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