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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Retooling The Mega Church

Is it time for "evangelism" writers to apologize? I just picked up Church for the Unchurched on sale the other day on the bargain table. Leafing through it, I find it extolling the wonders of the mega churches for their ability to "evangelize".

And for over a decade, the little churches of America have been told that if they too wanted to "evangelize" they'd have to learn to put on a big city dog and pony show to wow the crowds and build a REAL CHURCH.

Something didn't seem right about this and escapees from the Mega Church funny farms like David E. Fitch told us the dirty secret: There may be 1000 "consumers" at a "mega church" but there may really only be 100 serious Christians runnning the show and keeping the rest entertained on Sundays. So really the church of "thousands" may really just be a true "body" of hundreds plus observers.

But aside from this confession it also didn't seem right. People whom God had called to salvation in Jesus Christ through those little churches may not know how to grow a big church, but they did know that coming to Jesus involved certain things.

We knew it involved things like repentance and faith.

It even requires "denying self".

It's hard to know how the message of denying oneself to follow Jesus ever gets internalized in a church setting that - by definition - caters to the whims of consumers.

We knew there had to be community somewhere in the mix too.

And it's easier to put on a show like Ben Hur demanding a cast of thousands when you have more than a couple of dozen people who don't even have a chariot.

But after a decade of hype extolling the Mega Vhurch virtues, the gallons of guilt poured out upon the little churches that just couldn't muster the showmanship or the commercialism of the mega churches and still look at themselves in the mirror Monday morning, we are told in whispered tones that it was all a sham.

Unlike a car delivered from the factory with a fatal mechanical flaw, there was no recall announced on the Mega Church hype.

The so-called Mega Churches are having to retool to be saved from implosion and irrelevancy.

Randy Frazee, Rev. Connecting Church, has been hired by Willow Creek to bring "connection" to the chaos.

Another mega church, the Community Church of Joy is undergoing it's own transformation after the pastor Walt Kallestad related to Rev. Magazine (if that link doesn't work, check here)that he was told by a younger man that nobody in their right might would want to follow him at the church. They'd spend all their time trying to meet the mortgage instead of preaching Jesus. So they imported Mike Breen from St. Thomas church in Sheffield, England to help put some corn inside the husks.

The key, we learn from the Mega Chuches In Transition is about being mission driven, not just consumer driven.

Hadn't we told them that before?

And while churches like Mars Hill Church in Seattle don't want their worship to be badly done, preaching for an hour every Sunday through books of the Bible and having communion each week after a time of repentance and confession aren't "consumer driven" in the "seeker sensitive" ways of yesterday. Yet somehow, Mars Hill brings in over 4,000 people per week. Maybe 10,000 now. I can't remember.

In Confessions of a Reformission Rev. Mark Driscoll talks about the steps they've taken along the way to bring transformation to the lives of the "crowd". And I thought I had problems in my church!

(Rev. Cho's Full Gospel Church in Korea has over 700,000 and each service is described as "Presbyterian" by observers like Cell Church Guru Ralph Neighbor. They even include the Apostle's Creed in every Sunday Service unlike many Presbyterians nowadays who want to look hip... but I digress. Bottom line: content doesn't kill church growth these examples show.)

Thankfully, God is faithful when the saints wake up and want to do His will. So I rejoice that the Mega Churches are being retooled to being missional communities not just "G" rated yuppie watering holes, Starbucks clones with Angel figurines.

But back to the guilt-drenched smaller churches.

It's not time to gloat because the Mega Church guilt manipulators were wrong, though a few moments to share a sigh of relief will be welcomed by all.

We smaller churches need to take what we knew was right and ask God to help us stop doing what was wrong.

It's time to repent and retool the smaller church too, not bask in our smugness.