Mega Church Mania
William L. Brown
Pastor, Carmichael Baptist Church
The media, as well as thousands, are being drawn into the newest fad, „Mega Church Mania.” A recent article in the Sacramento Bee (March 30, 1997) reported on a local area church (Bayside Covenant) that began about two years ago with only 161 in attendance at its first meeting. It is now running around 1,800. The attention was drawn to this church because it is the newest fad in reaching out to the multitudes and because of the quick growth. The By-line records „New style of worship finds converts.” The attraction is stated as a mixture of laughter, pop music, Letterman like top ten lists, and mass marketing.” All this seems to have been inspired by the Willow Creek Church in Chicago which draws an average of 15,000 people each weekend. The idea is to draw people in with „high energy music, dramatics and scripted productions.” A quote from the senior pastor, Ray Johnson, at Bayside, is quoted, as saying their church is „a church for people who don’t like church.”
One of the families who now attend regularly is quoted as saying „I was brought up Catholic and the whole strict religion part is not for me.” The writer of this piece went on to state an additional comment, „we like the morality and ethics stressed here – and some religion mixed in.” Going further into the article we find another new church springing up in the same general area (Rocklin, California) called „The Bridge.” The quote from this pastor is, „Hymns are outdated for us. The sermon of the past does not speak our language.” Read on and you’ll find they may use „popular songs from singers such as Joan Osborne, or sermons on doubt accompanied by a video clip from the Steve Martin film ‘Leap of Faith’.”
In another recent article in Forbes magazine, dated May 5, 1997 you can read about the marketing strategy and business acumen of the Willow Creek church. The title of the article ought to tell you something which reads, „Willow Creek: the flock that rocks.” This is a church with an annual income of 22 million dollars. 13 million come from the member contributions and the remaining 9 million come from their „food sales, the church store and fees from the Willow Creek Association. Hybels, the senior pastor at Willow Creek, is quoted as saying he attended a management seminar and „began to see that marketing God has something in common with selling a product.” He later hung a poster on the door outside his office which read, „What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?”
Something is drastically wrong when we read how a pastor resigned his present pastorate to join up with Hybel’s association and start his own church using the Willow Creek model. A church that grew to 450 notes „Success” for this man. Something is wrong when we look at Willow Creek as a „Harvard Business School case study.” Mega Church Mania has arrived and is in full swing. When a story in Forbes magazine (May 5, 1997) tells us how „a rock group helps atheists, agnostics, and lapsed Christians find spiritual fulfillment” we have a taken a giant step backwards in a supposedly progressive ministry.
The idea of making atheists, agnostics and backslidden Christians comfortable in the worship services of a „church” is not something I would want to do, and certainly not something that would be accomplished by preaching truth. I’d like to see them recreate John the Baptist’s encounter with the Pharisees and Saducees that came to him for baptism. Maybe they would like to revisit the time Christ entered into the temple and found that it had been turned into a den of thieves. They had turned a place of worship into a place to make money. Sounds sort of familiar to me! He didn’t gather together His disciples and decide to put on a play so people could better understand God. He reinstated what had long since been lost, truth, and the preaching of repentance! John the Baptist didn’t start a band to sing contemporary songs about the how nice the water was in Jordan. He preached repentance and he preached the need for fruit before he would administer baptism upon anyone.
Truth has become a beggar, a vagrant trying to find a home in the pulpits of America. Repentance is a lost word and an often unseen work. The interest of many has turned from a desire to see the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit to a desire to be entertained and pumped up. I suppose Jonathan Edwards classic sermon entitled „Sinners in the hands of an Angry God” would be rejected by these churches because it’s message does not speak their language. I’m sure it doesn’t because it is the language of God’s word which is sadly missing from these pulpits of glass podiums and giant video screens. But, this is what happens when we mold our worship services to the lost world rather than the worship of an Almighty and Jealous God. This is not the end result but only the sad beginning of a degrading service designed to accommodate and interest lost people. The dilemma we find present here is that of depending on our creativity rather than upon the preaching of God’s word and His wonderful grace.
It matters not if we have the greatest orator of all ages preaching the purest gospel message. If the Holy Spirit does not quicken the dead sinner they will remain lost. You and I do not have the liberty to alter the message, the method, or means by which God will save lost sinners. David learned this very truth when he attempted to bring the ark of the covenant back to Jerusalem on an ox cart. That may have been okay for the Philistines who happily sent the ark away, but not for the people of God. That mistake cost Uzzah his life when in sincerity he attempted to steady the ark as it tipped when the cart was shaken. The instructions were clear as to how the ark was to be carried by the people of God and when that means was modified they found nothing but trouble.
Lost sinners need to hear about God’s judgement of sin; because of what man is (a sinner by nature), because of what man has done (broken God’s law), and because of what man has not done (they do not believe). John 16:8 tells us the ministry of the Holy Spirit is not to entertain but „when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” Man’s nature is thoroughly corrupt and yet remains unhorrified by that fact. If the contemporary preacher continues to coddle man in his state of sin he will remain there, lost and on the way to hell. The gospel was fashioned in the wisdom of God and it is through the foolishness of preaching that gospel that God has chosen to „save them that believe.” If man adds to God’s design he is adding a little leaven and a little leaven, leaven’s the whole lump.
God forbid that we should fall prey to the fowler’s snare and try to improve upon the message, method, or means of reaching the lost. It will ultimately lead to a corruption of the gospel which will be a gospel of a different kind and lead untold thousands into the pits of hell. What we need are churches that will get the world of their church and get going out into the world preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.Our commission is to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them all things whatsoever we have been commanded. That isn’t an option!
Mega Church Mania by William L. Brown
Mega Church Mania