Mega Church Myths (and a hint to some friends who need to read this one)

Mega Church Myths (and a hint to some friends who need to read this one) January 13, 2014

From Carlos Whittaker:

Go to the link because for each he also has the “Truth.”

Myth: You can’t find real relationships in a mega-church

Myth: Mega-Churches are a mile wide and an inch deep.

Myth: Mega-Churches have it all figured out.

Myth: Because they pay musicians to play on Sunday morning, there is not as much “heart” on stage.

Myth: Mega-Churches are built on a man. The main communicator.

Myth: Mega-Church staffs are cooperate, non-relational, and stiff.

Myth: Mega-Churches are too uptight with their money and should just give it all away.

Myth: Mega-Churches should spend their money rescuing orphans with all their dollars instead of building fancy buildings.

Myth: 70% of all male staff try to look like Rob Bell.
Truth: OK. You got us. This one is true.

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  • Tim M

    I’m not convinced by this guy’s points. Though, what is the definition of a mega-church? Over 1,000 members? I guess I’m part of one too, but the service I go to only has maybe 300 adults in it, which feels pretty tight-knit, at least for the California evangelical world.

    My question is, why wouldn’t the congregation split off into two smaller entities if they are greatly above capacity during worship services? My hunch is because most mega-churches become a personality cult: they come for the teaching pastor. So no way would anyone want to split off because everyone wants to hear the trendy and eloquent teaching pastor!

  • Larry

    Certainly there are more substantial problems with the typical mega-church expression and the mega-wanna be churches than the straw man erected by these “myths”. Try these: Heavily influenced by our consumer culture. More church oriented than Kingdom focused. Failure to see church as a means to an end not an end in itself. The “one” is often lost in the numbers game. Too hierarchy in ecclesial form and structure. Lacks creativity in worship form and building relationships— one size fits all. Their missional emphases seems to expect a reproduction of the mother ship and assumptions about “growth” rather than an understanding and immersion in diverse cultural contexts. Usually MC appeals to those more steeped in American culture and the symbols of the Empire rather than seeing themselves as an alternative culture witnessing to an alternative reality (i.e., Kingdom of the heavens). Discipleship emphasis is more on believing the right things rather than cultivating a way of life that crosses borders and follows the radical Jesus to enter the space of the nobodies and those on the margins and naturally bent toward the poor and oppressed by a broken system. Mega churches tend to produce good church people who will defend their ecclesial turf with fervor, but too easily lose sight of systemic forms of injustice in there own neighborhood. Their recruiting propaganda too easily assumes that all life’s problems are resolved by a personal embracing of Jesus as Lord— without spelling out what discipleship really looks like beyond attending church, reading the Bible, and praying. These are just personal reflections and experiences within the Mega church culture that are not myths but challenges that come with the turf.

  • Ed Gentry

    All of that is easy to assert. But that’s all that it is an assertion. It would be more helpful to explain why these are myths.

  • My biggest criticism of mega-churches is that they have never seemed like families to me. It’s too easy to be anonymous, too easy for people in it to not notice the sheep who has gone astray. In theory a church could install face recognition software to track everyone and automatically notify the assigned elder if someone has missed more than one church service in a row but… that seems more like big brother than shepherding. :-p It just seems that it’s harder for mega-churches to be home to people.

    I’ve stood around with nobody walking up to talk to me more often in larger churches than smaller churches. I’m a bit of an introvert, so I am not naturally ebullient around people. In smaller churches, there just seems to be more of a mentality of going up to people standing alone and including them. But perhaps this is convolved with other influences on the type of people who are more likely to go to a small vs. large church.

  • Dianne P

    Well said! Of course, Rick, not all descriptions fit all things.But personally I haven’t seen one that doesn’t fit all or most of this.

    Larry has done an outstanding job of unpacking the myths. And where there are long lists of myths that need to be denied, perhaps there is more truth than myth.

  • First and foremost, there are more people to know at megachurches. Supposing that said statistic really is meaningful, there’s a reason I mentioned all of what I mentioned; the statistic you cited only gets at a small bit of it.

    Second, perhaps my introvertedness is one of the reason I’m in the 36%. 😐

  • Dianne P

    I don’t go to church to “hear” anyone other than the voice of God. Firstly, I go to worship. Secondly, to be a part of the church in community. Love God. Love people. The homily is an important part for me, but not the primary part, so enjoying the teacher is not something I understand. Rick, I may be misunderstanding you, but you seem to characterize things in the extreme… throwing MCs under the bus… is that wrong… I’m not throwing anything under the bus nor saying that wanting to hear good teaching is wrong. Nor that someone else’s form of worship is “wrong”. I have read Scot religiously (ha ha) for years now. But to me, that is not worship. And as a liturgical gal myself, just sayin’, I don’t understand worship as a paid and mike’d band and singer(s) on a stage followed by a half hour teacher. For me, that seems more like entertainment than worship. But that’s just me. And perhaps a few others as well.

    As an aside, I had heard that Tim Keller does not reveal when he is preaching as he does not want those coming to church to hear him. If still true, kudos to Keller. But I do think it speaks strongly and sadly to the issue of the celebrity pastor.

  • Steve Johnson

    I’m sorry, that article proves nothing. So one person found 3 others who came to his living room. So he, as staff member, feels that he goes deep in the church. So he thinks “ummm” proves that the mega-church staff are not corporate. I think he was trying to say that his gangsta self didn’t fit the corporate mold, but he seems pretty corporate to one who wants a home town kind of guy.

    If anything, Los Whit proves to me that his perspective is a mile wide and an inch deep because there isn’t much to think about in their. Just his personal observations.

  • Phil Miller

    I’ve been ignored in churches of all sizes… 🙂

    I think anonymity or relative anonymity is actually one reason people like bigger churches, and I can understand it to a degree. I grew up as a pastor’s son in a small congregation, and when I left for college, I started attending a much larger church (not officially a mega, but pretty close). I was happy that not everyone knew me or my parents.

  • Jean

    Agree Larry! The one thing I would add is that there’s an assumption in some Mega churches that their numbers prove that they are doing everything correctly and the smaller churches are “dead”, and so everyone should leave the smaller churches and join the Mega church.

  • Ed Gentry

    He isn’t making points. He is just asserting something to be true, or in this case false. I don’t think this post is worthy of this blog since it doesn’t give any reasons.

  • Why anonymity, though? That seems kinda opposed to kingdom of heaven ideals…

  • Phil Miller

    Speaking for myself, I’d say at the point in my life I was referring to above, I just wanted to experience life out of the fishbowl for a while. I was involved more in a campus ministry (not connected to the church) during those first years, but I really didn’t connect with anyone in the church. I went regularly, but I didn’t really feel the need to get to know people that much because I had relationships with people at school. I think it just depends on where people are in life.

  • Why did you even go to church if you weren’t part of the community, and were part of a different one?

  • Phil Miller

    Because the campus ministry met on Thursday evenings, and I guess I felt I needed to be at a “real church” on Sunday mornings. It was pretty common for students there. I did know a few people at the church. I just was never that involved for the first few years. I eventually did get more involved, though. I served on their worship teams for 7 years, and my wife and I actually became their campus pastors for 4 years.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “Mega-Churches should spend their money rescuing orphans with all their dollars instead of building fancy buildings.”

    How is this a “myth”? . . .it’s an opinion. And yes in my opinion, the excess many (I’d wouldn’t be afraid to say most) mega-churches show in the amount of money they spend on lights, gadgets, and real estate is disgusting.

  • Al Cruise

    If you want give your hard earned money to support the high costs of running a Mega Church fly right at it. Some questions for you. Are you going to have money for retirement ? How about medical costs when your old? Who’s going to help you if you end up broke? Awe don’t worry about it the government will look after you. But just a second, what if the far right tea party get in power and cut off all social programs. Your still OK some Church’s still care for the homeless. Yea give the Church more, give till it hurts. The helicopter needs new rotors.

  • Mark Stevens

    Because of experiences in my past I have been guilty of mega-church bashing. Maybe its time to stop attacking the labels (mega or small) and start critiquing churches generally without labeling them mega-church problems (we should also celebrate more things about the church). I’ve been in plenty of small churches that have the same issues as mega-churches. While I would not like to personally attend a mega-church again it doesn’t make them wrong. Just a thought. 🙂 . .

  • Phil Miller

    I imagine, though, that when you look at the math based on cost per attendee per year, that many megachurches would have a lower number than smaller churches. Even though overall, their operating costs are much more expensive, they do get to take advantage of economies of scale. In other words, it’s probably cheaper to operate one church with 5,000 people in it than 50 churches of 100 people each.

    And as far as excess, just because churches are small doesn’t mean they’re immune to it. I was called out to visit a small Episcopalian church last week for work to consult on a potential design project. The sanctuary could maybe sit 150 people. The kind lady who showed us around informed us that a few years ago, one of the wealthier member donated $400,000 so the church could install a new pipe organ.

  • Gene

    It’s a myth because it implies that Mega-Churches are cost inefficient. I’ve pastored small and medium sized churches (only attended, not pastored a few mega-churches), and if you want to talk about cost inefficiencies, then you should see what happens in the small church. One congregation I remember in particular when I arrived had a $60,000 budget for an average attendance of 60 people, and only $200 was allocated for Christian education, and $1600 for all missions combined. The majority was eaten up in just maintaining the institution itself. Any unspent funds were continually salted away for “a rainy day” — in other words were intended to be spent on themselves in the future as well. On the other hand, the closest mega-church to me worships 1800 on Sunday, another 600 during the rest of the week, and has a budget of $2 million, of which fully 1/4 is spent in ministries outside their four walls serving people in their local community and around the world. Plus, many people volunteer their time and personal dollars in ministries outside of the budget, but organized by the congregation.

    I’m not advocating against small church when I say the above; where I serve now couldn’t make a mega-church if everyone in town were to worship in one central community church. But it is wrong to simply look at the building and think they are wasting money. Because of economies of scale mega-churches can sometimes be the best stewards of God’s resources.

  • Gene

    Sure you’re not going to know as large of a percent of the congregation in a mega-church. But you might actually know more total people in aggregate. Neither is a significant factor for me. I’m more concerned about the degree of initmacy that one develops within the congregation and the level of connectedness that one can find to people who will help nuture one another in the faith. And I don’t find that size of congregation has in bearing on this.

    In large congregation, this is usually accomplished through some sort of small group ministry. In smaller congregations the entire congregation many function as a single small group. Both can be effective in encouraging spiritual growth and personal accountablity. We should celebrate that no matter the size of the church as a whole.

  • Amanda B.

    This is just my experience, but I have made more deep and meaningful long-term friendships at megachurches than I did at small-town, everybody-knows-everybody places. The most painful spiritual abuse I’ve ever experienced was at a small church. The most profound spiritual healing I’ve ever had was at a megachurch. I don’t think this means all small ones are bad, or all big ones are good–just that size has very little to do with how healthy relational dynamics are or are not.

    And as an introvert myself, it actually really, really bugs me when people descend on me as the “visitorOHBOY” in a small church. I hate the practice of having greeters at the door (I’m sure they are all lovely people, but I don’t want to have to shake their hand and pretend to believe they are excited to see me as a prerequisite of entering the building).

    I really like being able to attend a few services on the sly, decide if I like the feel of the place, and then begin inquiring about getting more plugged in. I don’t like feeling as if I’m digging in my heels against a happy-faced “Jooooooiin ussss” mentality.

    Sorry about the hyperbole, but I’m just trying to emphasize “different strokes for different folks”. Some people are deeply hurt if no one goes out of their way to bring them into a conversation in an unfamiliar context. Me? I feel a little relieved.

    Of course I want to make meaningful connections. Of course Body life is incredibly important. Of course church means so much more than showing up to a flashy worship service and a polished sermon. But that takes humility and intentionality no matter how big your church is. Any size church can do it. Any size church can fail at it. There’s no need to criticize one or the other purely based on their numbers.

  • Perhaps we Christians should get better at noting introvert vs. extrovert, and stop pretending that the next person is just like me. :-p

    I hear you on the “humility and intentionality” bit. Without that, nothing else matters.

    I’ve just found it way to easy to stand around after a big church service, trying to look as if I am open to being talked to, with everyone milling around just doing their thing. Again, this is just my personal experience. If anything, it’s something that big churches need to get better at, just like the smaller churches have their own challenges.

  • Kullervo

    True, in the Bible we find exhortations to confront systematic forms injustice in your neighborhood again and again.

  • KentonS

    Hey, friend! Welcome to the Jesus Creed blog.!