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Response to the Walmartization of the Church

December 2, 2006

3. There isn’t anything we can do to change this: I admit, this will come down hard on most of us who are upset about the emergence of the Megachurch as the primary mover and shaker of the Church in North America. But once again, Walmart is our standard here. If you are a believer in Freemarket Economics, is Walmart doing anything wrong? Well, there are those of us who believe that they hold to unfair business practices, but they are not really doing anything more different than retail stores have tried to do for decades. The difference is that they are doing it better than anyone has ever done it before. And no one can stop Walmart as long as they give us what we want.

What would have to change is that consumers would have to want more than just lower prices. And that is probably not going to happen any time soon. Economics has proven to be the most powerful force from a human point of view. It is the ignorance of how economics works that brought down Communism and Fabian Socialism. It is the ignorance of economic principles that paved the way for Adolph Hitler (take out those twentieth century history textbooks and hone up on the Weimar Republic).

This is my observation of the Megachurch phenomenon. The Megachurch has emerged, not so much by the design of God (unless you are a complete believer that God’s sovereignty means that man can never do anything apart from God’s will), but because it was the logical result of many different converging patterns. Among those, I see:

1. Generations coming up that love to do things in large groups and appreciate the community that comes when they feel lost in the group.
2. Modernistic churches that became too busy and too structured to allow people to do something besides attend almost meaningless church, committee and membership meetings.
3. An increasingly time-filled world where none of us (outside of some cabin in Wyoming) have any time to ourselves.
4. A church-growth movement that finally shucked off the false idea that good christianity meant bad use of technology and marketing. That lead to the Megachurch making use of excellent means to get their message out.
5. A large group of people who grew up in Evangelical churches that have come to hate the politics of church and just want to be part of something bigger than themselves once a week.
6. As exemplified by one of the anonymous posters this week, a rising cynicism about the value of community, meaning those times we spend in small groups.
7. I want my MTV…and I want my worship to sound that way too. And it better be good. And there are only so many good musicians around and they tend to congregate around each other…in Megachurches!
8. People are tired of being hurt in church, and the Megachurch allows them to go to church while they are healing up. After awhile, the idea occurs to them, “why don’t I just stay here?”

There are many other factors of course. My heart tells me that most Megachurch pastors really want to glorify Jesus, really have a call of God on their hearts and have really made some impact on their communities. I also make distinction between three types of Megachurches: 1) The Developing World Megachurch which is built on small groups. These nations do devote more time to these groups, something most North Americans could never do at their present frantic rate of over-commitment. 2) The slowly built Megachurch in America. These became that way because over the years and years they exemplified superior Bible teaching and excellent principles of commitment to their community of believers and the community they found themselves in. 3) The Megachurch that formed very quickly, more as a symptom of the above factors than because they have a superior message.

The Megachurches are here to stay! That means, as I said in the two earlier postings that the smaller churches in medium to large population centers will cease to exist. I have no doubt this is true. As a result, people will come to expect less from church and may have to reach out to God on their own. Unfortunately, throughtout history, humans have been shown to be very faulty when it comes to leading themselves into truth. This is best shown in the book of Judges, where it describes what it was like having no prophets in the land: “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes”.

George Barna wrote in his book “Revolutions” that he believes Christians are already rebelling against the Megachurch by having informal meetings in pubs, dorm rooms and informal societies. While I don’t disagree that is happening, it will never reach the mainstream. These are the people who used to do the same thing, but did it in the Church. The vast majority of Christians in the days to come will simply look for the only thing they have left to them: The Megachurch. Unless something dramatic happens to change the trend that is coming, there are few other options.

What will be the secondary results? The knowledge of the Bible will steadily decrease. The idea of worship will be reduced to singing Christian Pop songs that will increasingly sound the same. The idea of intercessory prayer will once again be relegated to the “crazy ladies” that we used to relegate it to in the days after World War 2. Marriages will begin to fall apart at a rate never seen in American history.

But that is when leaders among God’s people (Prophets, Pastors and Teachers) will begin to turn to God for a better way and will listen to Him for what changes should be made. I see no other way for this to happen. There cannot be another way. Check your heart and see if the Lord is not showing you the same thing. This is when the True Emerging Church will begin to come to the forefront. I have no idea at this point what it will look like. I feel like taking these posts and putting them in a time capsule to open up in twenty years as these things are happening.

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5 comments

  1. Birth pangs are always painful… and we are in the beginnings of labor. We are laboring to birth a new church. Even false labor (the current “Emerging Church”) produces some fruit – preparing the body for the momentus events to come – i.e. birth of the truly emergent church. DJM


  2. DJM…I think you have hit it right on…this is just birth pangs the church is experiencing. As the new church emerges, there will be pain, effort, toil and cost. But what will come out at the end will be new, alive and fresh. Thanks for your observation.


  3. Wow, this series on Megachurches is disturbing. I’m curious, on what do you base your position, other than your observations about converging patterns, that you do not believe the Magachurch has arisen as a result of God’s design? What is the Lord telling you about Megachurches? Such a strong disapproval of the Megachurch is disheartening because I have never felt the absence of God nor the presence of Satan when I walk into a Megachurch. Now if I walk into a Casino I definitely feel the absence of God’s presence.

    But what if God is using Megachurches to reach a niche that the small church is unable to accommodate? For instance, I once knew a homeless man who needed help. He contacted numerous small and medium sized churches; none of them could help him. He eventually found a program at a large church that helped him get off the street.

    As for the economies of scale argument; the small church has its own frustrations when it comes to money. The majority of a small church’s budget will go to the salaries and benefits of the pastors, and for rent and utilities. The fact that labor is the biggest expense for almost every organization leaves little left over for ministries in a small church. I think that’s why some people are drawn to Megachurches; they like having a greater amount of available funding for a variety of ministries.

    On the other hand, tithing in a small church is more personal because the average member can see the direct line to the recipients. But in the small church environment we can end up mistakenly viewing our pastors as the primary ambassadors of ministry since they are the people on whom we spend our resources.

    As for the personal care provided by small churches, I believe you could be missing an important point. Just like the Walmart scenario, if I go to Home Depot with a question on how to wire a ceiling fan the clerk is likely to be most unhelpful. If I go to Ace Hardware, a smaller more personal retailer, I can always find a clerk who has the product and information I need. The same is not necessarily true of smaller churches. That is, the level of care and discipleship is not always much better in small churches as compared to Megachurches. With all due respect, I think you may be doing a disservice to some of the readers by leaving the impression that small church good and Megachurch bad because you get more personalized care at a small church. For example, in the Megachurches I see a necessary trend where church pastors pass more and more responsibilities off to lay leaders on the grounds that the pastors simply cannot be everywhere all the time. Small church pastors are doing the same thing. In our small church the pastor is able to offer personal care to those in his immediate circle of friends and acquaintances. The rest of the church body typically must rely on small groups to provide personal care and support; something that doesn’t always happen, especially if you are not going to a small group. You see, small groups are made up of leaders and people who already have relationships, outside the group, who need their personal care and attention. So we are back to the core problem; the pastors and small groups of small churches, and Megachurches, do not have enough time to care for everyone. I don’t have an answer for this dilemma except to say that I believe people who need and want care have some personal responsibility to invest some effort to find it.

    Sadly, there will always be Christians who only want to go to church on Sunday and go home with complete anonymity; they do not want any other expectations laid upon them. I don’t worry too much about these folks because life has a way of forcing people to give up their anonymity. They will eventually come out of their hermit’s cabin; or perish alone.

    Maybe the question is really more about where we and our pastors are spending our time. Are we investing in people, or writing in blogs? That was joke folks; lighten up.

    As for the tone of this series, it bothers me because of an observation I’ve had since I was a young adult. It’s the observation that there is little unity in the Church in North America, and it’s because of jealousy and disagreements over petty differences of opinion. Until there is unity the church will continue to decline in our part of the world. Our brothers and sisters in Megachurches who read this series will be hurt or angered. I’m not sure that does much to improve the unity of our relationships.


  4. Anonymous: I do need to respond to some of the things you said…and please read my response carefully, as I have read yours very carefully.

    Go back and read especially my third posting. I never said that I do not believe the Megachurch has not arisen as a result of God’s design. I said “not so much by the result of God’s design”. That means that I am admitting God has something to do with it. I ask an honest question: Are you a student of Church History? The history of the Church shows that many movements that mankind were convinced were borne by God actually showed to have more of man’s stamp upon them.

    There are Megachurches that have God’s true design stamped upon them. I know that is true. There are just as many as there are smaller churches. This is not my point. My point is what the Megachurch is doing to the smaller churches and will continue to do.

    As to your comment on the Megachurch helping the poor. The example you gave is from a large church, but I wonder if you mean a megachurch. Large churches (those between 500 and 2000 by definition) do help out the communities they exist in. This is actually a size of church that has had incredible impact on America. But on this stead you lose your point. Take as an example, the largest church in America – Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church. When Hurricane Katrina happened, they were asked to help house the refugees in their facility. They have an arena that seats 25,000. They absolutely refused. They did offer to take up a series of offerings for the refugees. The first offering was taken, and it amounted to a half million dollars. That is equal to about ten dollars per person. The last estimate from one study done this year is that Americans gave on average over 150 dollars apiece to Katrina victims. Many other smaller churches in Houston opened their doors to the refugees. Lakewood closed them.

    If you read carefully what I wrote, more money is spent on salaries and facilities in Megachurches than in smaller churches. And that will even get worse in the days to come considering that smaller churches will not be able to afford facilities.

    But I agree that this is what appeals to people about the Megachurch. They do not have to feel personally responsible for the financial problems of the larger church. But in the smaller church, more emphasis is placed on the individual.

    As to your comment on this being a negative series, remember that I am seeking to be prophetic here and not just criticizing the Megachurch. I honestly have no axe to grind with the Megachurch. The church I am a part of grows at a good pace, has a good group of people and I am quite content with the ministry we offer. I do not see any of our people leaving for Megachurches. However, as a writer and theologian, I take it seriously that we are to watch for the signs of our times.

    If you read my third piece, I hope you will hear my heart. I believe that many of the problems of the smaller churches are what is leading the Megachurches to exist. I am not saying they shouldn’t. Neither am I saying that we shouldn’t have Wal-Mart. I really think Walmart exists because people like it. So does the Megachurch. Who wouldn’t want to watch a video every Sunday based upon the message shown in High Definition and featuring the best singers in the country instead of a run-down overhead projector, a tired pastor, an out-of-tune guitar and a sound system that thinks “feedback” is a musical notation? I think the Megachurch, though, is only a phase. I believe that God will use it to bring out the mistakes that the smaller churches have made…but then to raise the dissatisfaction level of those who attend Megachurches for something more.

    What the church that will appear afterwards will look like I do not know.

    Thanks for your observations. Even though I disagree with them, I really am encouraged that you are wrestling through what I wrote.


  5. I really enjoyed this series. Thank you.



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