What have mega churches ever done for us!
For many people reading this the very concept of a mega church will have you running to your keyboards to explain that wasn’t what Jesus or any of the New Testament writers had in mind when they thought about church! Some will suggest that Jesus didn’t even come to found a church, never mind mega church, it is ‘the church’ they have a problem with!
However I just want you to stop for a moment and ask what is it about mega church that makes your blood boil and begin to prepare your polemic! Could it be that the idea isn’t very English and when we think mega church we often default to big brash American celebrity style preachers and the prosperity gospel? Somehow we simply equate mega church with a cultural model that repels us because of its supposed, and in a minority of cases, real excesses.
Could it be we just don’t do big church here, the parish system is designed to be local, contextual and relational and somehow in our heads we can’t quite imagine what bigger than 100 people might look like or how we might organize and lead it. Somehow we imagine relationships can’t be built or grown because we cannot know everybody.
Ironically many of our Cathedrals draw large numbers and a handful of churches in the UK of all denominations break the 500+ regular worshipper barrier. It could be we don’t do mega church because we just can’t imagine what it would look like in our culture. Maybe just maybe this is a really good thing because perhaps we are looking at the wrong things when we judge a mega church.
The truth is they are a tiny part of the worldwide church, less than 1% of the total global church attendance is in a mega church. Many of them reach out effectively to the communities they serve with impressive social action and compassion ministries. Many of them are allergic to the prosperity gospel and have leaders who seek to serve and not play the hero. Many of these churches started small and grew by sharing the gospel with their neighbourhood; they set out and continue to promote Jesus and his Kingdom. In short they are trying and often succeeding, being the local church in action.
In Bristol we have supported the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit over recent years not because it comes from a large American mega church but because we believe it has something of value to say. Often the messages require us to think and question the cultural lens through which the message is transmitted but if we can see beyond the culture we can learn new skills and be challenged to try new things.
Yes, sometimes it is the language of ‘business speak’ and not the ‘kingdom’ but I find it odd that so often the very people who challenge us to be less churchy and more holistic, to create connections between the world of work and the church are the first to criticize when a conference like this tries to help people make connections.
No one is asking us to take every message at face value or change our culture to fit a new paradigm of the priest as leadership guru. Instead we are challenged to be ambitious for the Kingdom, to do what we do to the best of our God given ability, to use our resources well and to learn from those who don’t frequent our church circles.
So what have I learnt from a mega church? I have learnt that: ‘The local church is the hope of the world when it is working well.’ I challenge you to suspend your doubt, fears and secret cynicism and try listening to the talks from this year’s GLS conference - God might just use a mega church to speak to you.