Saturday, April 05, 2008

Churches and Finance, Part 3: Where Are Megachurches?

In Part 1 of this series I asked you what things you consider when you look at a church and say "Man, God is really blessing that church." I think it (sadly) usually boils down to what the church's programs are like or what it can afford to do.
I pointed out that Word Faith churches are rich and large, but Biblically contrary. The early Church had characteristics of miraculous things that only God could do, and I think that's a better measure.

At any given bookstore the church growth literature seems to center around the things that megachurches in the U.S. are doing. Churches all over the country scramble to copy the programs of Rick Warren or Andy Stanley into their own churches. These are all considered to have "miraculous" growth, and people point to that as a sign of God's blessing, or the church's success. So, it seems that people consider these churches as special and many want their churches to grow in the same ways. I think this is folly. Why do I think that?

Observe the following pictures. The first shows the location of megachurches in the U.S. The second shows the location of the 500 fastest-growing cities in the U.S. according to the Census Bureau. Notice how identical the two graphics are.

If megachurches are considered blessed or miraculous because of their large numbers and rapid growth, does that mean that the rapidly-growing cities they're in are also blessed? Should we scramble to hire their city planners and publish books on their mayors' strategies too?

The 500 fastest-growing cities in the U.S. also have the fastest-growing income levels in the U.S. The cities are growing because people are migrating to where the money is. These cities are seeing growth in human capital due to the increase in high-skill, high-pay jobs. This helps explains how the megachurches can afford to do so much: increasingly wealthy people are growing the church's membership. No surprise that most of the megachurches are also built in neighborhoods with very high per-capita income.

Megachurches have large buildings, elaborate programs, the latest technology, and the highest-quality materials. They can afford much. People look at all they can afford to do and consider them "blessed." But, I haven't seen anything about them that looks any more like the New Testament than the 200 person church down the street. Willow Creek, probably the most copied church in America, even apologized when it realized that its programs weren't helping people grow spiritually. Increased participation in activities didn't correlate with spiritual growth. The various works of the Spirit I listed in Part 1 aren't found at these churches.

In Part 4, I'll elaborate on how to start building your megachurch. (In part 3 I said I'd do that today, but I decided to break it up into 2 parts. Sorry).


Keith Walters said...

This happens with church planting strategies across the board. Migrations are important. If there is a large number of people moving from one particular area to another or a large group of people moving from several areas to one particular area then you immediately have a large population, usually densely concentrated, who need a sense of belonging, community, and identity. If a church planter, or existing church, can connect with such a population and provide for these needs then you are on your way to building a megachurch. These new immigrants also serve as contacts for future immigrants and your church now has a constant source of new converts. YAY!!! I think this can be done both biblically and horrifically unbiblically. One centers on the proclamation of the gospel and one centers on meeting felt needs. Meeting felt needs is easier and faster than proclaiming a contextualized gospel message and so most churches that I have observed are following the horrifically unbiblical route.

I am curently reading Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World which talks alot about immiration patterns and it is pretty amazing.

JTapp said...

"Meeting felt needs is easier and faster than proclaiming a contextualized gospel message and so most churches that I have observed are following the horrifically unbiblical route."

Good call. That goes along with my belief that most church growth literature are simply recipes to attract the increasingly wealthy, which make up the majority of the population growth in places where megachurches are located.