I spent over 20 years starting, building and leading what became a megachurch in Ohio as you may know. I look back on that experience with a sense of gratefulness to God for the rich years in building that church but also with equal thankfulness that I am no longer bearing the burden and responsibility for caring for those many thousands of souls. It was awesome to carry that burden in the absolute worst sense of that word. I wouldn’t wish that role upon anyone who is not clearly called by God to walk in that office. I believe many are functioning in the role of senior pastor of megachurches across the country who aren’t in sync with their calling. It is an understatement to say This is not a good thing.
I have compiled a few reasons to make my point. My point is not to dog my friends who are leading very large churches with this list. After all, I have been one of these creatures. This article is based on my experiences in leading churches of this ilk as well as reflecting the experiences of many who have lived through the downside with these sorts of churches.
Each of the following are statements of myth. That is, these are not entirely false, nor are they fully true. The danger with a myth is it contains enough of a lie to be dangerous to accept it as true. We need to examine the myths that circulate throughout our lives. They can sideline us and make us utterly ineffective.
Myth #1: “We have mostly grown through evangelism”
Probable Reality: You have grown through disgruntled Believers leaving other churches (or not attending church) and coming to your new church.
Probable Reality: There is as much evangelism going on as the senior pastor has in his heart to express.
It is difficult if not impossible for a senior pastor to take on evangelism as a mere program. Pastors who aren’t inclined to be evangelistic usually settle for a token expression of evangelism that comes to an occasional basis such as a special altar call at Easter. Not surprisingly few come to know Christ at such local churches, at least not on a per capita basis (those coming to Christ compared to the relative size of the congregation is small).
It’s okay to be evangelistically impaired. It’s okay to not have an inclination toward evangelism in ministry. Just don’t act like you are doing a lot to bring evangelism about. You aren’t. Be honest about your true situation. Stop giving pep talks to insiders about evangelism is you aren’t really doing evangelism.
I have heard from megachurch pastor after pastor who has lost heart in the journey over this very issue. Many signed on for the purpose of doing great feats of evangelism. It was the promise of seeing people come to know Christ that made the extreme price tag paid for building a monster-sized church seem worthwhile. However, it becomes apparent, as it always does, that the vast majority of those joining up are in reality disillusioned Believers of some flavor. The church is not growing by way of birthing children into the Kingdom. Rather the church is more of a gathering point for restless Believers who are looking for something more, something challenging in their Christian lives. There’s nothing wrong with creating churches that will challenge Believers, but that isn’t what most pastor’s originally sat out to do. Be honest.
There is a reason so many multiple mega-churches exist in cities like Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, and Minneapolis. The simple truth is there are many tens of thousands of footloose Believers in each of those places. Christians in those places are looking for “something more” in their church participation. At the same time, there is a reason there are few (if any) mega-churches in cities like Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and urban Los Angeles. There are few Believers present in those places. It is far easier to gather disparate Believers than it is to create new Believers. For that reason, most megachurches are mega gathering places for Believers but not hot spots where evangelism happens as we might hope.
Believers or Burned-out Benchwarmers?
While there is nothing wrong with ministering to burned-out Christians, such ministry isn’t what many megachurch pastors and church-planting pioneers signed up for. A large part of the saleability of this new church was the idea that it would reach a very high percentage of non-Believers. In case after case, the promised forecasts of great levels of evangelism go unfulfilled.
The way most megachurch pastors phrase this is, “We have grown mostly through evangelism.” Such statements are, by and large, absurd. If such were true of their churches—of your church—the following would also be true:
- Rapid growth would continue indefinitely—and at a staggering rate as happened in most of the New Testament. (This pattern is true for numbers of local churches in the Third World.)
- The community around you would, in fairly short order, be transformed in lasting, sustained ways that would catch the attention of the media at the local, regional and national level. This would be amazing news. We would all read about it before long.
- You would have an amazing, biblical proportion, revival on your hands. Honestly, with no hype, have you been there? (See the parenthetical comment under #1 above.) We have room to grow.