Friday, September 15, 2017

MEGA Churches. . .

In one of many media reports on the data of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, we find some surprises and some rather predictable facts.  You can read some of it here.
One striking aspect of megas is that 40 percent are “non-denominational” and totally self-governing. Those formally affiliated with denominations usually have only loose involvement with others in their church body. In fact, 13 percent have considered quitting their denominations over the past decade and half have done so.
The list of the 15 biggest (meaning over 20K in attendance at one or a number of satellites) includes:

Lakewood Church, Houston, Texas
North Point Community Church, Alpharetta, Ga., Edmond, Okla.
Gateway Church, Southlake, Texas
Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, Ill.
Fellowship Church, Grapevine, Texas
Christ’s Church of the Valley, Peoria, Ariz.
NewSpring Church, Anderson, S.C.
Elevation Church, Mathews, N.C.
Church of the Highlands, Birmingham, Ala.
Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, Calif.
Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Ky.
Central Christian Church, Henderson, Nev.
Phoenix First Assembly of God, Phoenix, Ariz.
Second Baptist Church, Houston, Texas
Of course, this does not include any Roman Catholic parishes who might otherwise fit the size requirements.  Need I say the obvious -- not many Lutherans are on the list.

The Hartford team's data shows that these mega churches are Protestant, they are characterized by a specific identity and culture, their worship is entertaining, and they are adept at using the best of the best state-of-the-art sound systems, visual projection, and popular contemporary music. They draw from unusually large geographic areas, they offer a diverse schedule of programs on a seven-day basis, are located on huge campuses (with requisite parking lots), and tend to be located in suburban or exurban settings.

What the Hartford team has not noted is that these mega churches and all they do are the envy of most denominations.  Though these denominations are generally not as quick to adapt to trend or make those trends, they tend to follow where the leaders have led.  In the heart of many small congregations lie the dreams of becoming a mega church or, as perhaps they ought to be calls, a mini-denomination.  But this is not where we ought to be spending our money, time, or daydreams.  The call of the Gospel is faithfulness and the only measurement we need to be worried about is faithfulness.  As we heard a month ago, the seed is the Lords and the results are the Lords and even when weeds seem to fill the field, it is not ours to second guess the Lord but to trust in His timing, His gracious will, and His power to accomplish that will through His appointed means.  We cannot afford to be less than welcoming but it is not the welcome of God's people that will grow the Church -- it is the Spirit working through the means of grace.  Nothing more and nothing less.  I do not expect the non-denominationals to remember this but Lutherans dare not forget it.

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