First, note the new signature. On a few occasions now, readers have mixed up James Duncan and myself. While this is much more damaging to his reputation than to mine, a little clarity never hurt.
Now, I’d like to open a discussion about mega-churches. Let me make it clear that I have never heard James Duncan speak against mega-churches. These views are mine and mine alone. He is certainly capable of agreeing or disagreeing with any of these thoughts, as are each of you. I will attempt to put forward a scriptural view of what Church is, and how it should look. However, admitting that some of this is grey area, I am open to correction.
Two straw-men that must be burnt before we can engage in any authentic discussion on this matter:
- There is no concrete cut-off number where a church has become too large. It would be impossible to pinpoint such a number. Thus, forcing me to do so would effectively change the point of this discussion and kill any other argument that I may be able to make.
- To insinuate that large attendance of a particular church is necessary for the sake of thousands of salvations, is to completely misunderstand the nature of salvation, the purpose of church, and the power of the Almighty God. If God can save souls at a certain mega-church, he can also do so at a small rural congregation, or even in some open field in China where there is no established church of any size in sight.
For the sake of this discussion, we’ll use Hartford Institute’s definition for a mega-church, which it gives in it’s simplest terms as a Protestant congregation of two thousand or more regular attenders. Again, don’t get caught up in a specific number, but it will help if we all work from the same definition.
With all this in mind, I will now try to answer:
What is Wrong With a Mega-Church?
- It usurps the shepherd/sheep relationship that a pastor is to have with his congregation. We’ve seen here where some pastors have been down-right scornful with members of their flock who would hope for their pastor to care about them specifically. True, one man cannot faithfully minister to 10,000 people, but a pastor’s heart should be to care for his sheep. Here’s what Andy Stanley said in a 2006 interview with Leadership Journal: “Should we stop talking about pastors as “shepherds”?
Absolutely. That word needs to go away. Jesus talked about shepherds because there was one over there in a pasture he could point to. But to bring in that imagery today and say, “Pastor, you’re the shepherd of the flock,” no. I’ve never seen a flock. I’ve never spent five minutes with a shepherd. It was culturally relevant in the time of Jesus, but it’s not culturally relevant any more.
Nothing works in our culture with that model except this sense of the gentle, pastoral care. Obviously that is a face of church ministry, but that’s not leadership.
I think most of us understand that you can’t just throw out biblical terms because they are problematic to our methodology, but that’s exactly what Stanley has done, as have hundreds of other “pastors” who see him as a mentor. We must change our methodology to fit scripture, even if that means not packing thousands of seats with people you have no intention of ministering to. It only makes sense that a pastor should not be over a congregation that is too large for him to meet their needs. Of course, some of this physical work is delegated to deacons, but if a pastor is to be held accountable for all the sheep entrusted to him, he needs to have a relationship with them. Some pastors may be able to faithfully attend to 1000 or more members. Some may only be able to care for 20 or 30, but if a person is going to church and not being ministered to, they are actually just attending a performance.
- It fuels the cult-of-personality, celebrity pastor driven congregation. The majority of these mega-churches are headed by charismatic, purpose-driven leaders. These guys are very driven towards their goals. I would assume that most of these guys could be just as successful running any business as they have been in running a church. That leads me to ask, is this why thousands of people are showing up on Sunday morning? I don’t recall Paul, when giving instructions to the churches he planted, asking, “Who among you has the most charismatic personalty? Who is the most fashionably dressed? Who has the most clever wit?”. No, the things he looked for in church leaders (listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 ) all dealt with character and righteousness.
- It raises questions about the motivation for a pastor to have such a church. As in, why do you need 12,000 people in your church, 11, 500 of whom you will never have any contact whatsoever? Are you the only minister in your town capable of delivering the Gospel? Isn’t it possible that a large majority of these peoples could be more effective elsewhere, where there attendance will be much more noticeable? Is it a pride issue? Does it make you feel powerful to know their are thousands of souls hanging on your every word? One could assume that a congregation of 12,000 probably pays better than a congregation of 500. Is that an issue?
- It makes it impossible for all attendees to be involved in worship in any meaningful way. The real worship will have to be performed by those on stage, while thousands of others watch from the seats. 1 Corinthians 14:26 paints a picture of all members being vitally involved in a worship service. This is completely impossible at a mega-church. The ministry is then left to the professionals, while the normal people sit and watch. This is also in contrast with Ephesians 5:19. I could also argue that this is against the Priesthood of Believers described in 1 Peter 2:9.
I’m going to stop here for now. If there is sufficient discussion, I may do a series on this, but this should be plenty to get us started.