Related Post (and update of sorts): Revisiting my Mega Church “Feelings”

Over the past several years, I have developed a rather negative opinion of mega churches. Much of my negativity revolves around what I have perceived as mega church self-importance. Further, the resemblance to our “super size me” culture has stigmatized mega churches in my eyes.

After a late night—and rather intense—conversation with Ann, and after some thought, I have come to the conclusion that my general dislike of mega churches is based on a stereotype that needs to be unpacked and examined.

Sheer size.

Assumption: A congregation with thousands of regular attenders cannot have the sort of communal feel shown in Scripture.

In his book, The Search to Belong, Joseph Myers describes four relational spaces: public, social, personal, and intimate. While it is true that one cannot have intimate or personal relationship with a gathering of thousands (or even hundreds), one can have social or public relationships in such a church. What I object to in ANY church is the assumption that public or social space is sufficient. It is not. Churches of any size must actively and programmatically encourage regular attenders to have healthy relationships in all four spaces.

Maintenance mentality.

Assumption: The size and complexity of the institutional structures of a mega church require too large a proportion of the available resources.

Maintenance mentality can be found in all sizes of church, from smallest house church to largest mega church. This is, therefore, not a mega church problem, but a church problem. A maintenance mentality does not merely refer to proportions in the budget. It more accurately refers to the ends at which that budget is directed. The question is whether programs are focused on maintaining a comfortable refuge from the world or on equipping Christ-followers for mission. The budget (and other) proportions may appear exactly the same in a maintenance church as in a missional church. The most important difference is not found in the budget nor on the calendar, but in the daily lives of the people: are they proclaiming God’s reign 24-7 or are they soaking up religious goods and services?

Imitate me.

Assumption: Mega churches hold themselves up as formats to copy.

Materials produced by some mega churches (on the pretense of helping the little sister) do seem to package the “mega church method” for smaller church consumption. Smaller churches are equally at fault in that they purchase the “method” rather than doing the hard work of seeking God. Of the three critiques (size, maintenance, and imitate me), this critique remains—but it is as much a critique of the imitators and it is of the imitated. Size is only one criterion of success, and then not the most important. The most important criterion is how well the local church fulfills its mission to proclaim God’s reign in its community. It must not be the programs or methods that are imitated, but their obedience to God’s command and reliance on the Spirit.

So, what is the bottom line? I am finding that I do not object to the mega church, per se. What I object to is the human tendency to equate size with success, self-protective clinging with faithfulness, and rote imitation with God-following. I willingly admit that there is nothing unbiblical about the mega church. On the other hand, given our “super size me” culture, leadership teams in mega churches (and, in fact, in all churches) must take special care to create room for all four relational spaces, must intentionally—and repeatedly—focus on God’s mission, and must actively pursue God’s ways for their particular community context.