics of the megachurch trend have argued that by creating a campus-like environment of village-sized proportions these churches have adopted structures, management and marketing policies which are indistinguishable from secular models. There is also the suspicion that these ‘Walmart’ (or in UK terms ‘Tesco’) churches are driven by the Babel spirit of ‘big is better; and biggest is best’ whilst offering ‘entertainment’ and pandering to self-gratification rather than spiritual challenge.
According to one mega-pastor:
The cost to our children and smaller congregations...
Piggy BankAdditionally many believers are concerned that the cost of these super structures are effectively mortgaging their childrens' futures, whilst also denuding smaller and less-affluent congregations of income, support and membership.
Also megachurches which often reflect the personality-driven 'celebrity culture' of our modern age as very vulnerable to sudden collapse if the 'personality' moves on or falls from grace.
However, and apart from these vulnerabilities and problems, it looks like the crash in the global economy is also causing the megachurch train to hit the buffers. And this might be no bad thing. Given that sociologists have found that the maximum size of a people group which allows for strong social cohesion is 130, it would seem that true Christian fellowship might be better fostered by groupings that are considerably less than even many smaller congregations.
Certainly this might be the thinking behind one American pastor whose ‘church growth’ policy was to divide his congregation whenever it reached around 50 families so that a new fellowship could be planted. Of course this 'staying small' model of building the Kingdom flies in the face of the secular criteria of ‘success’ which so often would appear to have infiltrated the church of Jesus Christ.
The current economic meltdown has exposed the corruption, pride and greed which is endemic in the secular business world. It could also be serving as God’s corrective to the church. And at least some megachurch leaders are now starting to question the model of super-sized gatherings as a reactionary move to monasticism is, according to at least one American writer, ‘something God is doing across the American church’. Small, it seems, is becoming beautiful again.
So whilst the days of the megachurches might be numbered, the promise of Jesus remains. He WILL build HIS church.

Ed footnote:
The current financial meltdown may be challenging the 'wisdom' of erecting new church buildings with borrowed cash (Deut. 28:12; Prov. 22:7).

Watchman, 16/03/2009

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Rosemary Cameron 05/11/2010 21:30
Hmmm yes - I can think of a couple of churches I used to go to where the standard of living of the Pastor was considerably more than most of his congregation. These were the same churches which were taking out mortgages to pay for elaborate buildings. (Or, in one case, the manse!) I don't go to that sort of church any more. Funnily enough there was a real emphasis on tithing, to the point of legalism!

However I do recognise that ministers need to have an office or study in their home unless one is provided in the church building, and I don't think ministers should be poorer than most of their congregation.
Martin Lisemore 05/11/2010 21:59
Rosemary, I've followed your published links on this website to find you are an artist. I know in my heart, you profoundly appreciate and understand our Father's creation through Jesus.

I can't understand at the level you do; but many of my revealing times have been in isolated places I've been, and that's in several countries.

My chief point in the post above is to separate the soulish from the spiritual. Leave the buildings aside, get real, get with our God where He is.

No one is ever going to hear us or see us while were stuck behind church walls. It's out in the community, our towns, villages and cities that we will be seen and heard.

One thing I didn't say then, but comes to mind now. Why are we so ashamed of our Jesus that we need to box him up in a building, reserve Him for those who dare enter?

Some long time ago I was challenged by a Bishop in the Church of England early one morning as he was jogging. He asked, what should we do to reach people? I answered, close the cathedral, have every service on the market place, and sell the land for a camp for Gipsies! Unlikely, yes, but it happened to me. We never spoke again!

I guess that's going to start a furore!

Alec (Guest) 05/11/2010 22:13
Rosemary, just out of interest, I did a Google streetview of Dunfermline and sure enough, the St Andrews Erskine church outside the Kingsgate is for sale - and looking very dilapidated. Ralph Erskine is still standing there though....

But more seriously, this problem is everywhere.

On a positive note however, I found the website for the church that used to occupy that old building and yes, they did relocate to a new much more suitable building, in a housing estate. Full marks for that one. A much more sensible idea.

Interesting that if you look at most modern Free Church buildings - Smithton, Perth, Kirkcaldy, Falkirk - they are all modern sensible very functional designs - in the places they are needed

Nothing to do with theology - just thoroughly practical use of funds / stewardship.

Martin - I like your message to the Bishop - soemthing tells me that Jesus during his earthly ministry would have said something kind of similar! What applies to "rich men" (Mark 10:17-25) I am sure also applies to churches!
Peter Carr 06/11/2010 06:25
Rosemary said, "...I don't think ministers should be poorer than most of their congregation."

Ministers are called to model Christ to others.
Iain Tait (Guest) 06/11/2010 13:36
The only 'ministers' Christ knows is the every-member whole-body ministry within the priesthood of all believers.
The clergy-laity model is a human distortion of a biblical model. That is the model that we need to adopt and present (in Christ) to others.
Martin Lisemore 06/11/2010 16:15
Iain, you're correct in every detail. However, we are the inheritors of a clergy laity system in most denominations. It's the Roman model which persisted through the Reformation and into it's daughter institutions.

Its worth noting, if I remember correctly, every Revival or move of the Holy Spirit such as Azusa Street, Wales etc has begun with a whole body ministry, and later morphed into other things.

I'm aware there are occasions when a full time paid ministry is necessary but when it becomes clergy-laity in the fashion of the C of E, then I can't see that is what the Apostle Paul gave us. A minister is a servant, not a prince of the church.

The entire Body needs a better understanding of the New Testament Church and it's structures and ministries. And here I'm not advocating a first century Church.

I sincerely believe as we return to our first Love, in genuine repentance and brokeness we will see His will in the Body and what follows will amaze us. I'm not speaking of the Restoration Movement.

Peter Carr 11/11/2010 10:44
Iain said, "The only 'ministers' Christ knows is the every-member whole-body ministry within the priesthood of all believers. The clergy-laity model is a human distortion of a biblical model. That is the model that we need to adopt and present (in Christ) to others."

Yet it is strange that the Lord Himself still sets some apart to do specific work;

Ephesians 4:11-12 (New International Version)

"So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up"

Martin Lisemore 11/11/2010 13:20
Peter, that passage is included within the New Testament model of the Church (Body).

The problem, when we get to clergy-laity, is that the clergy assume all offices and ministries unto themselves, only occasionally delegating downward. This is their power base. I'm not saying this is the case in every fellowship. but certainly my experience in very many places.

Please, Peter, correct me if you feel I'm wrong. We have developed national, and supra-national, church institutions - the Church of England would not exist in a New Testament structure. New Testament practice was, as I understand it, local, affiliated fellowships, not national institutions. At best, and it's a very poor second best, the Church of England must be described as the Church IN England.

My understanding is we have historically given the Lord a vehicle to work with, national church institutions, and left it to Him, expecting the same results as in the New Testament.

It's tantamount to strange fire.
Peter Carr 11/11/2010 16:32

I can only answer for what goes on in my own local expression of the church universal!
Martin Lisemore 12/11/2010 00:19
Peter, nor could I ask any more.

Please remember an earlier post of mine; I do not condemn, just report my experience and observations. These do not conform to the New Testament model, and I don't believe we may expect a New Testament Church experience if we don't conform.

I'm not a restorationist, I just believe with all my heart, if we would even begin to order our doings according to the New Testament model, such would be the glory to Jesus ... which, after all, is in a large part, what we are about, and is a large part of the work of the Holy Spirit.

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