Business Week is featuring Evangelicals on the cover of their latest magazine with a story on mega-churches and the Evangelical movement called Earthly Empires.
The article seems to be a mixed bag, which is my own personal opinion of mega-churches.
The good news for Evangelicals in the mega-churches (those that attract 2,000 or more worshipers a week):
- Increased cultural influence – Many prominent people are now identified as evangelical Christians. Media (books, music, etc.) produced by evangelicals is also on the rise (CCM, The Purpose Driven Life, Left Behind).
- Evangelicals are seen as better understanding of the culture than other segments of Christianity. Catholicism and mainline Protestant denominations are in a steep decline.
- More ministries available within a church to help the members. Many of the mega-churches offer free or reduced services such as counseling, health care and physical fitness.
- The numerous kid-friendly services and resources are introducing tons of children to church. Those children are then introducing the church to their parents.
- The mega-church attracts more unchurched people. Those not accustomed to traditional churches feel more at home in the relaxed atmosphere of the larger congregations.
- Many hold true to the basic theology and doctrine of Christianity. They still preach Christ and Him crucified. The pastor of one of the churches mentioned (only briefly), Woodstock Baptist, has often visited the campus of the college I graduated from and work at. He is as committed to sound, Biblical doctrine as anyone I know.
The bad news for Evangelicals:
- Way too many of the mega-churches are led by “prosperity preachers” such as Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar, who bring in millions of dollars to finance lascivious personal lifestyles. The message is more self-help than Christ-help.
- Evangelicals are being tied too tightly to the Republican party. This has come about because of many shared beliefs, but too often evangelical Christians are being used as GOP messengers instead of GOD messengers. (Evangelical Outpost has a post along these lines today.)
- Churches are mimicking the outside world’s style of business so much that sometimes it is difficult to tell them apart. One church staged a Christmas performance with the cheapest ticket being $20.
- Many mega-churches become obsessed with “the latest and greatest.” They place too much emphasis on being the first church to have this type of technology or the first church to implement this outreach strategy.
- Too often churches are driven by polls and market research instead of the Holy Spirit. Who said that God has to operate within the Willow Creek marketing method? Why can’t a church located in a certain location do well?
- The messages are devoid of the truth and are instead focusing on “uplifting” the listener. My opinion of Willow Creek went down significantly when I read the following quote from one of their members: “When I walk out of a service, I feel completely relieved of any stress I walked in with.” Sometimes, I want to leave with stress. I want to be convicted of where I am failing. I don’t want to be told how wonderful I am. There are things in my life that are not like Christ. Those need to be changed and the one place I should be convicted about those is at church.
Perhaps the article paints with too broad a brush. As I said, I know some of the pastors are upholding Biblical principles. (My opinion of Rick Warren went up, when I read that he repaid Saddleback Church after he made millions through The Purpose Driven Life and that he still lives modestly.) But it still saddens me that the Church is seen as simply a business model.
Devoid of the Gospel, what good is the Church?
To paraphrase Paul from 1 Corinthians 13:
If I have a ten-thousand seat, technologically up-to-date chapel/arena, but I have not the Gospel, I am like a brand new Lexus without any wheels. If I bring in millions of visitors and tell them how wonderful they all are, but I have not the Gospel, I am like a 1,000 member orchestra playing out-of-tune. If I know all the latest church marketing strategies and have studied under the feet of Rick Warren and Bill Hybel, but have not the Gospel, I am nothing. The Gospel never fails; but where there are strategies they will fail; where there is technology it will be out-dated; where there is new building projects, they will cease. But these three remain, prosperity, growth and the Gospel, but the greatest of these is the Gospel.