Ruth Graham is over at Slate today talking about the aftermath of the Mars Hill multisite dissolution – and the continued momentum of both the individual churches and Mark Driscoll’s ministry. She’s basically saying: multi-site megachurches are hard to kill.
In her words:
[T]he bottom line is that while the central organization may be dead, many of its fruits—the smaller congregations that once shared the name Mars Hill—have survived. Now, all of those individual churches have been set loose to decide their own fates. Some consolidated, and others simply renamed themselves, reorganized, and carried onward. As the church’s website spun it soon after the announcement, “With her final breath, Mars Hill gave birth to 11 newly independent churches where, by God’s grace, the gospel will continue to be preached, his name will be glorified, and thousands will be saved by Jesus.”
When a traditional church closes, members either leave disgruntled or leave in peace. The multisite model means many of them don’t have to leave at all.
If we would be tempted to scoff that the non-leavers are turning a blind eye to abuse or corruption and are thus some kind of religious enablers or afflicted with spiritual Stockholm Syndrome, Ruth offers this common sense reminder:
[P]eople have deep, sincere loyalties to their churches, and for good reason: Churches often serve as the primary seat of their members’ social and spiritual lives. If a member walks away after a scandal, she is leaving behind much more than a toxic pastor—she’s leaving behind friendships, support groups, routines, weekly entertainment, and babysitting, just to name a few.
That may explain why it has always been shockingly difficult to kill a big church—and the rise of the multisite model may be making it even harder.
I think the question that comes from these observations might be: Is the resilient, durable, hard-to-kill nature of the multisite megachurch a sign of health? Or is it more like the unhealthy corporate condition of being “too big to fail”?
Photo by Mars Hill Church Seattle, CC via Flickr