A couple weeks ago now I said that a few blog posts had caught my attention and driven me to some refelction.
The first ones were by Mike Breen – about the relationship b/t discipleship and the missional movement. You can check out his thoughts in Part 1 and Part 2. My reflection on these posts came out here.
The other post was by Ed Stetzer – a return to the whole “can mega churches be missional” debate. He still says they can, I still say they can’t. But, as I’ve reflected more on this, here are the things that have become clearer to me, what I’ll call the “mega-problems” of mega-churches.
I think it needs to be acknowledged that the problem isn’t size in and of itself. Who would possibly be against a huge church of fully devoted follower of Jesus on mission with God?! Not this guy. But here’s the thing, those of us who have icky feelings in our stomachs about mega-chuches do so because they tend to be built on characteristics and practices that actually work against this vision. Here’s a few that came to mind…
1) Consumer-Oriented Structures
Very often mega-churches are mega because they emphasize meeting the needs, or at least captivating the interest of religious consumers of all stripes. This will strike many of us as unfortunate right off the bat, but to take it a step further, I would highlight the even greater harm that is done when church leaders come right out and acknowledge that they do this (even if they prefer different language), but believe it to be in the service of the Gospel. Here, we have baptized a market-driven strategy that treats people like objects and leads them to believe that they, rather that God, are what is of ultimate significance.
2) Celebrity-Driven Culture
Mega-churches tend to be personality driven. There is generally one (almost always male) leader who leads as if they were a CEO of an organization rather than as a humble servant. These are people who reflect our culture’s desire and drive for upward mobility while leading a community whose character is to be predicated on its downward mobility – becoming less and less so that Jesus might become more and more. This aspect of mega-church culture is perpetuated as we get lulled into believing the cultural lie that a bigger platform is always a good thing for the kingdom. Sadly, in baptizing this mentality, we have failed to remember that we follow Jesus, who refused exactly this temptation.
Mega-churches tend to put the vast majority of their time, attention, and resources into weekend services. Nothing wrong with gathering. Nothing wrong with gathering with hundreds, even thousands of other believers. Very much something wrong (from a missional perspective) with these gatherings becoming the driving point of our ecclesiology and the aspect of community life that eats up huge amounts of resources. It doesn’t matter how compellingly you preach or teach on “being missional;” so long as that message is coming through the medium of a context that engenders passive involvement, it is rendered useless.
4) Inward-Focused Financial Structures
Related to the point above, mega-churches tend to create financial structures that are designed to “keep the machine running,” thereby inhibiting a community’s ability to leverage financial resources that will benefit others – who may or may not ever be part of your church community. Mega-churches require mega-staffs, mega-facilities, and mega-ministry budgets. Once you have these things in place and people’s livelihoods become contingent on church growth, moving in a truly “missional direction,” becomes all but impossible. If it does come, it will be at tremendous cost.
5) Seating over Sending
All of this works itself together to result in an ecclesiology that is more disposed to a focus on seating over sending. And when I say sending, I mean sending – raising people up as mature disciples and skilled Kingdom leaders and releasing them… really releasing them. Most of the “sending” that mega-churches do is about continuing to build their own little empire – multiple locations, video venues, franchises, etc.
I fully recognize that you can embody all of these characteristics and not be, by definition, a mega-church. This is precisely my point – it’s not really about size, it’s about the ecclesial characteristics and underlying theology that creates and drives this sort of church system. So when I say mega-churches can’t be missional, what I really mean is you can’t continue to be a sunday-centric, celebrity-driven church that engenders a consumeristic attitude toward Christian faith by creating inward focused financial structures and building your own personal church-brand empire. Continuing to be this sort of church while using missional language and encouraging people to serve others more does not a missional church make!
Am I off here? Where’s the pushback? What else would you add to this list?