Oh The Mega Church

January 27, 2009 — 8 Comments

houstonlakewoodmegachurch

Ask someone who has been following Christ for a good amount of time and I’m sure they will have some opinion on the mega church.  Some believe it is fantastic, others might as well think that it is from the devil himself.  Let’s start with my history and move to looking at some positives and negatives of the mega-church movement.

I’ve grown up going to what I would call very large churches, but not mega-churches.  The size of the congregation (or people who call themselves members) was usually around 1,000.  These churches have a lot of the same characteristics of a mega-church (mega-churches have 2,000 or more on a given Sunday morning), but usually do not do their productions on quite as big of a scale.  I also went to a church in Pittsburgh for 2 years that would be considered a mega-church.  All of these institutions were doing some great things for God, no doubt in my mind.

However, if you have ever talked to me (or read my blogs), you probably recognize that just doing some good is not enough.  I believe that people like James Dobson and Jerry Falwell have done a lot of good, but have also left behind huge messes for us to clean up.  The same could be said of the sad Ted Haggard story, or even my story.  But I’m not talking about sin corrupting what we are doing, just misplacing our focus.megachurch

Take for instance this Christmas season.  I went to the largest mega-church in the area and watched their Christmas production.  And a production it was indeed.  I was sitting in theater-type seating watching these phenomenal musicians play Christmas and worship songs.  As in every mega-church I’ve been to, the whole room was black with cool lights shining on the stage.

But I couldn’t worship.  I kept waiting to see if Coldplay was going to come out and play “Viva La Vida”.  These lights that decorated the room had now turned into spotlight style lights shining on the congregation as we tried to worship to today’s trendiest worship songs.  Of course, there were videos galore and the pastor was young and hip.  He did the usual structure of using a visual aid and funny story to then transition into the serious message (I have no problem with this, it’s just very predictable).  And here was another thing.  Not only was a ridiculous amount of money spent on all of this “stuff” everywhere, the visual aids they used were crazy.  Now it wasn’t as far as Joel Osteen goes, in bringing a real-life elephant on stage (Really?), but the pastor used a front load washing machine that was the nicest machine I had ever seen.

So what?  Why does that matter?  It really doesn’t.  But what that represents is the larger picture.  These churches are reaching out to rich suburbia and playing into the entertainment-crazed culture we live in.  Rather than reaching out to the lowest of lows like Christ and trying to make them feel comfortable, the entire culture of these mega-churches of ridiculously priced [insert everything there] is poor stewardship.

But shouldn’t each church have its own target market?  Shouldn’t the rich people have a place to go too?  Yes!  And don’t get me wrong.  This church is giving away thousands of dollars to needy people all over the world.  I understand that it is hard to balance investing into your building here and giving to those in need.  And Christians are giving loads of money to these mega-churches and I think that is good too.  So my first question asks if these large institutions are honoring God with their money as best as they can?  They have obviously been blessed more than most churches and therefore have a greater responsibility.  I would say that less money should be spent on flashing lights into my eyes and video cameras and more should be spent on giving clean water to African communities.  However, if the church had not created a setting like that and the visual stimulus like they have, would they have had 8 packed out Christmas Eve services in a facility that seats around 2,500?  No they would not have.

So where does the problem lie?  With followers of Jesus Christ.  America’s Jesus is again too commercialized and entertaining.  The question I always ask myself when going to a new area and finding a new community of believers to get plugged in with is, “where would Jesus go to church if he lived in ______”.  I just always get this feeling that He would want it to just be simple.  He wouldn’t need 6-8 cameramen walking around filming all sorts of cool “rock” angles behind the words.  He would not need stagehands for a church service.  We would be able to tell a difference between a rock show and our local church.  Our entertainment and worship have become too intertwined and we must get back to a simple Jesus.

Jonathan Sigmon

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8 responses to Oh The Mega Church

  1. Nice Site layout for your blog. I am looking forward to reading more from you.

    Tom Humes

  2. Yo man, I can’t believe I’m reading this so late…my wife is mad right now that I’m not with her, but what can I say…I love you brother. Anyways, great points about spending more time out in the world rather than in church. Hey, you need to check out Francis Chan’s book “crazy love”. You want to talk about a radical, he is that and he is calling Christians out of their wateredown view of pursuing Christ into what it really means to be a follower and disciple of Christ. Anyways, we should talk books some time because I have got some really good stuff from the CCO and I know you got some good stuff to.

    Col. 3:15

    Every Square Inch is His, so let’s be redeemers of His blessed creation..all of it,

    Z

  3. Zac!

    Yes man. You are probably the 10th person to recommend “Crazy Love” to me, so it is official, I have to read it. I actually was already conversing with people from my church about it here: http://www.lofitribe.com/crazy-love-francis-chan/, but I like a lot of Francis Chan’s stuff. Have you seen his http://www.juststopandthink.com ? I thought parts of it were fairly cheezy, but either way, I like Chan’s approach to the simplicity of the Gospel and really thinking about how big God is. The Lee (our former roommate for those reading) turned me onto him watching his podcasts. I thought it was just because they were both Asian, but Chan is the real deal. bahaha.

  4. My dear nephew…
    As I sit here reading thru your blog about Mega-churches and their roles and responsibility to our culture here and outside our own culture I was thinking thru my own personal role to “here” and “there.” I have sat in your shoes – I think scoffing might be a better word for how I felt about mega churches. The ironic part of that is here I am at 38 years old not only attending a mega church but actually working at one. There are a couple of thoughts I had (and I’m not passing judgment on your thoughts – these are simply my own and a compilation of many other people’s thoughts that I’m going to “use”).

    Lights, Camera, Action – This is one of those “business” versus “spiritual” areas that seem to get lost in translation and ultimately cause many rifts in the arena of small churches vs. mega churches. I certainly can’t speak for other mega churches and probably don’t have the right to speak for Kensington, but I’m going to attempt to. For many people, the only way they will enter a church building is if they are mildly entertained – this is the culture we have become. I don’t think we (meaning the mega church) subscribes to the philosophy that we should get people to Jesus by any means possible. However, I do believe that we have to be culturally relevant. Look at reality shows and tv shows that succeed? What are the common denominators? Lights, camera, Action! Yes, the draw is to “get ‘em in the door.” The goal: to have them become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. This is true from 3 yr olds thru 60 year olds. I would spend a million dollars if it meant that 1 person became a fully devoted follower of Jesus. I think Jesus understands this. We have the ability to reach those who would NEVER set foot in church simply because we are offering “entertainment.” Yes, many messages seem recycled and sometimes “predictable.” But, for the hundreds that have never heard this message, it is refreshing for them. Granted, over 50% of the population at Kensington has a Catholic background – so putting application behind the bible is a BRAND NEW concept. And, for all intensive purposes, my Baptist background rarely gave me insight as to the WHY we do things – only the obedience, hell and damnation portion. So, let the 6-8 cameras walk by, let the elephant walk on the stage – if this is what it takes for someone to ask “who is Jesus” – count me in! Yes, Jesus can work without all the bells & whistles, but I’m a firm believer that he gave us these awesome tools to speak to our current culture. I also believe that sometimes Jesus used drastic measures to reach people (drastic might not be the right word – but think about walking on water, culturally relevant parables). We live in a very wealthy culture – we can use these awesome resources to advance God’s kingdom.

    From baby’s to leaders: There is nothing that is going to happen by having people come once a week for an hour spiritually. The question is what are they going to do in-between each of those days? Kensington has always subscribed to the philosophy that each Christian should become a self-feeder. Kensington will not bottle feed you. They will provide the tools and means, but ultimately each person must make the conscious decision to follow & love Jesus, become a part of a church community (even if it isn’t Kensington) and ultimately give…the 3 “L’s” of church are: Love God, Love others, Lock Arms (small groups), Live open-handedly with your time and talents – in that order.

    Small groups: There is a high value placed on small groups – this is where real community happens. You can’t attend church for very long without hearing about, knowing about small groups. This is the heart of the church. This is where groups meet, study the Bible, worship in music together, go out and serve in the community TOGETHER! I would venture to say – small groups are the heart of Kensington. Small groups have ZERO bells and whistles (no lights, camera action 😉 ). They meet in homes, restaurants, bars etc…there are family small groups, motorcycle small groups, divorce recovery small groups, etc…the list goes on and on. Literally, there is a small group for everyone – no matter the stage in life. I would venture to say, many small churches (and I’ve attended a LOT of them) don’t offer this opportunity. Small groups are where LIFE happens with Jesus. Small groups hold each member accountable to each other. Are you praying, are you worshiping, are you serving, are you loving your spouse, your children, are you going to give to the church so that another well in Africa can be built. What about that hospital in India, what if we went there as a small group? Let’s go to West Virginia and build a school! Again, I’m only speaking about Kensington!

    Where does the money go: let me say this, we just did a capital campaign and more money was given to “there” (Africa, India and beyond) than what has been used at here (Michigan). Instead of building a new church (which, to some, is desperately needed and have been pretty upset that this hasn’t happened), the hospital in India was built. Instead of upgrading old video/lighting equipment 1000 wells were built in Africa. Team after team has flown down to Haiti, Louisiana, Sri Lanka, (and the list goes on) with their own money to help and aid those in dire need. These people are newer followers of Jesus. These people, 5 years ago, would have never considered going to these places prior to Kensington. They never saw outside of their job, family or sport. These people shouldn’t need the Lights, Camera, Action! Believe me, Kensington is not the “church of all churches.” They make mistakes – all churches do. But I don’t question the goal. Every decision is prayed on, meditated on and brought before the elders of the church. No dollar is unaccounted for. I don’t always agree with the decision, but ultimately I never will. To judge (hate that word, but can’t think of another word right now) that these churches are poor stewards is completely inaccurate and causes rifts and finger-pointing. Christ didn’t come just for the poor – he came for EVERYONE! He spoke to who needed HIM – we all need Him. Ultimately, these rich people are funding the hospital in India, the wells in Africa, the school in Haiti, the church plant in downtown Detroit, the orphanage in Russia. God gave them the blessing of money. Many of these same wealthy people who shouldn’t need the bells & whistles are the ones who have the ability to give WAY beyond what we can possibly fathom. We are all called to be a part of the church – spiritual gifts (giving is one of them). I firmly believe that Kensington is just a part of the church not THE church.

    God calls certain people and churches to go and be different places. I never judge the small church that has had the same members for 50 years. Why? Because these people NEED this church – God has called these people to be in and at THAT church. I know that God has placed me at Kensington for a very specific purpose. Yes, Kensington has made a million mistakes and will continue to do so, but ultimately, I know that their goal is to reach middle class Americans and have them become full devoted followers of Jesus. Let me also close with this. I know my role, and am working within my spiritual gifts. It took me until I was 30 years old to really know what that was and what God was asking me to do. Kensington was a huge part of that. I grew up in the church – I “knew” all this stuff, yet it wasn’t until I started attending and participating in Kensington that I understood my responsibility to Jesus and the world I live in. No, I can’t give money. But, there are people are can’t give administratively or teach like I can – lol. I know that I may never go to Africa or India. But I now how to teach a 7 year old that Jesus loves them and wants to be a part of their life. I know how to take a Bible story and tell it in an age appropriate way to a 10 yr old boy. And yes, sometimes it takes money to do this.

    I don’t even know if this makes sense. Maybe this is therapy for me. I guess I want you to see another perspective, another opinion from someone who loves you…from someone who loves the same Jesus you do.

  5. I found it interesting, that you mentioned I think in the original post, some thing to the regards of giving money to African communities. Believe it or not there are several ministries in Africa specifically called the counsel of African apostles, of the membership churches put american megachurches to shame in that they number in the hundreds of thousands. Lakewood’s sanctuary would be way to small for these ministries. One of these churches is building 5 universities and built a sanctuary that hold 50,000 with unabstructed views, this same church has a weekly overflow around 250,000. Needless to say, the africans can take care of themselves.

  6. Check this post out to see my updated thoughts on the Mega Church.

    http://www.taintedcanvas.com/2010/05/03/oh-the-mega-church-part-2/

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Oh The Mega Church Part 2 - May 3, 2010

    […] at the start of this blog, I wrote a post called “Oh The Mega Church”.  As I re-read this post less than a year and a half later, I am slightly embarrassed. […]

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