Multiplying in the Mega-Church
The Hartford Institute places the total number of mega-mystical teachings of jesus in the U.S. at over twelve hundred. Of these, some twenty-six percent are Baptist or Southern Baptist, thirty-four percent are nondenominational, and the rest are an assortment of Assemblies of God, United Methodist, Calvary Chapel, and other Christian denominations. Seventy five percent are located in the Bible belt. Almost all of them are situated in a suburb of some busy metropolitan area. Most attenders are baby-boomers from the middle class with at least a college education, and most of them are disillusioned defectors from other churches.
Folks are drawn to these massive churches by some variant of the message, “We do church better here.” In essence, this means “We put on a better worship performance.” The mega-church offers worship services that are more contemporary, messages that are more interesting, and opportunities for involvement that are more varied in response to demand from a clientele accustomed to a variety of entertainment options.
Like any large organization, mega-churches all have a powerful charismatic leader. They tend to be centralized, concentrating authority at the top. They are the General Motors of the religious world. The founders’ tenures average over fifteen years and there is great dependence on their personalities. These leaders preside over mega-staffs of up to 250 full-time employees.
Church services are highly choreographed and very professional. The caliber of music rivals anything you might hear at a concert venue. The drama compares with the local theater or playhouse. “Given the congregation’s size, this service cannot be left to ‘the flow of the spirit,’ especially if there are multiple services on a Sunday morning…As a mega-church grows, worship becomes more professional and polished, but also more planned and structured.”
The pastor of one mega-church had the following to say about the organizational structure of these mammoth churches, “These are not just churches; they are also corporations.” In fact, the pastors of many of these huge churches consider themselves CEOs.
To support the large number of program offerings, church leaders have built enormous staffs. The number of “directors” has proliferated. A quick check of church websites recently revealed one church that had a “Production Director,” “Director of Production,” “Sound Director,” and “Director of Missions and Prayer.”
Not only is there obvious redundancy, but the titles reflect a trend towards ever-increasing sophistication of organization and a tendency to direct things that really shouldn’t need directing, like prayer. This church has one hundred staff, forty-three of whom are support personnel! Lay people have no input in decision-making in this particular church, so it is not surprising that the leadership has engaged in some pretty remarkable kingdom building.
Market Tested For Mass Appeal
Rick Warren, senior pastor of one of the largest mega-churches in America, wrote one of the bestselling Christian titles of all time. It is called The Purpose Driven Life and has sold over 20 million copies and netted $400 million in sales. If I could sum up the message of his book, I would say it is “realizing your full spiritual potential.” Like so many preachers today, Warren has emphasized the believer’s personal relationship with Christ over spiritual life in the community of believers. There is very little about the holiness of God, the demands of the faith, personal sacrifice, commitment to advancing God’s kingdom, or the hope of Christ’s return in his book.
Warren has openly admitted that there are issues he will not address such as abortion and homosexuality because they are divisive. He has removed the offense from the Scriptures thus broadening their appeal, but at the same time compromising the character of God’s Word. Jesus never compromised His message to avoid giving offense or to draw larger crowds. In fact, He sometimes deliberately discouraged people whose motives were wrong. In John 6, He drove many away with His assertion that He was the bread of life. It was Jesus who said, “But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Mt 7:14).