Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Mega-churches and Me


In light of a few things I've written on our mega-churches, I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea. I have a love/concern attitude toward mega-churches. Over my nearly 43 years in ministry, I've served in churches of all sizes. My first ministry was in Laurens, IA, a congregation of about 30-35 at the time. I was also on staff at First Christian Church in Canton, OH. Canton was one of our first mega-churches with Bible School attendances exceeding 4,000 at times during the early part of the last century. When I left in 2004, it had once again attained the status of a mega-church. I am not opposed to growing churches, therefore I am not opposed to Church Growth or even the Church Growth Movement. In fact, there are some positives I love about large dynamic churches. At the same time, there are accompanying concerns that trouble me at times.

Positives

1. Large churches are biblical. You can't escape the fact that large growing churches are Scriptural. The first church started as a mega-church with over 3,000 baptized in one day (see Acts 2). From that exciting beginning, the church grew to 4,000 then 5,000 and then it exploded with growth. Man, you would have pruny hands just keeping up with the baptisms!

2. Large churches are exciting. I found it exhilarating to watch as 1,800 to 2,000 people came for worship during my last years in Canton. The singing was wonderful (when the song was singable). The response was terrific. The people walking down the aisle each week made my heart beat just a little faster and, on occasion, tears welled up in my eyes. Yes, we got excited about the numbers but it was because each number represented a person -- a person who needed Jesus!

3. Large churches are influential. I could preach about the sins of the flesh until the cows came home in Laurens or Anita or even in Great Bend and I'd be "preaching to the choir." When a preacher in a mega-church preaches about a sin, social or otherwise, he has influence. It doesn't even have to be a sermon. Joe Wright used a prayer comprised of statements Bob Russell made at the Kansas legislature a few years ago. That prayer raised eyebrows and created controversy throughout Kansas. It probably had negative influence on some but positive influence on many more. I preached in Kansas for eight years but was never invited to pray at the opening of the legislature. Because Joe Wright preached for a mega-church, he received the invitation and made a mark. In addition, when 2,000 or more individuals, influenced by their church, go to the polls or make a stand in their community they have clout.

4. Large churches have resources others don't have. Our budget in Canton in 2004 was, if memory serves, about $1.2 million dollars. In addition, the people committed themselves to raising $5.1 million over a three year period to pay off land for relocation. As Minister of Adult Education, I had an annual budget of more than $25,000 to administer. More than $100,000 went to missions each year. Our budget here in Sun City is a healthy $270,000 and we give 20% to missions all of which is commendable. The talent pool is greater in large churches, too. By percentage, a large church may have no more gifted people than a small church but you can only have so much special music, or youth coaches, or teachers and while you may exhaust your talent pool in a small church, you won't in a large one. (Getting folks to use their talent is equally difficult in large and small churches, however.)

5. Large churches can provide superior programming. While in Canton, my Adult Education Ministry spent more than $12,000 on one program. We invited Dr. Tom Sharp from the Creation Truth Foundation to bring his exhibit to the church and we had a week-long program marketed well in the community through radio spots, billboards, fliers, and so on. More than 1,000 children from Christian schools and home-schoolers showed up for one presentation and evening services ran as high as 700. Most smaller churches would consider the cost of bringing CTF to their church daunting at $5,000. Large churches can provide counseling ministries, special needs ministries, addiction recovery groups, and more.

6. Large churches can be strategic. All too often smaller churches avoid change because of the fear of "rocking the boat." If a large church chooses to make strategic changes and those changes create "upset," some can leave without creating much of a stir. In other words, a large church can afford to "leave the back door open." Smaller congregations often avoid making strategic changes because of the fear that highly influential members or significant contributors will become dissatisfied and leave. No one wants people to leave a church, but in some cases a few healthy subtractions can be as healthy as many additions.

7. Large churches are generally friendly. While there are exceptions, when you attend a large church you are welcomed like a long lost brother. Oh, by the way, the exceptions won't be large very long! When I visited Saddleback I received a warm welcome by the parking attendant who directed me to a parking place, another as I climbed the stairs toward the worship center, another along the way as I was offered a cup of coffee, another at the door of the worship center. Believe it or not, there were other undesignated people who made me feel welcome too. I found the same to be true at North Coast Church, Southeast Christian Church, The Vineyard in Cincinnati, and other assorted churches along the way.

I could probably think of many other reasons for admiring large churches, but seven seemed like a good number.

Concerns

1. Large churches are tempted to make "the show" the thing. Can it always be said that a worship service must be a major production of Hollywood quality? I attended workshops at the Ginghamsburg Church, a Methodist mega-church near Dayton, where they gave us insight into worship planning. It came across as a production meeting for a live TV show, which, for all intents and purposes, it was. As a result, what should be a participatory experience of worship becomes a show. I keep thinking about all those passages in the prophets where God lets Israel know he despises their shows (sacrifices and feast days) because their heart really isn't right.

2. Large churches are tempted to "compromise" for the sake of numbers. Whether or not some of our mega-churches have abandoned the Restoration Movement's strong stand on biblical authority, there is a tendency to "soften" the rhetoric. Now that's not all bad, but when the motive for softening the rhetoric is to avoid offense doesn't it become an effort to merely "tickle ears"? Then there is the motive that undergirds the effort. All too often "we want to sound like everyone else" so others will think "we're like everyone else." Israel got in trouble with that when they wanted a king like everyone else. You see, if we sound like evangelicals or good Baptists, the evangelicals and the Baptists will stop accusing us of being a cult or being something really wierd like "water regenerationists." Then everyone will "like us" and more will come to our services.

3. Large churches confuse relationship with discipleship. Sunday School or Bible School is passe at least for adults. The important thing is establishing relationships. The theory is that those who make friends (relationships) stay. Its more than a theory, it is a truth and every church needs to develop means by which its members can develop relationships. But let's be honest about it. The main concern here is "shutting the back door" and retaining members so the numbers look good. Christian formation is a secondary concern. So the mega-churches downplay Sunday School -- after all, building facilities for adult classes is expensive -- and emphasize Small Groups. I am uncategorically for small groups, but small groups are for relationship building and accountability. They do not and cannot teach biblical content nor do they effectively stimulate genuine discipleship. Discipleship has to do with "forming Christ in me." Somehow the early church passed on content as well as developed biblical relationships. How did they do it? The model is found in 2 Timothy 2:2. Somebody qualified taught others. Church leaders and teachers responsibly passed on correct doctrine. Part of that doctrinal teaching had to do with "loving one another as I [Christ] have loved you."

4. Large churches are vision oriented rather than people-oriented. In many, but not all, cases the vision boils down to the ABCs of church life -- Attendance, Buildings, and Cash. The church becomes a corporate structure with directors (elders) and officers (the staff) and a CEO (the senior minister). The vision shapes the programs and the success of the program is measured in Attendance, Buildings, and Cash. The few whose lives really do change become "poster boys or girls" for what the program can do, but the real success is measured by "the many" rather than "the few." What ever happened to the New Testament picture of an elder as a shepherd? The word poimene, or pastor, is a word applied to the elder rather than the preacher (unless, of course he is also an elder). It is time for the church to get back to the biblical picture of an elder as shepherd and care-giver rather than executive. The same goes for the preacher and his staff!

5. Large churches often assimilate their culture rather than affect the culture. Although the early church always faced cultural challenges from without, the wide-spread acceptance of Christianity exacerbated the problems. When thousands poured into the church after Constantine, they brought with them many of their heathen practices and ideas. In many cases, the church merely "baptized" those practices and made them somewhat Christian. Since those days, the church has continued to assimilate the culture. According to Wolfe's The Transformation of the American Church, today's church has become so encrusted with the culture it is hardly different. Barna reports that moral conditions within and without the church are roughly equivalent. Somehow the church has forgotten its calling to be "a peculiar people." We use the culture's music, the culture's methods, and the culture's values to market our product but the product is often confused with that offered by today's cultural gurus.

6. Large churches equate "feeling" with commitment. One of the staff members from Southeast Christian Church told me that when they got into their most recent structure, there was an attendance jump of about 3,000 a Sunday. Those making decisions streamed down the aisle in record numbers leaving those responsible for assimilation feel overwhelmed. When asked why they had responded to the invitation, many of those who came said "they wanted to be part of an exciting church." "Just once," I was told, "I would lie to hear someone say they came forward because they wanted to make Jesus Lord." In my view, that's quite an indictment. You see, the feeling of excitement and the dynamics of a service motivated decision rather than commitment to Christ. We are often told that today's people want to feel God or experience God in their worship. These statements represent an emphasis on feeling rather than commitment. You see, one can go home feeling good, feeling excited, and feeling motivated but when the feelings die then .... You see, there is little genuine contentment in a feeling. In my view, real commitment means accepting a truth and when that truth is accepted and lived out then things feel right!

7. Large churches can become sources of pride. While I rejoice over every individual brought to Christ in our larger churches (or smaller ones for that matter), our tendency to list and display "our mega-churches" is rapidly becoming a source of pride. We are pointing to the fact that Restoration mega-churches, by percentage, out pace the mega-churches of every other religious group in this country. In other words, by percentage of congregations there are more Christian Church mega-churches than Baptist mega-churches, or Nazarene mega-churches, or Methodist mega-churches. We are close to saying, "See what we have done!" Others may think, "God must be blessing us more than others because we have more mega-churches by percentage than any other group." Didn't our chests expand a bit when we heard some of the major media noted that the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ were the second fastest growing religious group in the USA, right behind the Mormons!!

Well, there you have it. Seven positives and seven concerns. Sounds almost biblical!

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the analysis, Mike. I just finished reading Bob Russel's "When God Builds a Church". There's much about it that I liked, in fact I would like to have my fellow elders and deacons read it. Nevertheless, there seems to be this "look at what we have accomplished" attitude that comes through. From one of the the statements made by Bob, it appears that he has "fireing" authority like that of Don Trump. BTW, Bob is an elder too. I've always thought that, because of the personal investment and the pastoral responsibilities that the professional minister is hired to fulfill, he should be one of the elders (pastors) of the congregation.
Now, teach us more about restoration. --Hawkeye Gold

Anonymous said...

Don't worry...after reading thru this site, I don't think you'll have to worry about leading one anytime soon. I'm glad you and Hawkeye Gold have a created an email world for yourselves to make you feel better about yourselves.

I guess when you don't know how to grow a church you spend the majority of your time trying to pull others down to your level.

Anonymous said...

"I keep thinking about all those passages in the prophets where God lets Israel know he despises their shows (sacrifices and feast days) because their heart really isn't right."

Are you seriously comparing Mike Slaughter and his staff to the wicked 10 northern tribes of Israel??? Get a life!

Who the @#%^^& do you think YOU are!?!

Anonymous said...

Wow! you must have touched a nerve. I'm glad we have mega churches. I just think that there is a seduction there of which one has to be aware and not get sucked into. Russell and Warren have managed it about as well as one can. God bless and keep up the good work. --Hawkeye Gold

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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livin_live said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gordon said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Blog World said...

Faith is spiritualized imagination.
Henry Ward Beecher- Posters.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I attended SECC for 15 years and recently left. I can promise you that it is not as Bob writes in his book. Not even Bob practices what he writes in his book.

What is missing? The teaching of sanctification and regeneration. There IS NONE. It is a big social club and as the Team Leader for Ministry Support recently wrote in an editorial for the Outlook: Becoming a member of SECC is like joining a Beatles Fan Club.

SECC is 20 miles wide and 1 inch deep. My heart weeps for that place but I Praise a HOLY GOD that HE opened my eyes.

Jason said...

I appreciate the analysis too. In a Church Growth seminar for pastors in the mid-90's, Mr. Russell impressed me highly by insisting that no one should try to copy their church: that what they had done was simply preach and minister faithfully, to the best of their ability...and keep up with how God blessed them. I appreciated that. However, I have also been disturbed by Bob's consistent mantra, "Church attendance is the best single indicator of church health." I have seen plenty of widespread spiritual sickness spreading in churches comfortable in their large size...and so little is said about congregational size in Scripture. Sure, in the early days we converted in large groups (Acts 2), but many scholars believe the majority of congregations were loose groupings of house churches. I tend to think we should praise God for the megachurch movement, while reserving judgment on the many other ways God may "grow" churches.

Anonymous said...

Rev. Paul Chang, Director
pchang@gbgm-umc.org

The United Methodist Council on Korean-American Ministries

RE: Can Korean-American Ministry Plan ignite to burn the messy scandals?

Dear Rev. Paul Chang:

Greetings.

As the executive Director of the Korean American Ministry Plan, you are holding an important leadership position for the Korean churches. I understand, your honorable duty is “in building God’s kingdom in this nation and beyond,” of course including this church too.

Recently I hastily emailed to you my message which failed to be acknowledged. As the problem was directly related with the Korean ministry, I thought it demanded your attention as the important position assigned to you. Again it demands your attention.

The incident originated from the greed for money and led the church into a destructive course by the ordained clergies and some egomaniac members regardless the immoral nature of their actions. (Money laundering for illicit purposes, Mission fund abuse, doctoring minutes, faking elections, embezzlement, intimidation, politicking, etc. Special training for the trustees, elders and others could have eliminate such mishaps)

They unconscionably financed the litigation with the stolen church money against the innocent family for their evil purposes. The end result was that they tortured the innocent members in the court with attempted murder charges to cover up the looting of the Building Trust Fund and other abuses. According to the judge, the episcopacy ominously deceived his honor as if the case church related.

Now the church should, at least, be able to recover the abused money for the church from the abusers as partial restoration of justice, law and order in the church.

On July 6th Sunday, during the services, Rev. Chul Woo Chang painfully described the communist cruelty that executed his pastor uncle and tortured his nephews in the labor camp in order to achieve the Marxist utopian goal.

In the attached court case, Steve Park and his colleagues employed much more cruel tactics than the communists to loot the church money. They sued us to be sent into the jail as murderers. The communists persecuted them as they did not follow them. But the church guys paradoxically persecuted the innocent members who did follow the church rules but their crooked way. Under the circumstances, Rev. Chang’s intention is questionable why he is stalling the audit to clear the complex abused money problems.

Rev. Chul Woo Chang and Bishop Jeremiah J. Park were expected to resolve this matter in a graceful way. But their conflicts of interests seem to have clouded their transparency before God.

Their apathy could be considered a danger signal to the accountabilities of the UMC and the Korean Christian community as if the salt lost its taste.

The young leaders like you should do an objective analysis such incidents and accordingly upgrade the civility of the Korean ministry.

This church has been in a situation like Zimbabwe which made the preaching a mockery for a decade. Who can stop this mockery? I believe you ought to do it as you are in the vital leadership position.

In any event, this church should not be left alone as a black-marketing. The situation was created by the ordained clergies and so called church officers. However, these characters are still active in the power structure of UMC, which challenges you as the director as well as other clergy bureaucrats. Faith should be able to penetrate into the apathetic system. Obama phenomena can be said nothing but a reflection of the genuine human desire longing for a new sign. Can you ignite it?

The attached message is a petition to Bishop Park to recover the misused church funds outside the Bible zone. We should not allow anyone to mock the teachings of Christ in the name of the church.

Please let the Bishop implement the audit and to investigate the criminal racketeering in this historic Korean United Methodist Church and Institute and restore law and order in the name of Christ.

Please share the message with other leaders in honor of our Christian way of life for a renewal. The Korean clergies have duty to remove the dark shameful images from this historic church.

Thus, the Korean-American Ministry Council can initiate its moral duty in honor and in ever more graceful ways. If not, “These stones will cry out.”

Remember a UMC slogan, “Open heart, open mind, open door.” Is any door open? I hope you can say, “Yes.”

Please contact if you need further information.

May God bless you.

Chae S. Sone

A petition to Bishop Jeremiah J. Park to recover misused Church money


Dear Bishop Jeremiah J. Park:

Current and earlier events need the attention of your office because they will test the meaning of Christian values and of honor among Koreans.

Recently, you advocated, “No torture”, and with other religious luminaries you have marched to the United Nations to protest against the torture and abuse of suspected terrorists held at U.S. facilities in Guantanamo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. However, why have you not condemn the torture and abuse of the innocent members within your church?

Unwittingly it seems to appear the double standard of morality in the episcopacy as you overlooked the torture agony within a Methodist church.

More specifically, Mr. Steve Park, and other church officers, had deliberately and consistently tortured and abused my family for many years while the church remained silent. He and his church underlings used the church’s name and trust fund to malign my family and me in order to rid of us from the church. It was to cover up the looting of the church money.

For instance, for one of the three frivoouls lawsuits, Mr. Park falsely accused my son and me that we planned to kill him, his family, his attorney, and other church members in one of his court depositions:

12 A “He said watch out, you asshole,
13 Specifically said you asshole, you watch out, if
14 You don’t watch your step; I’m going to kill you.
...
5 A “I’m going to kill your whole family.”
6 Q That’s what Dr. Sone said to you?
7 A “Yes.”
P. 62; 9-17, 21-23.
9 Q You’re claiming that Dr. Sone
10 threatened to kill you and your whole family?
11 A “Yes.”

Furthermore, he substantiated his assertion that more than 10 persons had witnessed our threats to murder. His witnesses included Reverend Wontae Cha, Y. S. Kim, K. D. Shin, Y. H. Lee, Y. J. Kim, D. J. Chun, Paul Choi, Y. J. Kwon, and I. C. Lee.

Rev. Cha is a good colleague of yours according to information.

Because of his false allegations, my son and I were on trial at the New York State Supreme Court in Nassau County. He used the church’s funds to finance his lawsuit against us. In his lawsuit, Mr. Park also demanded $4,000,000 in damages, while pushing us into the jail as felons.

His lawsuit had nothing to do with the church and was simply a personal vendetta against us. My only offense against Rev. Cha, Mr. Park and others was to strictly observe my fiduciary duty as the chairman of the Board to protect the church’s Building Fund. Nevertheless, according to the court records, officials from the church hierarchy and Steven Park had deceived the judge as if the case was a church-related during an ex-parte conference.

Now, Bishop Jeremiah J. Park must be responsible to identify the persons who were at the secretive meeting with the judge. He must investigate all and any conspiracy against the church and its members. The bishop’s actions matter much with the prestige of the episcopacy.

The year 2008 is the 87th anniversary of the Korean United Methoidst Church and Institute. Bishop Jeremiah J. Park, Reverend Won Tae Cha, Steven Park, Young So Kim and other such characters one day must come to the church and faithfully explain to the worshippers for the justification of the looting for either personal gain or criminal racketeering against the innocent loyal members.

The cowardly leadership owes an explanation to the fellow church members about the mismanagement of church finances: For example, an $180,000 building renovation contract lost for nothing. It only enriched the related parties. Or, another example when the chairman of the board of trustees embezzled $70,000 he is awarded with church money to pay for his legal fees and for part of his embezzlement. Also his faction paid the fines for the sanctions and the contempt of court with the trust fund although they had to pay. Another irony is Methoidst Mission Fund donated $50,000 to the trust as if an incentive to the looting

The judge and NYS Attorney General advised to recover the funds from the abusers. But, why anyone in the church leadership has done anything about these malfeasances?

Now, the time has come to your office to clarify the ultimate moral issues. On July 15, 2007, the church decided to hire a certified public accountant (excluding Korean CPA) to audit the church finances starting from year 2000. The audit is to determine if any fraud has occurred. But, since then, Reverend Chang, the current pastor, who is a friend of yours according to information, has not yet started it.

The church must recover the stolen funds from Mr. Park and the embezzlers. Perhaps, the church may file an insurance claim for the stolen funds so that the insurance company can compensate them. But, you, the bishop, must enforce church rules and order to help this church recover financially as well as morally. Otherwise, the church has no standing as “a light house” to the dark world.

Now, remember that any decent mind cannot allow our historic church to be built on the foundation of the age-old scandals, but on “the rock”. Most of all, the church should be liberated from evil capitulation still in power. If Mr. Park and others like him have succeeded to scapegoat the church scandals on an innocent family, then they would have said, “Halleluiah!!” The church should be maintained as a house of prayer, but a “den of robbers.” (Matthew 21; 13)

Without any further delay, you must recognize that the Korean United Methodist Church and Institute has been under the control of the spiritually-dead clergies and criminals who are filled with demons, falsehoods, hatreds, and deception. It does appear to be a moral crisis of the Korean Church, the NY Annual Conference, and, perhaps, the United Methodist denomination.

I am praying for your spiritual victory in good faith and for the renewal of our historic church. The Book of Discipline guarantees open meetings and free speech. Why can’t we have an open debate for the renewal at the church or a public media? The congregation wants your spiritual leadership as the bishop of the NY Annual Conference as well as the top church leader of the Korean immigrant Christian community.

Please let me remind your office that it is my duty and mission to continuously protect the church’s common interests, according to the church’s rules and the Christian teachings. That is my only way to seek justice and to restore our family name as I have learned from the church throughout my life.

Alas! The church is spiritually, morally broken as it is now.


Sincerely yours in Christ,


Chae S. Sone and family


Please forward the e-mail petition to:
Reverend Jeremiah J. Park, Bishop
New York Annual Conference
White Plains, New York
e-mail address: Bishop@nyac.com

Reverend Chul Woo Chang
e-mail address: chang.kumci@gmail.com


Let us pray for the Bishop to do His will accordingly. Especially it is a wakeup call for Korean Christian community – It is a cyber age.