Monday, September 26, 2005

The big problem with megachurches

I know my sheep and my sheep know me. - John 10:14

When Jesus describes his relationship to us, he repeatedly uses the picture of a shepherd taking care of the sheep. The shepherd knows who is lost, who is hurt, who is tired. He knows where they live and whether they have enough to eat. "He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out ... His sheep will follow him because they know his voice" (from John 10:3-4). There is a bond of love and trust that is the most important part of making sure nobody gets lost.

The biggest problem with the megachurch is not all the things which can go wrong with the theology or the leadership. The biggest problem is what is sure to go wrong because the leader does not know each of his followers well enough to do his job of shepherding. Teaching and inspiring are only parts of the job of a pastor. If the pastor does not know who is hurt, who is tired, who is lost, if he does not know his peoples' names and where they are staying, if he does not know who is hungry, then he is not doing his job. "He makes me lie down in green pastures" (from Psalm 23); the shepherd knows who is tired in this overworked, overbusy culture and insists that they get some rest.

The problems can be traced back long before the megachurch movement. Pastors may perceive their job as teaching their people or inspiring their people. While that's part of the job, some have forgotten that this is not their entire job. American mass culture is very efficient -- but people get lost in the shuffle. We have let church become a place where people can get lost in the shuffle, even though our communities should be the last place on earth, the light on the hill, that people can call home. This is more important than ever in this era where fewer and fewer people have families on which they can rely.

I do not mean to suggest that the problem is limited to megachurches; only that, in megachurches where people come and go unnoticed unless they fill out a form, the problem is inevitable.

Update: To make the long story short, I think the missing ingredient is fellowship, which is the human aspect of it all. There's no fellowship between the pastor and the congregation, and most members have no fellowship at all with most of the other members.


Josh R said...

I think that part of the problem is that believers have delegated their responsibility to love and minister to one another to their pastor.

I see the bible tell us to love one another, to encourge one another, to exhort one another.. I don't think that "Sheparding" as you define it is one person's job.

Some MegaChurches are actually quite healthy because the leader knows that it is impossible to know every person in his congregation, and as a result this responsiblity is delegated back to the individual believer and small group leaders - where it belongs in the first place.

The Lord is our Shepard. The pastor is just one small element within the Body of Christ. We should not look at him as the head. Christ is the head.

Weekend Fisher said...

Thanks for commenting.

Obviously we're supposed to care for each other, and I hope nobody is using their pastor as an "out" on that. I know people can tend to rely overmuch on their pastors. That much said, even peer-to-peer watching out for each other is harder in a megachurch. The person sitting in the next few rows -- you just aren't nearly as likely to know how they are, and their kids, and their uncle who just had surgery or whatever the case may be, less likely to have been sitting beside the same people week after week for years. Likewise, the top-down adding more helpers is good, but in the megachurches that I've seen a person has to step forward and put themselves into a small group, even step forward and let people know that you attended if you're new. Real human beings fall through the cracks, especially if they were a visitor feeling alienated in the first place (happens all the time). And again, megachurches have to make that extra organizational effort *not* to have people be just an anonymous face in the sea of faces, and from the people I've talked to they don't necessarily do a good job of that.

Does the same thing happen in places besides megachurches? Sure -- but in megachurches, I still haven't seen a good way to *keep* it from happening. Are you a megachurch-goer? Are you comfortable that every person who shows up to a service is met by someone who cares how their family is and how their life is going? Speaking as a member of neighborhood-sized church, I know there are times when we miss it but in general everybody keeps in touch.

Josh R said...

I thnk that the issue you address, making sure that everyone is plugged in, and has somebody who knows them and watches out for them is a big challenge for any church, no matter what the size.

Any relationship between a congregation and an attender is going to take some inititive on the attender's part. Knowing somebody's name is not enough to have a real genuine relationship with them. People need to feel comfortable, and need to be invited to get plugged in. The also need to feel comfortable enough to be authentic.

Usually the way that you get to know somebody well enough to see through their "presentation layer" is through intimate 24X7 available relationships. These kind of relationship usually form within groups of 2 to 5 people, Not 30, 50, 100, 400, or 3000.

I do not go to a Mega Church. In fact, I left a Mega-Church to begin attending a church plant for the reasons that you are describing. I was totally unplugged at the church I went to. This was my choice however. I was encouraged to participate, but I didn't step forward.

On the other hand, I know a lot of people who have had the Lord totally transform their lives through the relationships they built within that church. I study the bible with a lot of other folks who go to another megachurch in our area, and I see the Lord doing amazing things in their lives, and using them to reach others in amazing miraculous ways.

Stepping into the light is a very scary step. The bible says the many love the darkness. Those who are cowering in the shadows are likely to fall through the cracks where ever they are. While a Mega-Church certainly had pleanty of hiding spots, at least these folks are being invited into the light every week. Many do eventually step out in faith, as I did.

I am glad that I had that choice to make. If I had not had that hiding spot, I would have continued to fear the light. From my hiding spot, I could watch the light, and see it's work. Once I knew the light, I trusted it, and made a choice to step out.

THe Acts 2 church was a Mega-church. 3000 baptisms in one day. They where a community, not a weekly show.

ireneQ said...

I am not exactly sure what you mean by megachurches but I do attend a huge church -- nearly 3,000 people, four services (two on Saturday evenings and two on Sunday mornings).

I agree that it is so easy to get lost in the shuffle. The cell church system is supposed to prevent this, and I love my cell group, but on Saturdays/Sundays we all go to different services -- so I still end up sitting next to strangers in church. If I happened to neglect attending service, there would be nobody to notice or ask why.

To me, there is no sense of community or family during church service. I come for service, then slink away unnoticed as well. The community is only within the cell group.


Layman said...


Do you think the practice of "cell groups" or "small groups" can compensate in megachurches?


Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Chris

I think they can partially compensate; it's a step in the right direction but I don't see that it fully compensates. Even within the cell, unless the cell were to sit together at worship, pray together, Bible study together, and have coffee together to shoot the breeze afterwards, there would be less closeness in the cell than in many neighborhood-sized churches. And then there's the problem of whether you've gotten yourself into a cell, and what happens to visitors or the alienated who aren't in a cell. ("Cell" sounds like a prison. Bleck. I'm sure it's meant to sound like a tiny unit of the body, but you think they'd come up with a better name for it. Remind me to talk to their PR guys.)

Weekend Fisher said...

Gives a whole new meaning to "sleeper cell".

Logan said...

Having been a mega-church goer, I can say that I didn't know much of anybody in my church until about 7 years in. I could have "plugged in" earlier on to meet people, but as far as being greeted, there were probably about 3 or 4 people out of the mix of thousands that would say hi to me.

Trying to mix in can be a bit intimidating. I finally plugged in to a group after some time. I did make relationships and ended up meeting a lot of people and now I can't go somewhere there without saying hi to somebody, but after plugging in to another church and going to different churches, I began to meet more people and experience deeper and more meaningful relationships. I also received much deeper teaching than I did at the mega-church.

I feel that mega-churches - just from what I've experienced - have a relatively water-downed message. Maybe because they have to cater their messages to a wider range of people, or maybe because they are going for numbers, I don't know the reason, but just from my experience I feel like other places I've been to go deeper and have impacted me way more than where I was previously.

Logan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Makarios said...

If a pastor has so many families in his church that he cannot visit in their homes at least once a year then the church is too big.

I pastored small churches (the largest was about 100 people) and made it a point to visit in the home of each family at least once a year. How else can you truly minister to the people?

I am now on the other end of the discussion. I have visited and been active and/or a member of several churches with multiple services and staff. Even with the benefit of small groups I have sensed the "lost in the crowd" feeling. Three times we have attended and/or belonged to a church for an extended period of time and then were gone for a month or more with absolutely no follow-up call, letter or visit. Only in smaller churches where the pastor knows each family does that seem to happen.

Once a church gets to the point of having to have multiple services, I believe it is time to start a mission work with another pastor so that a mega-church never happens. These mission churches could retain a relationship with the parent church but become a separate congregation ministered to by the pastor they know and who knows them.

eviewood said...

im so glad that this is an issue people are talking about now. A while back i struggled greatly with this problem and finally brought it to my minister (it was a huge church), i had never even talked to this man. I voiced my concerns and trust me, it was so hard for me to do this because its not "exceptable" to tell your mega-church pastor that you disagree. I honestly didnt want to have an agrument and tried to steer clear of that, i just wanted to learn more and understand his point of view. I listened and tried to voice my opinions, which were valid, but i was mainly shot down, he even cut me off. After this conversation i came to conclusions and found both pros and cons to these types of churches. It does make me sad, however, that our society needs all this "fluff" in order to hear the word. THE TRUTH speaks for itself and doesnt need productions, rather it needs faithful followers who care for others. As for me, i didnt find what i sought in a mega-church, and to be honest was quite hurt, if you will. I think im going to stick with my small congregation from now on.