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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gary moore (Guest) 18/03/2009 10:59
like most things theres both good and bad.
i've been to a number of very large congregations and its been great..others havent been so good.
same with smaller. Its what happens within the body of the congregation that matters.
We dont hear of any problems with big churchs in china which are sometimes in the 1000+
Peter Carr 18/03/2009 12:58
"We dont hear of any problems with big churchs in china which are sometimes in the 1000+"

That doesn't mean that there are none, where there are people there will be problems, the young church in Nepal proves this!
John Parker (Guest) 18/03/2009 13:51
The "big churches in China" must be the state-approved ones surely? The truly evangelical church in China is underground and - whilst numbering in millions - could never function in the way megachurches (or any other Western churches) do.

Big churches are not necessarily wrong. But when these are built to bolster egos and/or pander to self-indulgent "comfy" Christianity then that is a problem. Basically big churches built without the Lord's clear direction (and provision) will always be vulnerable. Indeed any "man-driven" venture will be.

It's all in the parable of houses built on sand (or mortgaged future income).
gary moore (Guest) 21/03/2009 16:52
like i said..theres problems with both big and small.
I find it hard to undestand why we always seem to almost enjoy pulling down anything bigger than we are used to.
Rick warren congregations seem to get along ok as do many others. Its just the few who cause the rest to look bad.
As for china...the church there is way more effective in the spreading of the gospel then us by miles and i'm glad that they dont function as we do here!
Peter Carr 21/03/2009 18:14
I don't think that you are making a fair comparison between the UK and China. They are worlds apart, socially, politically, culturally, financially etc.

Here there is tolernace, apathy, complacency concerning religion, there just the oppposite!
gary moore (Guest) 23/03/2009 09:26
all very true peter..but people are people the same the world over, subject to the same things as anyone else, including temptation to do as pleases.
Peter Carr 23/03/2009 09:56
"all very true peter..but people are people the same the world over, subject to the same things as anyone else, including temptation to do as pleases."

If you mean by this the universal effect of original sin, then yes they are. However, there is a vibrant and relevant Christian witness in this land despite the lack of real opposition, despite the relative ease in which we live.

No matter our own personal experiences of church, Lord Jesus is building it as promised, and it is coming more to the fore with the current moral/financial crisis the UK and the remainder of the world finds itself in!
Editor 30/10/2010 23:30
Crystal Cathedral goes bankrupt:
Peter Carr 02/11/2010 10:24
Matt 7: 24 - 27

The Wise and Foolish Builders

Jesus says, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Martin Lisemore 02/11/2010 11:42
If we understand that to be the same storm striking both houses, then Jesus words and imagery become even more powerful.
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