Are Mega-Churches A Problem?

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Categories: Pastors Blog

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Dear Pastors

Are Mega-Churches A Problem? (Part 1 of 4)

What is your answer? Yes or No? After thinking about the question a bit more, what is your answer?

My guess is that your immediate response is, “yes absolutely……mega-churches are a problem”. This is entirely understandable given that over the last 5 years we have seen or heard about a number of mega-churches in America, Australia and New Zealand get into big trouble.

Though there is no argument about this very sad reality, the question deserves a bit more thought as we may be at risk of over reacting in this present hour. As I think about it more deeply I quickly realise that in each of the mega-churches that you will know about (Mars Hill, Willow Creek, Harvest Bible Chapel, Hillsong and Arise) I immediately think about five former senior pastors who sadly lost their way. I say this not to accuse them but rather because I want to raise the issue about the leaders of these churches and their conduct and in doing so suggest that perhaps they were the problem (or had a problem) NOT the fact that the church was a mega church as such. But let me park that for now as I want to come back to the whole issue of the leaders of mega churches personality and character next week.

Answering this question is very important. It will shape how you and I think about churches of ALL sizes I believe.

I know how tempting it is to answer this question by saying a big fat yes……..all mega-churches are a problem……big time! But are they? Sure some mega-churches are a problem but then so are some small churches. In fact I want to suggest that heaps of small churches are a problem, to be brutally honest. In my work over the last 15 years I have seen and interacted with a fair number of spectacular failures in small and middle size churches. And that is a whole other subject for another day.

By way of comparison here is a similar question. Is marriage a problem? Given that we have such high divorce rates coupled with more and more couples living together and choosing not to get married, not to say anything about intimate partner abuse, is marriage therefore a problem? No marriage in and of itself is not a problem. Marriage is God’s idea and He blesses it, therefore my answer is a categoric No, marriage is not a problem. Just because individual marriages have problems does not mean that the institution of marriage is a problem. In fact the opposite is true.

So with the issue of church size. Mega is not necessarily bad just because a small percentage of them have gotten into trouble. Mega can be very good in exactly the same way as small can be. When I think about this a bit more I am drawn to ponder on churches like ‘Church On The Way’ in Van Nuys, California which is still a mega-church today but under Jack Hayford’s leadership (now retired) through the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s had a massive influence on my life as did the Church itself on literally thousands of pastors around the world. Perhaps tens of thousands. These days I am also drawn to churches like Saddleback, Northpoint, Life Church in America as well as Holy Trinity Brompton in the UK and the literally hundreds of churches around the world that are running over 2000 people and doing fabulous work. Think about Seoul, South Korea where there is a mega church just about on every street corner. And by the way Willow Creek is recovering beautifully while it has continued to be a mega church. It really is a remarkable story.

The moral of the story is that churches of all sizes have problems and the pastors of those churches whether small, medium, large or mega are at risk of losing their way.

I also find it fascinating that the New Testament is remarkably non-prescriptive on the issue of size as it is on how a church should be structured as it is on the issue of owning land and buildings. It seems to me that if God thought mega churches are a problem because of their size He would have clearly said so. But He didn’t.

Finally for today, I have no doubt that mega churches are here to stay. They will only ever make up less than 1% of the total number of churches in a country and yes they will continue to attract their fair share of criticism and even vitriol. In large cities around the world there will always be Christian people who love attending a large or even a mega church. That’s just the way it is and that is neither good or bad. I have no doubt that God will continue to use mega churches to His glory. He has historically so why would He not in the future.

Next week I will discuss the issue of a pastors personality and character and the following week I want to deal with the more complex issue of governance and accountability and finally I want to talk about pastoral and leadership ethics.

As always I am interested in any thoughts and/or comments you may have.



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