During my past 30 years or so of ministry I have watched a growing phenomenon emerging in the Church world that has shaped American Christianity like nothing else. It is the rise of the Mega Church. It kind of started with Pastor Bill Hybels doing market research in the Chicago area about what people liked and didn’t like about a typical church. That market research birthed what became the Willow Creek Association and a new way of doing church. Many others have joined this movement. Some of these leaders have become celebrities that are widely known around the world. While I am not sure Bill Hybels or anyone in this movement would agree, the movement seemed to move the Church more toward the audience’s wants and less toward God’s Word and will…..at least at first glance. It was and is assumed by the architects of this movement, that the Lord would still be there, whatever was done in His Name. The message of this movement came down to almost a simple slogan that went something like this, “same message different methods.”
What started as a more audience driven ministry has really blossomed. As an example, I recently read about a large church in Texas and its ministry to over 24,000 members that continues to rapidly grow. Their 140 acre campus has a health club, game arcade, sports field and a food court with a series of restaurants including a Starbucks. Kids love to go, and why not? Everyone is having fun and getting their needs met. It surely seems to beat “boring old church.” The pastor gives an altar call every week and it seems things just couldn’t be better, almost a heaven on earth. As a matter of fact, there really isn’t a Country Club in the area that could beat it. It finally appears the Church has beaten the world at attracting people. Who wouldn’t want to belong to such a place or go forward and accept Christ? After all, you get the best of this life and a trip to Heaven when your fun is over. Sign me up, right? You can find a version of the above in almost every city in the Country and it shows no sign of stopping. Some of these mega churches are becoming larger than an average size town or small city. Things are so good, you might even wonder if the Lord has returned.
It is very hard to sort this movement out since, like any movement, it is diverse in nature. However, its basics are the same everywhere. Create a user friendly environment where people feel a sense of love, welcome, community, spirituality and meet as many of their felt needs as you can from a great worship service and fun programs for the kids to offering that trendy cup of coffee at Starbucks.
Forgive me for saying this, but the one thing that stands out to me about this movement is that you don’t find anything like it in the Bible. Should that be considered in these modern times? I suppose some would suggest these are faithful reflections of the New Testament Church. If so, I would love to hear which Church they represent. The only Church that might fit what is going on today is the Laodicea Church in Revelation 3…...not good!
You see somewhere along the way, Jesus is not Jesus anymore for many of us in these mega churches and elsewhere in the Church world. Our Lord had nowhere to lay His head, was abandoned by His disciples and suffered the Cross alone. All the Apostles, save John, were martyred. Things like that don’t seem to preach too well today. It is as though we are trying to create Christianity without Christ. Maybe we don’t really need Him here in America. After all, life is good. We have been told over and over and over here in the American that all we are doing is just changing the old methods of doing Church. The message has never been changed. Does anyone really believe that? I don’t. How about you?
America is dying all around us while many folks are off drinking Starbucks after a relevant worship service and a workout. It is true you don’t build a ministry with guilt, but you surely don’t build it with American consumer culture and market research. As all of us watch our culture seduce the Church in this hour, may we hear from our Lord, pick up our Cross and follow Him. Not so many will follow….only a remnant the Bible tells us, but then again, the Church was never meant to be an experiment in pop culture. The Church is the Bride of Christ.