First of all, ALL Jesus followers will be held accountable before God for our use of our giftedness. As Jesus said in one of his parables, Matthew 25, that there will be an accounting of if we "buried" our talents or invested them in a way that they multiply. I don't, nor have I ever, purposely criticize someone who is a brother or sister in Jesus. That's my rule. I'm sure I'm not completely outside of the realm of criticism or challenge. In fact, I welcome it. So, that's my take on that.
Despite that fact though, I believe it is important (as has been my blogging habit) to notice and comment on Contemporary Christian culture (especially churchworld, of which I am and have been personally invested for most of my adult life). It did grab my attention…this article, that is:
What else grabbed my attention is this:
you read that correctly…$200 million dollars. Now, I'm watching many of my friends (people I love and trust) comment on this article through facebook. I said publicly that I don't know how this continues to be a Kingdom "win." Here are some thoughts shared yesterday:
"I'm ambivalent about saddleback-I lived in OC when they started… Been to worship and to three conferences…but I really am having a problem with megas lately and the $$$ spent on facilities…one day saddleback will be the European cathedral on the USA…institutional life cycles and the reality of key leadership passing away are factors that can't be ignored… In addition there are faithful and vibrant ministries that lose out to the Christian corporation…for those planters and small church people in OC this is not a win for them."
I met Rick and I'm not saying anything about him per se. He is a godly man and I applaud all that he has done. My issue is with the concept of mega and the money and empire building and definitions of success in ministry and the dynamics that I've seen in my experience.
Well, you can imagine, we've had a "discussion" online about this issue. Praise God, at least for now, things are relatively civil (as they should be). But the "megas" are here to stay…in fact, I believe churchworld's future in the USA is going to belong to organic church and megachurch. Much of what many of us see as the "average" church, around 70-125, will be out of business because of an unsustainable economic model formulated from the past. Mega's will offer a consumeristic culture the programmatic and "event/experience" orientation that many crave and the organic church will offer more of the intense community and disciple-forming strategies that ground Jesus followers in God's call to faithfulness. Not that megas can't do the latter or that organics can't do the former. It is simply that there will be many, many who will attend the megas for the "show" and many who will imbibe in the organics for a more personal connectedness. As you know if you have tasted the mega world, ONLY the top tier of participants really get to be involved in the show…performance standards eliminate the average. In the organic world, every person is a "player"…that egalitarian character will be affirming to so many who have gifts that they would like to share.
So, is there anything wrong with mega? As I said, I'm ambivalent for MANY reasons. What saddens me is the "assumption" that just because mega's are culturally successful in one location that they need to plant as many franchises as possible in order to grow their success. Megas would call that expansion just another way of looking at growth…I don't see it that way. Every franchise runs headfirst into existing ministries…every franchise assumes that mother church's "product development" is worth sharing with the world ad nauseam…every franchise DOES end up not only competing but, in many cases, obliterating local fellowships already existing for what I am convinced are purely market driven realities. In other words, it is hard for a "mom and pop" store to deal with Walmart moving into town. That's the sad thing about it…not too many smaller churches can step into the batter's box of attractional ministry NOT when it costs $1000's simply to get a decent picture up on a screen much less have the talent and expertise to run the damn system in the first place. I let that go a long time ago….there is no way our small, mature, and growing small fellowship can compete in that market. Put it this way, I'm not going to go and pay $10 or more to see a movie in a run-down theater showing films with non-digital projectors and using sound systems that were built in the 50's. I want the best…and that's the way it is in this culture with those who's emphasis is on the show.
There is no doubt, from an exponential perspective, that megas bless the Kingdom. But friends, it is a matter of perspective…and it is a "numbers" game. For every one or two a church like "mine" reaches (average attendance of 90) of course a church of 1000's is going to reach more. It is simply a matter of math. Even so, I do remember a time where I was encouraging a youth worker from a small church who had 25 kids coming to youth group. He was despairing that he didn't have "mega" numbers until I told him to "do the math." He had a potential youth group of 40 kids (if you counted every high school kid in that church's sphere of influence). He was running a 62% attendance rate. I told him that the local mega had 150 at their youth group but that they had the potential of over a 1000. They were running a 15% attendance rate. I tried my best to encourage him…and thank God, he got it!
I have friends who are invested in all possible "churchworlds." Buddies of mine are planters, mega leaders and small ministry pastors. I see every person's perspective. AND I love and celebrate every Kingdom win. But I also listen to my friends who are DONE with church. They see millions spent on facilities and expansion and wonder about the "Jesus" in that. Here's the word of someone I've know for years:
I told Robin today that I am one of the "Done's". I am done with church because of accusations like this. I have left for my own sanity, peace of mind and for relief. I have been put down, stomped on, disregarded and accused unjustly. If this is what the church is today, I want no part of it. I am not alone. There are millions of us. We love God but cannot continue in a church setting. Wounded souls who need mercy and to be shown compassion. Will you be a person of love and mercy?
Whatever the circumstance, my friend is right. People are seeing this churchworld stuff and saying, "no maas." I don't have an answer but I do see the fact that the local paper is making a BIG DEAL about a 70 million dollar campaign for expansion while NOT covering a "rebirth" of ministry in an abandoned, downtown, rundown building with 12 people who love God and want to see Jesus move in that neighborhood as putting the culture's sights on only what the culture brands as "successful." My biggest concern is the definition of success…if Saddleback is it, then all the rest of us in the remaining part of churchworld are losers in so many ways. If success is measured by a situation I ran into this week where ONE Jesus follower had a BBQ in their backyard and shared their faith with a neighbor who was struggling with depression (a contact that cost pennies vs. millions)…if that is success, then I'm not only "in" but I can say to myself and the people I shepherd, "we can do that!"