Friday, December 09, 2005

Why Attend a Megachurch?

I found this paragraph in the midst of a post on a completely different subject at Ales Rarus:

Obviously megachurches are popular, or otherwise they couldn't very well be megachurches, could they? But I have to wonder what do these churches provide that so gosh darn attractive? Anonymity? Unbridled consumer choice? Unmitigated noninterference with one's chosen way of life? Perhaps it is a sense of spirituality (not, of course, that which might be misconstrued with objective norms of faithfulness or obedience), which is now more popular than the Beatles ever were.
Since it's been asked, why do people go to megachurches? I think the poster has nailed down four good reasons.

Let's start with anonymity. Do people choose a megachurch in order to just get lost in the crowd? Undoubtedly there are many who do just that. Perhaps burned out on service at a smaller church, they seek out a place where they won't be asked to do anything for a year or two. I know of people who have fled to a megachurch because of scandalous situations at their former churches. Again, they found a place to stay connected while getting lost in the crowd.

A huge church offers more choices. Kristen at Walking Circumspectly featured a post about the various worship choices at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church. The list is almost daunting to the reader. How would you decide which of the nine worship styles to choose? Well, the Hawaiian one I could probably rule out quickly. But a megachurch can offer so many things to please the church shopper. Not just a coffee house and a bookstore, but many different possibilities. Consumerism is placated with multiple choices.

The third reason was called by the poster "unmitigated noninterference with one's chosen way of life" but let's concentrate on the convenience factor. That's what much of it comes down to. How can you claim to be too busy for church when there are services offered at most any hour of the weekend? There are always nurseries available and Sunday School classes (whatever they call them). Much of what you need is on the campus somewhere, including snacks, fast food and entertainment.

Finally there is the popular sense of spirituality, which ties into the "noninterference with one's chosen way of life" factor. Not every megachurch fits the mold, but there are many people who choose a church because they can feel spiritual and never have their beliefs challenged. A feel-good message replaces a Biblical sermon and it doesn't offend. We'd be denying the truth if we claimed that some megachurches and some attenders aren't drawn by this.

But there are other reasons why megachurches are popular. For instance, there is an aspect of anonymity to attending a megachurch, but by the same token there is a feeling of belonging to something important. Sure a megachurch is a physically impressive facility, but it's also a large organization which is usually seen as an important group. Megachurches garner headlines, give much money and service to deserving causes, make a difference in more lives and impress more people. It makes a person feel good to be a part of a group who accomplishes things. That is a drawing card right there.

Bigger churches will often have better, or at least more charismatic pastors. Like it or not, many churches are pastor-driven. I wish it were not that way, but churches usually experience growth because of the face in the pulpit, not in spite of it. Sometimes the pastor is an excellent speaker, or a good story-teller, or even a speaker who can apply Bible truths to life in an easy-to-understand fashion. Unfortunately, sometimes the pastor is someone who ignores Romans 11:22 and preaches only the love of God and not the judgment of the Almighty. As I noted earlier, some churches leave the Bible out of the equation entirely. There may be a couple of megachurches who aren't pastor-driven, but I'm hard pressed to come up with them.

As part of a megachurch, often people don't have to be tied up with church politics and the power struggles which go on in smaller congregations. Discipling opportunities are more readily available. Resources are plentiful. Staff people are available. Attenders are not "guilted" into teaching a class or to volunteer for a service project. There isn't a feeling of, "If I don't do it, it won't get done" at a megachurch. And then there is the worship service itself.

With any musical service there will be some aspect of entertainment entering into the equation. In a megachurch, the attender can sit as a concert-goer or enter into some intense personal and corporate worship. I can't see anyway to keep a so-called worshipper from simply being a spectator during the service instead of a participant. That works in my small church as well. That decision is in the heart of the attender. Somehow I think it's a little easier to be in awe of a worship leader/performer with a more professional presentation than a small choir with piano and organ accompaniment. But maybe that's just me.

Some people, especially those in smaller churches, like to criticize megachurches. Sometimes the criticism is justified. A megachurch has a lot of problems which a smaller congregation doesn't have to deal with. Yet there are distinct advantages for some people to worship in a megachurch, just as others are more at home in a smaller church. Each side of the debate has it's own strengths and weaknesses. Personally, I couldn't be a long-term part of a megachurch -- I wouldn't feel comfortable -- but I would have no problem attending for a few weeks. Others develop a nervous twitch when visiting a church as small as mine. However, dismissing a church and it's ministry simply because of it's size is foolish as well as unbiblical. It shows a more worldly approach than we like to admit.

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