Church R Us

Within a 30-40 minute drive of my home, there are at least 3 non-denominational evangelical megachurches with multiple sites. (If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of multi-site churches, you can learn more here or here.) Detractors use words like “McChurch” or “Microdenomination” to describe these efforts, while champions of these plural congregations celebrate the big church/small church organizational benefits inherent in their franchise structure.

What’s interesting about the multi-site megas in my area is that at least 2 of them could be doctrinal clones of one another. The third is only-so-slightly more theologically-liberal, but not enough for the average churchgoing Harry or Mary to detect any signficant difference.

There is a growing national impulse among these mega/multis to join forces. Because video preaching is the centerpiece of Sunday morning services in these congregations, I’ve heard recently about the “lead communicators” of 4 multisites across the US agreeing to develop a month of joint messages, and broadcast these messages at all four (times the number of sites joined to each) of their churches.

Where I live, there is an increased focus on high-level communication between the enteprenurial, organizational visionaries of these mega/multis. The stated goal is cooperation, of coming together as one in order for mission across the Chicago area. The communication has an additional plus – they’re discovering, perhaps, as a mega/multi lanches a satellite church, they’re planting in the previously-claimed geographical turf (parish for the new millenium) of a nearly-identical mega/multi church. It’s happening here, and I’m sure it’s happening lots and lots of other places as well.

So, this leads me to wonder today….
…how these eerily-similiar non-denominational churches won’t become a denomination, perhaps with soul-patch wearing hip execs, contemporary practice and savvy business structure than the old institutions they didn’t want to be (“not church as usual”).
…if maybe this might be a good, more honest thing for all of us.
…why the whole thing makes me feel a little patronized. Should I?
…where the balance is between organization and organism in these discussions.

Any thoughts, readers? Help me think and pray through this.
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About Michelle Van Loon
  • Michelle Gregory

    I’m not sure what I think. The church we formerly attended has turned into one of these. I’m glad I don’t go there anymore. In fact, the church I’m in is as far from that as possible. We are a new, small (30 people at most right now) fellowship, waiting on God to hear what he wants us to do, growing in a way that’s often messy, usually full of grace and acceptance, and always beautiful.

    But not everyone fits in a church like that. I’m glad there’s something for everyone.

    Michelle G.

  • Michelle Van Loon

    I love your description of your church, Michelle. My husband and I were a part of a home church for a leg of our journey, and I think I’d describe the experience just as you described your small fellowship.

    Though we don’t attend any of these mega-churches, we have some significant interaction with people from one of them, and other relationships with people from the other two. And I want to make sure I’m speaking in a helpful way when conversation moves into this subject area.

  • –julie

    I think it’s safe to say I attend one of the churches you’re writing about. For the most part, it is a good, growing experience for us. We do still have trouble being in a church that is not congregational…which I think speaks to your question about organization vs. organism.

    We end up needing to trust our leaders, and I/we don’t always trust that they’re mistake-proof, and there’s no place to talk about this….our input isn’t really wanted. Feedback, sure, but not input. I think it’s taking some time getting used to a pastor-driven church, rather than a congregation-driven church which is all we’ve known until now. Does that make sense?

    And this whole non-churchy business is a little silly sometimes. It’s just the new way of being/doing church. Non-church is the new church.

    When I’m wondering about these things, I still go back to the Henry Blackabee study, “Experiencing God,” which said (something along these lines) that you oughtn’t start something and ask God to come and work in it and bless it. Rather, go to where you see God is already active, and join Him. We do continue to see God at work in our church, wounded people are finding healing, lost people are finding God, I am given opportunities to be the hands and feet of jesus in my community, and my children are in the Word and learning important scriptural principles.

  • Sallie

    The mega churches–whether single or multi site–don’t appeal to me at this stage.There was a time when they did,though, so I try to resist the temptation to say I’ve “grown” past that stage, as though I’m more mature than those people who attend a big box church. In every aspect of life, it seems there are some people who are wired for a big organization, and some gifted to lead organizations of that size. But I have come to realize I prefer the village-scale life, and that includes the scale of church I prefer. Megachurches and their leaders may be no better or worse than small churches, but their sheer size gives them a bigger voice and higher profile, so both their vices and virtues are magnified. I think it takes especially wise, humble leaders, and gallons of God’s grace, for megachurches to handle that amplification well.

  • Mar

    I am left wondering what happens in settings where messages are pre-prepared, even purchased, rather than received from God for a particular time and a particular congregation. It seems that a “pastor-driven” church would have a shepherding mind-set — wanting to know who the people are, where the struggles are, and what particular food is needed for them. I also think these pastors are missing out on an experience of waiting on God, seeking His mind, and waiting for His answers for a particular people. It also prevents a pastor being real about his own journey and struggles and faith-fights, because he doesn’t need to share anything of himself. Would a canned message delivered by a hired speaker be just as effective? I just see nothing of a pastor-shepherd model here…

  • Michelle Van Loon

    Great comments all y’all.

    Julie, your thoughts about trust – and the difference between input and feedback – very helpful. And you’re right to notice the signs of growth in yourself and your family in this setting. Participating in a church with an assertive growth vision can spur you on to personal spiritual growth because you’re a part of the team. I’ve been a part a large church and know how a compelling corporate vision can catalyze a congregation.

    Sallie and Mar, I hear you both. I do have to say that pastors of smaller churches use other gifted communicators’ material for their sermons (sermoncentral.com, books, commentaries – and in the case of a a few pastors, using the sermons of others without clueing in the congregation that they’re using someone else’s material). But both ofyou have hit on a big topic: the difference between a pastoral gifting and an organizational (administrative) gifting in running a congregation. Both of you have expressed your desire for an organism (a village – love that picture) rather than a spiritual organization. I’m there, too. But I love people in the organization, and want to be a blessing to them, even though the organizational structure surprises and confounds me.

  • Suzanne

    I’m not a big fan of the big-box churches. I can’t always tell why, either. I’ve never been affiliated with one, although I’ve known many people who are. Some of them are quite sincere, but the driving force behind their lives seems to be the church, not the God behind the church. They seem drawn to the feeling of success, the coolness (after all, these churches are almost always upscale, upper-class type operations), the awesome adrenaline rush the services give. They do much good in our world, don’t get me wrong. However, I am bothered by the sense that they think people will be drawn to the church by wanting to be as wonderful and awesome as the church members are, and not so much by realizing that they are full of sin and their only hope is in Jesus Christ.
    The other issue is that many of these churches grow by leaps and bounds, until another church opens that is even way cooler, and more “outside the box”, and less your grandmother’s church. When the focus is on the medium, the program, or the structure of it all, you will have to keep reinventing yourself to keep boredom at bay. Things soon become a game of one-upmanship between churches competing for members and money. Maybe that’s what this spirit of cooperation is really all about: fending off the competition.

  • Michelle Van Loon

    Suzanne – I think you’ve put words to something for me: the wow/cool factor, and a potential motivation of fending off of the competition.

    Boy, it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of a beautifully presented vision for Ministry – and allow participating in that activity to equal membership in the kingdom.

  • Michelle Gregory

    Michelle,
    I’ve tagged you with a meme… if you have the time to play along.

    http://michellegregory.blogspot.com/2008/04/6-random-things.html


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