Thursday, March 15, 2007 and megachurches part two

Here is part two of the responses to my OpEd about megachurches. For an explanation see part one of the post.

Posted by Leonard

Friday, March 02, 2007 at 12:47 PM

Jan, forgive me if I seem confrontational, I hope not but you stuck a nerve in me. My response is in GENERALITIES. “The small church has what the mega-church does not - Community.” I disagree. This is a myth I believe simply because we do not understand what true community produces. True community produces good deeds everywhere that fosters good will in the hearts of the lost and the found which opens the door to the good news. Acts 2 reminds us that no one had needs – Good deeds. The favor of all people was on them – Good will. God added daily – good news.

Small churches, for the most part, are small not because they offer community but because they are closed systems of relationships, opportunity and feed a more spiritual sounding consumeristic need.

The small church has no more community than the large church has, in fact it would be my experience as a pastor that the small church lacks community simply because it lacks what true community produces. Small churches do not offer more intimate relationships they simple offer smaller environments in which people consume. Small churches do not have dynamic small group ministries where people share life together. They do not have higher service ministry ratios, they do not have higher giving ratios, they do not possess the things that true community produces such as a passion for the lost, a hunger to see God’s work done.

“As a small group church leader I want the consumers to go...” As any church leader we should want the consumer to consume the very things that would change them from a reservoir to a river. The problem is not that people consume, it is what they consume. Jesus knew this when he said come to me a drink, come to me and consume could be read there. Are we as church leaders willing to quit looking at the size of our churches from the large, small, mega perspective and grab a hold of a God sized, compelling vision that cannot be resisted. May it be in a positive way Turkish Delight to our souls in that the more we eat the more we want.

Finally, here is my thinking about consumers and shoppers. I cannot control what people want to eat. My son did not like eggs until dad fixed them his own special way. Now he says to me, “Dad, can you make me some special eggs?” He did not like rice until dad fixed the rice in a flavor he truly enjoyed. What I have control over is how the meal is prepared and how the meal is served. I believe many people shop and hop because we have not figured out how to prepare a meal that is seasoned with God’s grace and truth. We have not figured how to present such a meal in an appealing or appetizing way. I actually don’t think about the consumer as much as I think about the meal. The meal is our vision of who God is and what he created us to do. If this is crystal clear, people will still consume it and the result will be kingdom impact and God’s glory.

Jan, I know that this is more than likely what you were saying and if not once again I apologize for my abruptness. God bless all of you today.

Posted by Dan Moore

Friday, March 02, 2007 at 5:38 PM

Big always comes across as better and successful in the American culture. With a growing nation, there are going to be growing churches. Do big churches grow at the expense of small churches? Some do and some don’t. Are some small churches “stuck on small?” Yes. Can you find community in big and small churches. Yes. I have been a member of a church of 2,000 and a church of 12.

One thing mega-churches do well is that they become “hiding places” for people who are hurting and leave a small church. This is not always the small church’s fault. I have known couples who were experiencing the process of divorce quiety leave their small church of many years and go their separate ways to mega-churches. Just one example. There are more dynamics in play that this article attempts to describe.

Posted by Jan

Saturday, March 03, 2007 at 9:34 AM

Good points Leonard.

I guess what I meant to say is that the advantage of a small church is that they can more easily offer community.

We can easily incorporate our youth for example into our services, and spontaneously go out for coffee as a large church percentage. And if a small church takes advantage of that, they can tap into the community at large’s desire for community and real relationships.

We go out to eat just about every Sunday after worship. And over half of our congregation comes with us and hangs out for several hours. I don’t think any mega church could say that. There may be groups of people who hang out, but inter-generational spontaneous community takes work for a big group. It takes time to organize people and advertise and make phone calls. 10 minutes and the whole congregation knows we’ve decided to go for something.

I can remember sitting at meetings and trying to come up with a plan for our large church to break out of their little groups. Here, we’ve got Grandpa teasing the little kids, going out to eat with them, playing games on Friday night with them. Along with grandpa and a couple of kids are a high schooler, a junior higher or two and two Busters. We don’t see youth sitting as a separate church under the balcony together. They are taking offering, standing up to read scripture, etc. They are sitting in leadership planning sessions, out witnessing with adults and coming up with strategies to reach our neighborhood for Christ.

Last week a high school girl came and told me that our church was the most exciting place to be and she couldnt’ wait to get there. We have NO youth group. She attends the women’s Bible Study. But she’s excited about her faith and growing the kingdom and can’t wait to come. There’s no clever programming here to win the youth over. It’s pure community in my opinion, plus passion for Christ.

And you are right, it’s not ALL the consumers that I want to see go. It’s the long time Christian consumers who intend to leave anyway when they find something better. But meanwhile, they are intent on demanding their pet program and keeping things the way they’ve always been.
The I will never be happy, even if I get my way, but I do enjoy being a pain person.

I’ve seen this type of Christian consumer leave, and sit in a big church and not have the forum to cause trouble and be demanding. Unfortunately, usually this type of person returns to the small congregation where they can wield their influence to their heart’s content.

We’ve just lost these types after a 4 year struggle. PRAISE God! We are seeing individuals making life decisions for Christ weekly now.

And hey Leonard, a good confrontation is healthy once in awhile! No offense taken here at all.

Posted by Dan Moore

Saturday, March 03, 2007 at 10:28 AM

Leonard, I know you are speaking in generalities. I guess I did not attend those churches that fit your “generalities” as my experience was different. You do make one solid point - we cannot control the desires and wants of the “consumer” - but we can control what we do. Jan’s take on small churches fits my experiences. We don’t have youth programs or singles programs or much more than worship and Sunday School. We our best to engage the singles, youths, and seniors in creative ways. We were losing children in our Awana program when they reached the age of ten so we surveyed our children. We had a very successful VBS and decided to ask what they liked about VBS. We took their ideas, scrapped the Awana program, and now have a children’s ministry that keeps children up through junior high. All without compromising the Bible teaching necessary for their growth. As a result we have added a couple of new families each year because we care to listen and engage the children. Being a small church has helped because our culture now is able to be flexible and adjust to meeting changing ministry needs.

Posted by Jan

Saturday, March 03, 2007 at 10:11 PM

Dan, we are getting rid of our Awana program for exactly the same reason, and that any older kids involved are all kids from other churches. At 10 we lose all kids who come from the community.

Sorry for the off topic!

Posted by Jim

Monday, March 05, 2007 at 2:19 AM

"Get the spirit” (comment 2) - you really articulated a fantastic synopsis of what I have observed as well. I served for years on staff in a rather small (250-300) church that had been plateaued for the majority of its history, and now serve in a growing body of around 2500 (mini-mega?. Your points are dead in line with my experience in both situations.

Another interesting thing I have observed is that the larger church has held staff for longer tenures. We have had 4 pastors in 50 years, and many of the current and past staff members have served over a decade - half almost two decades.

While I expected the working environment to be more stressful at a larger church, in general, I found the opposite was true for me. Greater staff allows for more specialization - this helps at least a little bit to stave off quick burnout. I don’t have to be all things to all people like I did in a smaller church.

There is alot more activities in the larger church, but that’s to be expected as you grow. Most ministries are started out of a sincere desire to reach folks and/or serve the body. Just because a group of members is having a Tuesday night Sweater Knit for Third World Poodles doesn’t mean you have to attend. Now in a small church they’d be asking “Where’s the pastor - doesn’t he know that the missionary’s poodles get cold in Romania?” Tsk, tsk.

Posted by Noel

Monday, March 05, 2007 at 9:30 AM


Read Thomas Ranier’s excellent book “Breakout Churches.” One of the things he talks about is the length of tenure with senior leadership in churches. Apparently, every church he surveyed that “broke out” had leadership that had been there for decades.

Two of my co-pastors have been with our church since its inception in 1977. They were on the original church plant team. They bring such a great sense of history and experience with them. That balances out my impetuousness and inexperience.

Posted by David Charlton

Monday, March 05, 2007 at 10:24 AM

The comments to the OpEd I wrote have been very interesting. Those of Leonard, in particular, have been of great interest to me (a very insightful guy, although I am certainly in disagreement with some of what he says). One thing I have observed, however, is that the response of some has been to automatically criticize smaller churches. If someone wants to write an article that is critical of small churches that is fine; there are plenty of things to criticize. I have been the pastor of my small church (150 - 200 worship attendance) for over 15 years and I can give you plenty of ideas. But criticizing small churches in the context of discussion of my OpEd still does not address the issues that I raised. To criticize small churches wanders from my original question of the implications of large churches. Small churches may also have spiritual consumers, but when you find it on the scale of megachurches, that has greater implications for the gospel, for the Kingdom of God and for how society views churches.

Posted by Leonard

Monday, March 05, 2007 at 12:12 PM

David, let me try to respond to your piece. You state: “One of those implications is the damage suffered by all of the smaller churches that serve as the source of members for mega-churches.” And you state: A large portion of the growth of mega-churches—perhaps the majority—comes as a direct result of people moving from smaller to larger congregations.

The damage suffered is a dramatic statement that in my opinion blames the mega churches for the failure of smaller churches to reach people for Christ. The average church in America is 85 people. It reaches 1 person for Christ per 100 people in attendance. That means less than 1 person per year is coming to Christ. In the average church in America. 50% of all churches led no one to Christ this past year. Is the Mega-church taking the people who would lead someone to Christ in the small church and that is why they are not? Is the mega-church responsible for this or is the smaller church and it’s leadership? You site the growth of mega-churches is from the small church. But of the small church is not reaching anyone for Christ, yet sustaining numbers even despite the loss of people to the mega church, where are those people coming from. The answer, from other churches. The small church benefits just as much, if not more from member transfer than the mega-church.

Your article states that one implication of the Mega church is the “the creation of the religious consumer.” All people are consumers. The mega-church did not “create” the religious consumer. This phenomenon is just as prevalent in a small church as a mid sized church and in a large church or a mega-church. You show no evidence that the mega-church created the consumer as you state. What if sin created the consumer?

What if my neighbors desire to see his kids find safe, healthy activities and his marriage to be healed and the addiction to alcohol broken could be met in a church that had the ability to offer programs designed for kids during the week and a ministry for struggling couples and a recovery ministry? Is it the Mega churches feeding the consumer or is it the mega churches meeting a need a church of 85 cannot?

Your article states: The result of this shift has been the decimation of countless smaller churches and the decline of community-based congregations. Just as more and more businesses succumb to the “big box” retailers, increasing numbers of small churches are losing members to the “big box” churches. And just as the loss of local businesses hurts neighborhoods, so does the decline of local churches that serve the communities in which they are based. Could it be that the decimation of smaller churches is not the fault of the Mega church but the fault of leaders who have lost God’s vision to reach people for Christ, grow them to maturity and then empower them to lead? Could it be that the smaller church primarily seeks to grow people to maturity while talking about reaching people for Christ?

David, your piece states implications of the mega church but those implications are all negative and can be directly attributed to other factors. In fact it is my belief that other factors are more to cause than the mega-church but the mega church is easier to blame. That is what I felt your piece did. The responses here on MMI were in answer to Todd’s question. s this a fair treatise of the ‘mega-church’? Or is it a public whine session from the pastor of a smaller church? So our responses while not to your piece directly are to Todd’s question.

I guess you could say I disagree with you on some points here.

Posted by Jan

Tuesday, March 06, 2007 at 1:52 PM

Sorry but I can’t let you get away with this one:
“But of the small church is not reaching anyone for Christ, yet sustaining numbers even despite the loss of people to the mega church, where are those people coming from.”

Our little church of 40 has seen over a hundred individuals make decisions for Christ in the last 6 months. Too much generalization in my opinon. Area and culture make a big difference.

We are in a post-modern affluent community. It is like pulling teeth to get someone to walk in the door of the church. So, our small church does a lot of transfer growth, new people go and then move out the door for somewhere more inexpensive to live, as more come in the door.

Or we have loooooong term ministry. It has typically taken about 3 years from the time someone makes a decsion to the time he or she walks in the church doors.

Posted by Juan Montoya

Tuesday, March 06, 2007 at 3:13 PM

This conversation is one worth having and I appreciate the different thoughts shared.

I would only like to add one thing.

There seems to be an assumption that people who leave their smaller communities to attend megachurches are going for the “show”. There has already been enough conversation regarding “spiritual consumerism”.

But could it just as simply be that they are going where they feel they are being spiritually fed best?

Often it comes down to the quality of the Word that is preached and the impact it has on their lives. That has nothing to do with the biggest facility or best music. Just who is helping me live more like Jesus?

If people are driving two counties away to attend a place, perhaps it’s because they are being fed and experiencing true community.

Posted by Leonard

Tuesday, March 06, 2007 at 8:04 PM

Thanks Jan,

I appreciate the conversation. As for me, those statistics do not come from me but from the web site I linked and other peoples work on churches. I stand by the figures. We have had over 225 people make decisions for Christ in the past 30 months. Your church nor mine is the norm. Statistically speaking the average church is about 85 people. statistically speaking about 1 per 100 people in attendance make a decision for Christ. 1 - 100, 2 -200, 3 -300 and so on. Statistically that means less than 1 persons per church in this country makes a decision for Christ. Over half the churches in this country did not lead anyone to Christ in the past 12 months. That is over 200,000 churches reaching no person for Christ. When they grow, where do those people come from? Other churches. What this means is that small churches maintain and or grow by and large off the people that come from other churches.

The article states that large churches suck people out of little churches and I believe the word was damage. Truth is all churches gather people from other churches. There is a re-alignment of the sheep going on all the time. I am not judging the re-alignment but too often the small church pastor does. I am judging the lack of impact. For crying out loud, the king of the universe lives inside us, the creator of everything seen and unseen is our master, the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is at work within the church and over 200,000 churches did not reach anyone for Christ. No wonder Mark Driscoll cusses (insert a winking, smiley face here)

If pastors and Christ followers who make up the majority of the church in this country would stop whining about the mega-church and it’s damage, quit debating over labels of emergent , modern, missional and the likes in order to simply ask, no beg, God for the privilege of sharing Christ with someone we could literally change the world. But what do I know, I didn’t go to seminary.

I say praise God for your church and for it’s impact. May that kind of church increase.

Posted by Jan

Tuesday, March 06, 2007 at 8:56 PM

"If pastors and Christ followers who make up the majority of the church in this country would stop whining about the mega-church and it’s damage, quit debating over labels of emergent , modern, missional and the likes in order to simply ask, no beg, God for the privilege of sharing Christ with someone we could literally change the world.”

I think we have a lot in common Leonard

I say a hearty AMEN!

Posted by David Charlton

Sunday, March 11, 2007 at 9:23 PM

I appreciate the reactions to my OpEd piece on megachurches, although I believe many people have misunderstood what I was trying to say. To imply that I was engaging in public whining or just reacting with sour grapes has been very distressing to me. It’s obvious that we are going to have some disagreement on this topic, but unless I am asked a question directly I am going to try and stay out of the remainder of this discussion.

Posted by Leonard

Monday, March 12, 2007 at 12:30 AM

David, I asked 7 questions in my previous response to your post but you say that there are no direct questions. Could you answer those? I am not trying to argue with you I just think you make some bold statements and use words that are inflammatory. Could you please re-read my post and answer some of my questions.

One reason I am going at this is that for a long time blame has been set at the feet of large churches and never once have I read a smaller church pastor say, “I might be to blame or at least a big part of the reason we are not growing.” You see I did pastor one of those small churches and I was more to blame for our lack of growth than any other church. In fact, no church around me had any influence within our walls. Here are some additional questions.

David your article uses words and phrases like “damaging” “the decimation of countless smaller churches” and you lay at the feet of the mega church the “creation of the religious consumer.”

Do you think that in light of this discussion that those words might be too strong?

Do you think that the local small church is much more responsible for it’s impact and growth than the mega church?

How responsible is strong leadership for the size and impact of the small church?

How does a strong pastor with a strong vision from God impact a small church?

Posted by David Charlton

Monday, March 12, 2007 at 10:40 AM

Leonard –
I did not say there were no direct questions; I said that I was not going to respond unless asked any more direct questions. In response to your most recent post, here goes –

First, I believe you are arguing with me, which is fine if that’s what you want to do. I sense that you are wanting to make a point about small churches that goes beyond the issues I have raised in my OpEd, which are about megachurches. I again emphasize an earlier statement I made that criticizing smaller churches is really not a response to the issues I have raised about megachurches. If you want to criticize smaller churches I encourage you to write a post specifically about that issue.

You write – “One reason I am going at this is that for a long time blame has been set at the feet of large churches and never once have I read a smaller church pastor say, ‘I might be to blame or at least a big part of the reason we are not growing.’”
Are you wishing to wring some kind of apology or confession out of small church pastors? Would you like a small church pastor, such as me, to make such a confession? Personally, I will do no such thing. For one, our small church is growing. There are many reasons why, and I will not take the credit (although plenty of people want to blame pastors when churches don’t grow, as your posts demonstrate). During my tenure, our church has more than doubled in worship attendance and added many new ministries to our community. The assumption is made – far too often, in my opinion – that small churches are not growing. This is simply not true. One of the issues that must be taken into consideration here are basic demographics. A church in a small rural community of, for example, 200 people is not going to become a megachurch. It is reasonable to conclude that a church in a city of half a million or more will have a chance to become a megachurch because demographics can work in their favor. And when we compare small churches to megachurches, let’s compare apples to apples and not apples to oranges. Our church, for instance, in a comparison of worship attendance to population drew almost 23% of our community to worship. The closest megachurch compared at a little less than 8%. Our per capita giving was about 2 ½ times that of the closest megachurch. So are they more effective because they have larger numbers or are we because we have better percentages? I’m not trying to say we’re more effective than our neighboring megachurch, I’m just saying there are other ways to look at whether or not small churches are growing or reaching their communities, as you seem to be implying small churches are doing neither. And why are you so insistent on wanting to blame small church pastors? Over the years I have watched with great sorrow as many dedicated and Jesus-following pastors have been abused and mistreated by their congregations. The reality is that probably no pastor can grow some small churches as they (the congregation) are so lacking in vision and love for their community. I believe that strong pastoral leadership is of incredible importance, but a church can grow even if it is lacking such leadership. I am sorry if a church blamed you for a lack of growth. If they did, I would say that they did so unfairly. It’s very easy for a church to blame their pastor in order to avoid taking any responsibility for their own lack of vision, love, etc.

Do I think words such as “damaging” “the decimation of countless smaller churches” and the “creation of the religious consumer” are too strong? No. Our neighboring megachurch has at times aggressively sought to take our members. If people from our congregation want to go to the megachurch that is their choice, but we do not target members of other churches and I believe it is wrong for any church to do such a thing. Furthermore, I do believe that the move in our society toward consolidation, which is what much of the megachurch movement is, has created some damaging dynamics that we must begin to consider. Ten or twenty years down the road, when the megachurch movement has aged a little more, we may see other dynamics that move us away from megachurches.

“Do you think that the local small church is much more responsible for it’s impact and growth than the mega church?” I believe every church is responsible for its impact and growth, no more or less than any other church.

“How responsible is strong leadership for the size and impact of the small church?” Strong leadership is incredibly important in any size church, and it is important to have strong leadership among pastors, staff, and lay members of the church. The leadership dynamic is different in small and large churches though. In small churches, leadership is generally very pastorally oriented while in the megachurch it is more like that of a CEO directing a large company (and I’m not saying that in a negative way; simply as a way of finding a comparison).

“How does a strong pastor with a strong vision from God impact a small church?” A strong pastor with a strong vision from God is going to have an impact on any size church, although the dynamic for how that vision is shared and carried out is going to be different in large and small churches. The pastor of any church should be a person of vision and engage in vision casting on a regular basis, but it’s a vision that cannot simply be of the pastor but must be one that is in keeping with the vision of God as demonstrated through the life and ministry of Jesus. I’m currently preaching a series called The Dream of God, which is a series about vision and I’m using significant events from the life and ministry of Jesus to give us insight into the vision of God.

This is a long reply, and I have yet to respond to your previous post. I was out of town last week and did very little responding to anything but will respond soon. Right now I am out of time and will have to respond to the other post later. I realize some of what I have written here may sound abrupt, but I am trying to answer as directly as possible.

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