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Are Mega-Churches Saving America or Finishing it Off?

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In a recent article in the Christian Post addressing the ongoing controversy over mega-churches, South Carolina mega-church pastor Perry Noble makes the case his now 40,000 member, multi-campus church needs to continue to grow in order to reach the lost. Noble says:

We’re all about the numbers because we believe that every number has a name, every name has a story, and every story matters to God. We aren’t just about NewSpring being a church of thousands of people … we want all churches to be thousands strong because of the potential the church has. People are going to hell because we’re more concerned about our temporary comfort than people’s eternal destinations. … Maybe (critics) don’t like the idea of mega-churches because their doubt is bigger than their faith that God can build a big church. Jesus unapologetically grew the size of His church beyond hundreds, thousands, and maybe He even wants millions or billions of people to be part of the Church.

Noble raises one key point here worth considering.

We have to be careful assuming things from the outside, thus making uninformed but sweeping judgments. Just because a church is large doesn’t mean they’ve watered down the Gospel. For example, my wife’s seminary graduation was at the sprawling campus of the First Baptist Church in Atlanta, helmed by the well-respected Dr. Charles Stanley. Setting any theological differences/distinctions someone may have with Dr. Stanley aside, no one would consider him some kind of milquetoast sellout.

Furthermore, just because a church has a more modest, consistent support base doesn’t automatically mean its suffering because it’s being faithful to the mission. I’ve spoken in churches that were smaller because they were dying. They weren’t interested in getting outside their comfort zone, or viewed any attempt at modernization as moral compromise. Because they still sing “hymns” and not “praise” music they think they’re showing more fidelity to the Gospel. Except those “hymns” were once considered controversial when they were originally composed, by those who thought it was blasphemous to sing anything but the Psalms.

We have to be careful judging anything, either good or bad, based solely on numbers. Charles Spurgeon is considered one of the greatest preachers of all-time, and his New Park Street Chapel and Metropolitan Tabernacle are two of the largest churches the city of London has ever seen.

Obviously we want as many people as possible in our pews. There should be no debating that. I do broad-casting with a Christian worldview, so my goal is also to reach the largest audience possible. The debate is really about how or what we do to reach that audience.

Noble is correct that Jesus sought after multitudes, but he called out disciples.

Christ’s model was not to have hanger-ons loafing spiritually on the periphery of a repentant life. In fact, in John 6 when Christ is delivering a tough teaching that causes many in the multitude to leave him, Christ not only doesn’t cajole that multitude to stay but he turns to his Apostles and says, “Do you wish to leave me, too.”

Christ is not just just looking for converts, but the committed.

As someone that came out of a mega-church environment I know first-hand there are plenty of uncommitted attracted to this paradigm. It allows them to hide, and never be confronted with their sin. On the other hand, God used this more modern approach to ministry to pierce me as well, and for that I am eternally grateful. So it’s not as simple as a black-and-white proposition.

The pattern that typically happens in mega-churches is people come who usually wouldn’t come to church, and then if they’re truly saved eventually yearn for solid spiritual food. If the mega-church doesn’t provide that, they go someplace that does. Some mega-churches do a great job of providing that structure, and others are basically entry level Christianity, and/or glorified corporations who financially enrich the pastoral staff more than they spiritually feed their members. And sometimes that really faithful looking pastor of the small church sleeps with the organist, too.

Translation: all of us are capable of unspeakable evil, regardless of what theology or methodology we have bought into.

So while we need to be careful with making wide-sweeping judgments based solely on what we see from the outside, when God sees what’s happening on the inside, there is one inconvenient truth that we cannot evade.

Right now we have more people in churches than ever before, we have more churches than ever before, and we’re selling more Christian “stuff” than ever before. However, despite those things this culture is abandoning its Christian foundation at an alarming rate. The church is now sadly entering into an era where it will have to debate its own free existence in this culture for the first time.

How do we reconcile these contradictory things?

Here’s one possible answer: we’re doing a great job of drawing a multitude, but not doing so great at making disciples.

That means we’re doing great events but not the great commission.

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