Studying Theology for Effective Ministry

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Location: Caledonia - aka "Cali", Wisconsin, United States

Born in 1980, I was raised in Wisconsin, but lived in Oregon for my most formative years, 17-24. I was homeschooled from K-12 and went on to college like any other "normal" kid. I'm passionate, a sponge for information, sporadic. I read insane amounts of news. USA Today, local paper, then when i get home from work I read everything you can imagine online

3.01.2006

Challenge: Are Mega-Churches Lacking Humility and Depth?

As one who grew up in a small church as a child, moved to a large and growing church as a young adult, and then matured as a young man in a new church birthed a few years ago, I think I have some perspective on the pro and con of all church sizes. I have attended churches for extended periods ranging from 15 to 150, 250, 1500 and 4,000. They all have their legitimate ministries, and they all bear their burdens.

A conservative blog "Slice of Laodicea" shares a few "insights" into the mega-church phenomenon and the Purpose-Driven church mentality of high growth. Let me say I do not support all of their claims, the posting simply brings a tense issue to the light of day. This is my postulation...

Because of my love for music ministry I have a particularly biased focus on production, which would lean toward larger churches; I also enjoy intimacy and dynamic relationships which causes me to lean smaller.

This is where I meet an impasse with those that run the aforementioned blog. I am simply less angry than those that frequent that blog; like Paul taught us about humility,


Two Sides of the Coin

No megachurches are alike, but they all face a similar dilemma: people fall through the cracks much easier - both believers and non-believers alike. A struggling brother may go more unnoticed, and an unbeliever may go unnoticed altogether.

Small churches are extremely different, and they are small for all sorts of reasons. If a church is in a town of 2,000 people, don't expect it to be larger than 150. If it is a small church in a big town, it could be that their ministry is more outward oriented and they have no plans for inward growth, but exponential outward focus.

Nonetheless, churches of varying sizes serve varying needs that are sometimes as numerous and unique as the number of churches in a community. One claim I think is fundamental and true: If your outreach and influence in the community is not growing, you are not fulfilling the great commission. Laodicea nobs would have a problem with that statement, but it is ideally the truth. No change equals no growth; no growth means no effectiveness.

I do not believe however, that inward growth is the only form of "growth" that a church body can exhibit. Here is my reason -

West Coast Utopia?

There is a church on the West Coast that I attended since the beginning. It started in the home of a deeply respected man that was looking for some ways to reform the church, but not rebel against it. He had formerly attended and was actively involved in a church numbering 4,000+. While loving the people he served and respecting the ministry of those he served with, he had a dream to not just do it well, but to do it a better way. It was borne out of a desire to lead his family and focus on them first as his ministry, then model it for others around him. The vision caught fire, and within a few months, the group began renting a local school gym to meet with 60 others. After about a year of solid ministry there, it was necessary to move to another location, and one was carefully dug from the pile of possibilities: a Seventh Day Adventist church that was, well, empty on Sundays! The location had a capacity of 500, which we quickly filled within a year or so after leaving the school. Suddenly this reforming philosophy was spreading wind to other states and we began having other churches send emissaries to our doors to learn what we were doing to equip the family to spread the gospel message together.

Then the church faced a problem: we were growing so fast and becoming so large that our particular emphasis was losing its focus and effectiveness. So within a year and a half after this two churches were planted with attendance topping 100 each. The "fellowship" of church bodies has continued to grow at various locations, maintaining a sense of togetherness through monthly "celebration" meetings of all the congregations, but each unit is in a constant state of reproducing their model into other communities. The entire organization after 6 years is numbering about 1,000, and has far reaching implications in print media, national conferences and community leadership. When I look back at this church I attended during one of the most important times of my life, I see a church that was a "core". Most larger churches have 1-2,000 attendants, but possibly 500-600 "core" members that are strong, reproducing, passionate examples of God's plan for mankind. It was phenomenal to see that there were literally so many "elders-in-training" that nearly every father in the church was getting to the point of true spiritual leadership and teaching ability. Reproducing was easy and natural since there were a host of potential leaders in the wings ready to lead their own flock, so to speak. The leadership of this group is now firmly

Is this the perfect model? No.

The unsegregation and decentralization of programming made it difficult for individuals like myself (who are not good at running things after they're started) to get a ministry off the ground and running. I love musicals and orchestras and large scale stage productions, but I just didn't find that there was enough financial or personnel support among the congregation for my vision. Likewise, other major evangelistic tools both fine-arts related and otherwise were a bit stunted. The focus was entirely on the family, and groups of families taking an idea or a burden for ministry and making it happen.

Midwest Sentiment

There came a time that I felt I supposed to make a move to a place where God may have some plans for me to use my abilities, and bring me to the next steps or challenges of my life. So I moved to Wisconsin in 2004 back to where I grew up and reentered the life I left... soon thereafter I got married. I settled into the church I once attended from the ages of 10-17 and I have since appreciated the welcoming spirit and various outlets the church provides.

This church numbered about 1,000 when i first arrived, and it was growing rapidly. Church building programs were the talk of the clique I was a part of, and everyone was excited with where the church was going. I of course, left for a while before moving back and picking up where I left off. The church is now numbering about 2,000 regular attendees and has a dynamic outreach to the community through television, orchestra productions during 4 regular musical seasons a year and several worship team outlets with dozens of musical volunteers. The church sees about 5,000 people a year make decisions to follow Christ at its altar, and impacts about 30,000 people a year who attend its various public revivals, conferences, stage plays and musical productions. There is a passion among several in the church leadership to see a youth/fine arts center built where the community can turn to receive musical training, entertainment and evangelistic outreach. This dream is becoming an increasing reality as the church's financial situation continues to thrive and the attendance continues to grow at a healthy pace. This is what I love and long for. To see the church reach the pinnacle of fine art in the world again, to once more be the forerunning to revolutionary creative ideas. And a larger church affords me that opportunity.

Is this the perfect model then? No.

The move to this megachurch-in-the-making strangely intersected with my marriage and subsequent pregnancy which means I will have a new, young family in a church family structure that is somewhat contrary to my ideal conditions. I find that it is easy to become part of a system that relies heavily on volunteer service and causes the family to spend massive amounts of their "free time" outside work and school in different ministries on opposite sides of the church building. I see how there are "patriarchs" of the church that simply have no time to intimately know their families and grow in leadership reproduction. This church is attempting to be the exception with a leader mentorship philosophy and program, but it is truly an exeption, not the rule.

At the very foundation there lies a slight deviation from what I perceive to be the perfect atmosphere for my family and how this particular body is organized. But that does not qualify as "lacking" or "unbiblical", and it certainly does not mean that I cannot find a home that I agree 98% of the time with. And more importantly, I trust and love the leaders God has over me at this church. I know God has called me here for a season and purpose, and I intend on giving as much as I am able until God leads me otherwise; rather than leave, find another church (or start a new one) based on my disagreeance with something rather small to the church body as a whole, I believe God would be pleased to see me serve his church, before I serve my interests. Church family has never been about where your needs are met most perfectly, but where your talents may be invested most effectively... for God's Kingdom, not your own.

Another Example for Good Measure

In another brief example, another church I was a part of through my college education was by definition a "megachurch", with a regular attendance of 4,000+ and many thousands more at sister churches across the city and nation. As the church has evolved and settled into its leadership position among the other congregations in the area, it has become a prime example of unity and humility to other spiritual leaders and pastors. It is continually using its facilities to benefit local leadership conferences, unity sessions with local pastors and ministry consolidation with other church bodies. There is a lack of total assimilation for new attendees, and some problems exist in the church's ability to react to personal needs with agility and speed.

I don't blame the particular megachurch of your choosing for its cons, I simply believe that the ideal size for a church is more like 250-500. It is at this point that no one goes unnoticed, many feel more equipped and they can blend into the fabric of a community more smoothly. The problem I see is with the ability of all those 250-500 size churches getting together in unity and utilizing the concept of scale and collaboration for the work of the ministry. There are so many disagreements between the separate fellowships, that its just easier to avoid. But unity by disassociation is contrary to God's will, and any mature Christian leader knows that.

No Fencing Allowed

So... I'm not trying to straddle the fence here. I am just trying to knock the wind out of the Laodicea militia.

There could be another reason the church as a whole stays small: there are throngs of individuals that literally border on hatred for others in the church body. It is obvious that Christ's prerequisite for salvation "No one comes... but by me" doesn't matter to those who would like to criticize and demean other leaders and their faith, whether you agree with them or not.

Quite frankly, for all of you that piously quote scripture against your brothers in the Lord, remember...

"By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one ANOTHER." (Jn. 13:35)

Y'all aren't even close.

1 Comments:

Blogger little timmy said...

Hey Ed, let me know when you get the theology group goin again cuz I'd like to get involved.

5:19 PM  

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