Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Observations on the Mega-church

I get Fred Smith's Weekly Thought
This weeks thought is on mega-churches (which is what Trinity is not), but in light of the influence large churches have on the overall direction of the church in North America, I thought he raises some good points:
Peter Drucker, the late authority on organizational development predicted that the majority of American Christians will be attending a mega-church in the next several years. Recently a Canadian businessman wrote to me asking my evaluation of the mega-church movement. He had read an article in a mainstream publication on this subject and he wanted to talk about it.

A few years ago when this movement was getting so much publicity I wrote a Leadership Journal column on "The Blessings of the Small Church." I became convinced that you can go to heaven from a small church as well as from a large one.

Since that time I have been involved with several sizeable churches starting with a pastor's conference for these large churches. They represented many denominations. I was asked to assess the meeting and my opinion was that the language was that of corporate management. In fact, I told them that when I was lecturing at the President's Conference of the American Management Association we talked about the very same subjects.

I think it can be difficult for this movement's leadership to retain the focuses of the church which I see as salvation, maturity, fellowship and worship. For, leading a big organization becomes bureaucratic, at best. The focuses can be maintained but with great effort.

For example, I knew one pastor of a large church who made it his practice to talk with one person everyday about becoming a Christian. Administration tends to absorb the attention and time of church leaders. Another concern is the growth of the mega-church. Too often the increase in numbers is at the expense of smaller churches and not the result of conversion.

When I was writing Leading with Integrity I came across a number of challenges for the church. I think several apply directly to the mega-church:
1) Turning the pastor into a CEO following the corporate model
2) Doing God's work in man's way
3) Treating the members as customers rather than distributors
4) Creating excitement rather than joy

Finally, there is a danger in the large Christian church that creates community unto itself and fails to provide salt and light to the lost world. When size results in separation we have misunderstood the message.

This week think about:
1) where can "economies of scale" make the church work better?
2) how do we create truly create community?
3) what can I do to influence the effectiveness of my local church?

As I said, some good, and I believe accurate observations. And other side of this is that smaller churches can fall into similar traps


Kevin Flatt said...

I think this ties in with the earlier post about managing vs. leading. Many Christian leaders seem to have uncritically adopted the corporate manager as their role model, without stopping to think that the jobs of the corporate manager and the jobs of the Christian leader are very different and in fact have little in common.

Insofar as some Christian leaders need to fulfill managerial duties, they can probably borrow a few things from the corporate model (though I'm not so sure that the most trendy models are always effective in the corporate world itself). But what models can the corporate world provide for teaching sound doctrine? For what used to be called "the cure of souls"? For praying with the sick? And the list could go on.

We're given some pretty specific instructions on the duties and qualifications of spiritual leaders in the epistles (e.g. 1 Tim 3, Titus 1:6-9). Maybe if we spent more time studying those (as leaders and followers) we'd be less impressed with business cards, power-point presentations, and "ministry consultants" as guarantees of good leadership. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with those, just that they tend to wow people with professionalism rather than substance. Thankfully we haven't had much of that at Trinity.

One can imagine how the overloaded Christian leader might seek relief in a secular model of leadership that commands respect and looks professional, especially when his flock expects a perfect corporate guru instead of an imperfect servant-leader. So maybe the real lesson is for the rest of us to hope for, encourage, and give thanks for examples of genuine Christian leadership even when they aren't very glamorous or trendy! You know, the "long slow obedience in the same direction".

Scott said...

Why do we think it’s only the pastor’s who can teach sound doctrine, who can pray for the sick, to cure the souls, and connect us with God? Can’t the church itself teach each other, pray for each other, and care for each other?

In my opinion, that more than anything has contributed to the consumeristic tendencies of today’s church whether it be large or small.

In fact, I would suggest the church as a whole can do a far more effective job of fulfilling it’s mission if the entire church both felt and were empowered to do these, rather than just trying to dump it all on one leader.

If that’s the model were after, than what role should a Pastor fill? I would suggest it’s one largely of administration where the leader helps organize, train, and empower the members of the church itself to fulfill its mission.

If that’s the case we shouldn’t be evaluating the Church based on the activities of the Church CEO, but rather on the activities of the body of believers itself.

Obviously as an organization gets bigger, administration and organization become increasingly important to keeping things running effectively. If empowering the Church to fill its mission turns the CEO’s role into one that looks more and more like corporate America so be it.