Today I noticed in that Facebook within a Facebook that we all hated about a year ago that one of my virtual friends liked a mega-church’s local campus in her neighborhood. I’m glad that she likes it. Really. I am happy for her.
Maybe it’s a church that she can attend and be faithful and happy and bear fruit.
But, probably not.
Without getting too snarky, the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. Like that nasty espresso that I had a few months ago that still makes me want to scratch my taste buds off.
That neighborhood doesn’t need another church. It’s overrun with churches as it is.
So, idea of a church planting its imperial flag in a neighborhood that has absolutely no shortage of good gospel preaching churches strikes me as the wrong sort of kingdom building. Why not Cambodia or Saudi Arabia or anywhere but in the suburbs of a major city smack dab in the middle of the Bible belt? This kind of church planting is brand exportation and fan club recruitment. Plain and simple.
It’s Wal-Mart putting the Mom-and-Pops out of business. It is Darwinian survival of the fittest, only worse. We’re talking churches here, not macro evolution theory.
I know that I’m generalizing, but it reeks of expansion in the name of evangelism. Mega-churches draw all sorts of people, including people from other churches. I posit that a significant part of their membership will inevitably include people who had previously attended smaller congregations. The “mom-and-pop” churches can’t keep up with the Wal-marts.
Some studies suggest that between 3500-4000 churches close each year in the United States.
And, from my experience, it has very little to do with the pulpit and what’s taught in it.
Instead, it’s more about programs. Truthfully, from my vantage point, it’s all about programs.
The small church that I used to pastor in the States regularly had families with children visit. Most often, because we were a small church, the families didn’t stay. It was always the same reason. There aren’t enough kids (or programs for kids).
Churches that seat thousands have so much more to offer than those that seat a few hundred, but that’s not necessarily meant as a compliment. At best it’s a neutral statement. It’s true, yes, but should churches be in the business of offering something to people as if they were clients?
I like to tell our tiny congregation in northern Portugal that what we offer people is a place to serve. We’re becoming less and less about this ministry or that ministry and increasingly more about opportunities for people to serve others. We look at the church as a place where people come to give, not to receive.
Little by little the adults are getting it, and it’s trickling down to their kids too. Almost half of those that show up for evangelism are teens, who want to be there. They didn’t come just because Mom and Dad drug them along.
But these campuses or spin-offs do have a certain draw. Most times the draw manifests itself in any combination of three areas.
Music. Professional quality, performance based music draws a crowd, without question. It’s the bread and butter of the Driscolls and Hybels. Sadly, today it doesn’t even have to be music that glorifies or honors Christ. (Case in point.) A concert style atmosphere certainly draws a bigger crowd than a true worship service. Here’s one good rule of thumb. If the congregation can’t hear itself singing, it’s probably not worship.
A personality. A larger than life persona broadcast on giant screen, just like in the movies. However, the sad truth about these pastors is that they will never really pastor 90% of the congregation. Now, it’s not the pastor’s fault, but neither should anyone fool themselves into thinking that they have a shepherd that leads them. They have a CEO. They have a face on a big screen that they will probably never know on a personal level.
A sense of anonymity. They can blend in and hide. No one knows if they’re there on a weekly basis or not. It obviously creates an accountability problem. I know that people get plugged into small groups and Bible studies, but the dominant mentality in this kind of an imperialist church is that there exists safety in numbers. Safety to be anonymous. Safety from accountability.
So what should be done? In the least, we should junk the mindset that a church is the same as a large corporation. The two are extremely different and should be treated as such. Additionally, I believe that we should remember one thing.
Sheep are accountable to pastors. Consumers are in no way accountable to CEOs.
I have no idea how this particular imperialist church invasion will take place. Will it be a building with a huge monitor that pipes in the services via satellite from the main campus 30 minutes north? Will there be live worship with the video of a celebrity pastor, in the vein of a giant Advocare meeting? Or, will the ministry who is branching out do everything on site, transplanting philosophies and ideas while actually trying to start a church?
I don’t know, but one thing they should do is make sure not to harm any nearby ministries in the process.