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There Wouldn’t Be a Megachurch Movement If…

There Wouldn’t Be a Megachurch Movement If…

Blog Post 53 - Painting Church (iStock_000002459773XSmall)

On this 1 year anniversary of this blog series, we’re excited about launching into a new phase and a new approach that we think you’ll love.  From here forward, we’re going to release short, impactful posts that you can read in less than 3 minutes – 2x per week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Our next topic: The Rise of Megachurches and the Role of Small Churches.  Our findings and insights will surprise and hopefully awaken you to new ways of thinking about the church landscape in America – and how to maximize your church’s impact, no matter how large or small it is.

The Megachurch Movement…

…is a RESULT of the Redefinition of “Customers”

Why is the number of megachurches growing so quickly today?

Why are those large churches thriving while small ones are struggling?

We believe it’s for reasons similar to why Walmarts are taking business away from “mom-and-pop” stores in small towns across America.  Our consumer culture has spilled over into our choices of which church to attend.  Churches generally no longer define members as the church and the community as the “customer” (as was the case throughout church history).  As we’ve shown, most pastors instead treat members much like “customers”, more inclined to cater to them than to challenge them.  Rather than churchgoers seeing themselves as the embodiment of church (between Sundays) most act as consumers of it:

  • They leave if they’re not happy with something
  • They shop for amenities, kids programs, sermons and music that suit them best
  • They serve, give and invite their friends to church – and pastors encourage that institutional loyalty

Small churches simply lack the resources to “compete”.  When a new family is seen walking into a megachurch, they nearly always come from another (smaller) church down the road.  Visitors show up because megachurches offer more of all the above than smaller churches.

Churchgoers ARE the church so they shouldn’t think that way – but most do.

If members weren’t treated as “customers” and didn’t feel like “consumers”, there likely wouldn’t be a megachurch movement in the U.S.  If congregants solely attended to worship the Lord, fellowship with a church family and live out the Great Commission, why would they ever choose a megachurch?  Why endure driving a long(er) distance, dealing with massive crowds, parking far from the building and walking down aisles trying to find a seat in a huge auditorium.  Studies show that those in large churches find it harder to make connections, easier to slip out the back door and feel less accountable for assuming any actual responsibilities – in other words, to reap all the benefits without any of the obligations.

If worship, fellowship, discipleship and engagement were their only desires, most of them would still be in smaller church families.  And if members truly viewed themselves as the living, breathing church:

  • The draw wouldn’t be the speaking ability of the leader, the quality of the facilities, how much fun the kids are having, or the amazing performance by the worship team
  • They wouldn’t “shop” elsewhere if sermons didn’t “feed” them or send them home with practical life lessons – because they’d understand the sermon is only a small piece of what church is about
  • Their focus would be on what they can do for the Lord and not what the church is doing for them
  • They would no longer see what they do for their church as the full extent of their personal ministry – because they (and not the institution) are the “church”

CAPITALIZES on the Redefinition of “Customers”

Once churches begin to realize “economies of scale”, most take advantage of that competitive advantage.  In leadership meetings, they discuss strategies to beef up kids programs and enhance facilities they know smaller churches simply can’t match.  Certainly, the arguments for those improvements are couched in spiritual terms but large churches always want to become larger.  Each must examine its own heart to ensure that Kingdom-building outweighs empire-building.  Three reliable litmus tests for whether a church’s plans are anchored in making disciples or attracting consumers are:

  • Is that church also taking advantage of its scale to maximize its impact on the world around it – equipping and mobilizing the congregation effectively to Prayer, Care and Share lifestyles?
  • Is it “selling” Invite, Involve, Invest – the “rallying cry of the internally-focused church” – as its primary growth strategy?
  • Is its local missions approach based on transactional, big-splash events that build brand recognition – or on relational, behind-the-scenes, year-round compassion that convinces the community that it truly cares?

It’s Your Turn

Do you agree that the advent of the megachurch movement in America is largely an outgrowth of our increasingly consumer-driven culture?  If not, please explain why.


23 Responses

  1. I too have left the small church and stepped over into this new paradym type shift only to find myself missing something. That… being connection, unusual moves of the Holy Spirit I experienced in the 90’s. And yes it appears in many of these church’s there is not as much accountability and loose lifestyles. I am more open minded in my 60’s but I still believe in being Christ like and holiness.

  2. While I agree with what you said, its not true for every mega church. And the same would be said for small churches. All small churches don’t have on a corner on proper fellowship, accountability and following the great commission. Many small churchesd are small SIMPLY because they want outsiders to mess up their little family.

    I think both have their pros and cons based upon the person, not the size of the church. I have been in both and I have grown (and been disappointed) in both. People are people, regardless how big or small the church.

    Remember, Jesus preached to 5000 or more than one occasion. And he spoke to as little as 12, too.

    1. Good points, Bryan. I agree that the framework doesn’t apply in every case. Some small churches have the same issues (and other issues that most larger churches don’t face). I’ll be diving deeper into those topics over the next few weeks.

  3. See Brandon O’brien’s book — The Strategically Small Church! About the things smaller churches do better or well!

  4. What if . . . Small congregations and Mega congregations partnered?
    What if . . .
    •M-C sent scores of their members to S-C to serve 6 month, 12 month internships that matched their gift/passion profile, as a way of disciple-making of both the recipient and the intern?
    •M-C sent worship teams to S-C for the length of a sermon series?
    •S-C utilized M-C training events to equip their members in teaching and reaching?
    •M-C invited S-C pastors to a quarterly “staff” meeting and served them in a coaching role?

    Could that result in S-C remaining small but getting healthier? M-C moving more members from passive to active?

  5. Oh the anti-mega church commentary. This is a lost and dying world. There are millions to be reached with the Gospel. If Small churches were so effective, they wouldn’t remain small churches.

    1. Hi Phil. I am one of your online students so really appreciated this. I like your stftrgharorwaid comments and style. In a recent post, you said you like to do sports photos. Is there somewhere I can look at some of them? Thanks/Butch

  6. I went to a mega church for a while. I would have much preferred that they had blanketed the city with church plants. It seems so ego centered to stay huge instead of going where there are no or not many churches. (They did do a few church plants). One of the arguments by the head pastor was, “We can do so much more ministry, because we are large.” My response would be, “Ok you are large and you have started many good community outreaches and ministries. You are like the mother-ship. Now saturate the city with lots of small churches that can take those good ministries to many more people.” While researching mega churches I came across a pastor that wrote about never thinking they would be a mega church, all of a sudden they were a mega church…. people that had gone to seminary were setting up chairs… he said, “If we had planted churches we would have had somewhere for those seminary graduates to serve (as pastors,etc.)

    1. Great comments, Mo. In fact, you’ve hit on a key topic that we’ll be addressing in this Thursday’s blog post. We’ll discuss the “footprint” occupied by churches of different size – e.g. are they building “skyscrapers” that are large but have small “footprints” or are they spreading out and “taking ground” across the city?

      1. live longer / Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I’ve really loved browsing your weblog posts. In any case I will be sunbiribcsg in your feed and I’m hoping you write again very soon!

  7. Many small churches, though, are their own worst enemies. I have a heart for small churches, but serving them and trying to help them grow can be an uphill battle. Many seem open on the surface, but underneath are very closed. Trying to change things that need to change can be next to impossible, because they prefer the comfort of the familiar. There is normally one or two families who run the show, and woe to the leader who doesn’t do things the way these families want them done. I agree that mega churches have issues, and I think that smaller churches are more conducive to what the church is supposed to be. But while I love them, small churches are often chasing people away as much as mega churches are drawing them.

    1. Mike – Very true. We’ll be discussing some of those pressures and influences that are unique to small churches in a couple weeks on the blog. Sincerely appreciate your thoughts on that topic!

  8. when did the argument ever become about big or small. Some “mega” churches do an amazing job of engaging and equipping their folks and some don’t. some small churches do a good job of making disciples and some dont. God called each local church to be a light in their community. He never said anything about the size of the light. He said everything about the quality. Big, small, medium, those are all determined by us based on our understanding. You can have a lot of people and still have a small view of God. You can have a very few and have a grand view of God. Instead of arguing big or small. Each church should discover how God designed their DNA. Divine Normal Arrangement. Making disciples is the mission of the church. Do the best you can with the opportunities Jesus puts before you. I do believe Paul said I planted Appolus watered and God gave the increase. It is the difference between. busyness and effectiveness.

  9. I think you are very correct in your assessment. I believe we (in America) have redefined what the primary mission of a church is. Somewhere along the line Ephesians 4:1-16 was tossed out the window and it became about us 1st and God second.
    The text however tells us the primary mission of the church is first to Glorify God and then to edify the body of believers. The means of doing this is by preaching the Word of God. The bible also clearly tells us that there are principles by which the church should operate and worship God.
    Instead church big and small have looked to this trendy program or that to attract folks, and people bounce from church to church (pastors too) looking for that feel good experience.
    Seriously, we need to be more like the Puritans and get on our knees and ask God where we belong and in what church He would have us serve Him. That applies to the pastor down to the grandma. Its not about us, it can never be about us, it has to be about Him. Soli Deo Gloria

    1. She is beautiful. Look at those eyes! The next Gerber baby. :)Enjoy!Your Friend,Deborah Fao.mieldHiuseNJrcofPS When you get a chance stop by and meet my baby.

  10. Large church overhead = more drive to get tithes, which leads to more tithes being spent on infrastructure. It is a snake swallowing a snake. The early church is the best example. Small groups meet in homes. Disciple newborns. Newborns grow and ween from milk and get meat and tators. Hopefully make new converts. Holy Spirit rinse and repeat.

    When I was a pre-teen, we would meet in fields, forests, and lakes for baptism. No electronics needed.

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Root cause for the Church's decline & its path to Revitalization

“Any organization not focused on its customers, or focused on the wrong customers, cannot succeed.” – Jim Morgan