Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Can a MegaChurch Remain Relational/Real/ Organic/Missional?

I don't know.

I almost want to hope not.

I think I tried it once.

It was a beautiful mess.

(photo credit: Philip Edwards at Churchless Christian)

The church I currently pastor has about 600 less people (not a beautful mass anymore ;) that may be the whole secret; it may help not at all.

Oh yes...re: this title question... I'm defining "mega" here as a church with over 150 (!) people meeting weekly in a building..(see the worthwile discussion in the comments here about smaller church being better and harder...but what size constitutes "large"?)

It may be a quixotic quest; an impossible dream..but I honor anyone chasing it.

Even if it is a windmill.

For example, listen to Apex Community Church's (an incarnational/missional "network of house churches" that also has a large Sunday celebration) April 29, 2007 sermon (technically the sermons there are called "gathering environments"):

it's called:

"Jesus Has Left the Building"...
It sounds promising (as do other messages on the site: titles like "The S Word," "Jesus and Beer," "When Jesus Unloads," "Single Sex" etc):

"We have to be in consistent social relationship with those who are far from Jesus...people you know at work doesn't count!...we need what Hirsch calls a Third Place.. quit praying that God would send you people who are far from Jesus..he is already sending you those people all the time..any time you go to The Olive Garden, it's church....If Jesus can't be contained by a tomb, he can't be contained by a building"

Large amen, but what to do with a sermon called "Jesus Has Left the Building," preached in a building?

What a crazy calling ..a delightful dilemma...to have a large church, and still preach radically missional, and focus on house meetings...I can't help but notice how often the pastor says something like "Here at Apex..." as if the church is the Sunday place...he sure doesn't preach like he believes that, but it may be that any Sunday morning gathering with a sermon from the pulpit inevitably "believes" it; I mean the wineskin/architecture/form/building/medium and thus message "believes" that...What is to keep a "gathering environment" from being what it is: a sermon by another name?..not to critique the Apex pastor at all..the questions are for me; and I will ask him.

How does he do it?

As Steve Taylor sang, "I just wanna know..."

How does Rob Bell ("What do you do when you're the pastor of a church, it's Sunday morning, the parking lot is filling with cars...and you realize you have nothing to say..People were asking me to write articles and books on how to grow a progressive young church, and I wasn't even sure I was a Christian anymore " -"Velvet Elvis" pp 101-104) do it?

One of the great lessons of the 20th century is that centralized planning and control don't work. They lead to bureaucratic stagnation and collapse under their own weight. Decentralization is fast, fluid and flexible. It allows exponential, viral growth.

The network is a far older and more basic organizational pattern than the hierarchy. Our bodies, families and the environment are just a few examples... It transforms every social structure that was previously organized by command and control. Whether in the war on terror, the presidential campaign or American Idol, the power and effectiveness of networking--for good or bad--is undeniable. Right now our structured armed services are learning to fight an unstructured, networked enemy. It's a new day and a new battle.

Rick Warren...pastor of one of the largest churches in America..said that!!

Amazingly on target.

...and all 3,300 of the home groups at his church feed the hungry in their reighborhoods!

Amazingly missional.

That's hard to argue with.

I can't.

But I must.

I wonder if today's most models of doing this are (just to list a few random examples that come to me):

-What Happy will eventually team-plant in Chile..

- What the "non-residential order" of evangelical/missional Episcopal "nuns", who "take their monastery on their backs," and make vows that include a commitment to prayer, a holistic view ogf exorcism (!) and radical presence in the marketplace. It's called "Little Sisters of Sacrifice.", and they DO have a "Mother Superior" who doesn;t act superior, but ministers among the people..

-What Karen Ward, abbess of Apostles Church Seattle, is pioneering..

-What the community that Beth represents in a blighted Boston neighborhood is all about...

These "congregations " are all small; compared to Saddleback (who isn't) , and all shepherded by women (just noticed that), and creative women...

Hmmm, whats up with that?

I dunno, but sans Holy Spirited creativity (hallmark of imago dei) and without women (imago again..Gen 1.27) in leadership (as most of Christianity seems to prefer it, and why hasn't the emerging church become more female-friendly..read on that here);
the Church is almost doomed to default to male "command and control"
(of course another creative woman, Margaret Wheatley, teaches on that topic here).

I didn't even mention that three out of the four women spotlighted above are from liturgical, even hierarchical, often patriarachical, traditions.."subvert the dominant paradigm indeed; put that in our evangelical-emerging pipe and smoke it.

I won't mention that most are non-white, either(:

Rick Warren is right: "It's a new day and a new battle." (article above)

Rob Bell is right on: "few things are more difficult to take than spirtuial leaders who are always talking about how big their thing is" (99)

The Edifice Complex we have inherited from Christian modernity is bad enough, but when coupled with men who minister out of a fear of not measuring up: death.

We men need to glean from the "Female Advantage: Women's ways of Leadership":

In her bestselling 1990 book, Sally Helgesen discovered that men and women approach work in fundamentally different ways. Many of these differences hold distinct advantages for women, who excel at running organizations that foster creativity, cooperation, and intuitive decision-making power, necessities for companies of the twenty-first century. Helgesen's findings reveal that organizations run by women do not take the form of the traditional hierarchical pyramid, but more closely resemble a web, where leaders reach out, not down, to form an interrelating matrix built around a central purpose. (Excerpt from the publisher)

So to bring us back to center, women; we need to go out of our way to seek out the thoughts and feelings (uh, oh, the F word, men) of creative leaders who happen to be female.

Talk to us. Tackle the question of my title.

Can/Should/a "Mega"Church (over 150 attendees who meet in a building weekly) be Relational/Real/ Organic/Missional?

If I promise not to make three-point sermons out of your wisdom,
would you comment..at length and in depth below?

I am hoping to be found, as Anne Lammot articulates so well:
"doing whatever I can that I think would not horrify Jesus."


  1. I don't think 150 is the right number to qualify as a mega-church. Personally I think it should be at least over 1,000 although I read somewhere that the "officially accepted" number is about 500. Either way, I am also in a mega-church, even though most people wouldn't consciously classify us that way. We're somewhere around 1,300 I think. That's not the total number of congregants, but the average attendance on a Sunday.

    It's too big. I think church planting is the way to go. It provides more room for people to exercise their gifts, preach, lead, serve, etc. And I think there is more opportunity to have a broader appeal and reach more of the lost. (More smaller churches will have differing individual personalities.)That's my two-cents.

    To be a little more fair, some people prefer a home church, some prefer a mega-church, and many are in the middle. There's a place for all of these things-- for the Jew and the Greek, so that the different parts withing the Body can collectively be all things to all people (in the way that Paul meant it; not my any means in a relative or non-biblical way).

    But overgrown beuracracy can only go so far before it becomes a sin and disservice to a congreation.

    --Mike Rinaldi

  2. I think that you and I must ask - can a "micro" church (>150) remain RROM? Referring to scripture the church in Jerusalem grew by the thousands and yet it would seem that they were RROM - at least for a while. For a current day specimen, the church that the Arnott's pastor in Toronto certainly seems to have achieved mega RROM as well as mega attendance. I guess for us right now, we are focusing on being presence driven and spirit led. Pastoring a small church presents some unique opportunities but also some unique problems. The same relationality that comes from intimacy can also result in contagion. I mean - one or two divisive people can infect 50 easily but 500 not so much. I want to say that it's not the people in attendance so much as the spirit in attendance that result in the fruit of RROM. I have pastored a church of 120 that barely had a spark and a church of 60 that is open and loving and hungry for God. I don't think numbers are the inhibiting factor either way. Personally, I think it's easy to be critical of large churches because the potential of getting lost in the masses can and often does happen. However, mass does not necessarily correlate to mediocricy nor does lack of mass guarantee excellence. I really believe that there is a place for large and small corporate gatherings in the name of Jesus. We dare not reduce God's Kingdom to an easily definable goal of attendance or a pre-determined definition of intimacy.

    I doubt that this is what you were looking for cuz I never really get your "deep thoughts." I'm just a girl trying to live out the vision God has given me in obedience to the One I love.

    love you too.

    girpped, nancy

  3. I would call 150 a "pastoral-size" church; if the theories are right, it's easiest to have dispersed authority in a church under about 75, or over about 350 or so.

    Real answer, though: All the adjectives in the question are current buzzwords, and I'm guessing people would define each of them differently depending on which books they've read. For some, a "missional" attitude makes a church count as "missional" (Rob Bell's place) whereas others would say "there's no way a church that big can be missional period." Can you be real without being organic? Organic without being missional? Probably. But it's going to take so much time defining all that I think we may be able to come up with more, uh, missional things to do instead.

    To me, the question I'm interested in is not so much "can X kind of church measure up to ideals A, B, or C," but "what is God calling us to do right now?"

  4. Fantastic comments, y'all

    Mike et al: I intentionally dialwed down the number far below the "traditional" starting size to classify a vchurch mega. I should ahv called more attention to that. It's just taht the average church in US is actually around 40...churches as big as most large once consider churches of 200 "small."

    Nancy..great stuff. I am not convinde ther was a mage church in Jerusalem. Sure, wqe read of thousands getting saved, but the evidence is that the primary gathering time for Christians.."church" if you will, was small groups in homes

    Beth: i love your bottom line question.

  5. Sorry it took so long to post (hectic work month) but the main thing I feel is this : conventional sunday / sunday-school church just isn't working anymore. I know this is due to the growing abstraction of human thought, the growing complexity of human problems (esp. youth) and the demands of the work-study-marriage-you-name-it world.
    "Church" has to be re-done. I don't know how but from the few "Fringe" Christians I know (like me) I have heard that what they know till now (Typcial Christendom) is not enough. It doesn't cater to their needs and it does not allow them to minister to the body.

    For so long I have felt that a change must be had. But who am I to do it or to take the first step? Suddenly I'm thinking that maybe this is in God's heart and maybe all us "Fringe" Christians should rise and make it "real". Have a vision of Church that touches the heart of the XXIst century.

    Anyway, that's all from me... ;)


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!