My interest in mega churches is inversely proportional to the size of the church. The bigger it is, the less interest I have. I don’t think they’re bad, I’m just disinterested. Kind of like how passionless I am about Justin Bieber, or football in general. But I clicked into this youtube clip because I’m writing a book on Christian parenting and the title of the clip was so very click-bait: “Andy Stanley – If You Don’t Go To a Large Church, You’re Selfish and Don’t Care About Your Kids.”
I was dubious about the sensational title—surely he hadn’t been so brazen to say exactly those words, or the phrase was taken completely out of context. But sure enough, that is what he provocatively said and left many of us scratching our heads. I mean, it’s just so inaccurate and harsh. In response to the outrage, because the internet seem to only respond outrageously, he posted an apology on twitter, which I know many dismiss because we are a bit tired of megachurch pastor’s non-apologies. But I have no reason to think Andy Stanley’s was not sincere.
I don’t follow Andy Stanley because again, not interested in career paths of mega church pastors, but I was not terribly offended by the clip. I felt like he genuinely cares about the youth and the future of their faith. His words for community and the local church were filled with passion and sincerity. Even if I disagreed with him, I have to respect his zeal. He loves church, he loves the style of church he’s vocationally committed to, and he loves the children of his church—enough to unnecessarily attack their parents on their behalf.
For those who don’t want to spend two minutes watching the clip, he basically says that parents should send their children to a large church because big churches bring in enough youth to form separate Middle School and High School ministries, providing an environment for young people to form long-lasting relationships that will benefit them for a lifetime.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZhhpiU4d0A
It seems to me that if the strategy to attract youth to a long-lasting faith is to provide similar aged peer groups, in a big enough church with enough resources to make church engaging and fun, then we don’t need the prophetic life-giving message of the gospel at all—we need only consult a business growth-model. Study the ads from corporations and copy the way they target with age-precision the latest trends young people follow. Learn how to make young people feel like they aren’t satisfied with the products they already own, capitalize on their desires to belong, and provide a quality service to fulfill that need. Then do it again and again, year after year, never letting them feel contented without coming to consume your product. No, your child can’t go to a church without a Middle School Ministry, he’s, gasp, a NINTH GRADER! Goodness gracious, he NEEDS a High School Ministry, specifically tailored to his particular developmental issues! Parents, if you love your kids, you have to buy him the newest iPad Pro, I mean, bring him to our church! The voice coming from the pulpit is sounding very much like a sales rep desperate to keep up with the numbers.Pastor Andy, the youth have suffered enough of the message coming their way from consumeristic society, telling them that without this product or that service, without being entertained in the most hip new trends that is age-appropriate, they are not already wonderfully worthy and loved. Preach this: it doesn’t matter how old you are, whether you attend a small church, a medium church, a three-quarter sized church, a large church, or no church at all, you are beautifully loved and worthy as you are. Tell the youth in your congregation that whether you have enough $$ to sustain a separate ministry or not, you are together and you’ll do your best to give them a place to call home. Tell the parents that regardless of their circumstances in life, they are doing their best for their kids and that is also enough.
If our churches and our Christian identity do not equip us to speak against the suffocating pressure in our modern society to need more, want more, to desire our stuff and our services in more choices individualized for each of us, then no they are not going to go to a big church in college to find it. And I’m not sure where they will find it at all.
Consumerism says this: your identity is in what you consume. The Gospel speaks otherwise: your identity is in God and that’s enough. Our life and abundance lies not in a variety of choices or extraordinary resources or how capable we are at scaling up our organizations.
Bigger and better is not what’s best for our kids. You want children to stay in the church? Become a place of refuge from the tiresome rat race that is business growth models. Be a sanctuary of quiet, an ordinary space that breathes rest and worthiness into the stressed out souls of our young people.
Perhaps instead of frantically designing quality programs for the youth, and by simply giving them space; by hushing long enough, they will get to hear from the Holy Spirit for themselves and imagine a better church for us all.