Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Big Church III

I find the rapid growth of my church both exciting and worrisome. On one hand growth does indicate that they are bringing people to God. However, an important part of a church is the connection and fellowship of its body. It seems to me that without great care, the very growth model that the church leadership is pushing and driving can make the church a building filled with individuals where there is no presence of the Holy Spirit.

Across our nation there are a growing number of seemingly dynamic churches whose growth rates are staggering. These bodies tend to be comprised of folks mainly in their 20s or 30s. They typically are led by a young, high energy, charismatic pastor. These folks are driven and many have inked publishing deals that require them to bring a new book to press every 12 to 15 months. Some of these folks like Mark Batterson, Rob Bell, Craig Groeschel, Joel Osteen, Max Lucado, Andy Stanley, and Francis Chan fall into this mold. The mold of the celebrity preacher. The pressures to produce weekly sermons and write books and lead rapidly growing churches must be immense. Yet this slope of popularity is treacherous, and without great care with each step, a pastor can easily be led to worship his God less and himself and his celebrity more. When is enough enough? Is better the enemy of good enough? Is rapid growth and a sizeable following something to be deeply worried about? The din of popularity can so easily squelch that still small voice. When that happens, the shepherd cannot lead his flock to the rich meadows that they need for survival and growth. Beware the numbers game if that is the only metric that you consider.

There is another aspect of rapid growth that concerns me at a very deep level. When churches grow they take on significant debt in the form of mortgages or leases and increased staff salaries. They must then ensure that they maintain their number growth so that they can continue paying the bills and continue expanding. When that happens, I worry that in order to placate and soothe and mollify the masses, the message of the gospel can start to be compromised. Preaching on the crucifixion of our Lord and his death for our sins or our inherently sinful natures apart from a relationship with Jesus can be harsh and put some people off. Better to soften the message and stay away from areas that might tend to push people away. Keep things light and entertaining and feel-good. Make it a show, bring in some jugglers and magicians and stilt-walkers. Why not some give-aways and door prizes? Make it about the laughter and the spectacle and the lights and the music and the positivity. After all, the congregation must continuing growing at all costs.

Of course another staggering aspect is the amount of money it requires to build the church building itself. Sanctuaries of large churches can run from $20 to $50 million dollars! After all, inlaid marble and imported mahogony and teak wood don't come cheap. Aren't there more important things to invest God's money in? Maybe we're really just building a grand idol to ourselves.

(Part 3 of 4)