Monday, September 24, 2007,3:43 PM
Up/Rooted Panel Discussion - Megachurches
In my continuing comments on the recent Up/Rooted panel discussion on the topic "the emerging church critique of evangelicalism" with Scot McKnight, Wayne Johnson, and David Fitch...

The last question of the evening involved if typical evangelical seeker style services (complete with the rock show and other celebratory gimmicks) are worthwhile if they manage to reach people. i.e. As emergents (or mainliners, or fundamentalists) we may criticize such services as lacking in depth, devoid of true worship, and for promoting an individualistic and consumeristic view of the church, but if they are what people need at that point in their life does that make them worthwhile? I think that is a good question that needs to be addressed, unfortunately the panelist ignored it and dove straight into an all out fight about megachurches. Seriously. Okay maybe "intense discussion of varying viewpoints" is the better way to describe it, but as "fights" go, this one was pretty good. It wasn't mean spirited and it was carried by humor throughout. It mostly involved Scot McKnight (who attends the megachurch of megachurches - Willow Creek) vs. David Fitch (who wrote an anti-megachurch book and recent blog post). Fun times.

Scot defended megachurches by saying that there is nothing a small church can offer that a megachurch doesn't offer. He dislikes it when people criticize churches like Willow when they have never actually attended the church. They don't know the church, they don't know the people there. They are just reacting to stereotypes they have heard. He also praised the potential anonymity at a megachurch. People can show up and not be known - they aren't pressured to "do", they aren't judged, and they aren't automatically labelled as a "visitor" (the ultimate church Other). Scot explained, "at Willow there is a permeable boundary between who is in or out." It is one of the few evangelical churches where gays and lesbians can attend without being ostracized or forced to immediately give up their "gayness" (whatever that means). It is in other words, a safe introduction to Christianity.

But my question is - is it really church if we can't be the body together? Can we really exist as strangers to each other and still claim to be a community? Is the desire to be unknown and unconnected a good thing? I personally think that the boundaries of all churches should be more permeable. I've attended churches where it was very clear who was in and who was out. Those who didn't fit in immediately (the occasional homosexual who might wander in) were given a very specific amount of time to repent and change who they are or else they were kicked out of the church. That is not church either imho. Places like that are what create the need for anonymity in the megachurches. People want a chance to discover what they believe before they identify themselves with a particular group in all of its religious weirdness. But can't the church offer people a place where they have the freedom to explore (at their own pace) and be accepted into the community? Are we really that incapable of loving people that to be lost in a crowd is preferable to joining a community? I personally don't think that being alone and unknown is a good thing no matter what circumstances forced it to be necessary.

I know that Willow does great things. And I know that there are many small churches where true community is non-existent. I'm just hoping for a better way.

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posted by Julie at 3:43 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 9/24/2007 05:57:00 PM, Blogger jhimm

    being from the east coast, i don't know a lot about mega churches. there simply isn't room to build them over there, and so it is an "other" phenomena to me in and of itself.

    i think what scott was trying to say is, given the lack of alternatives until this emergent thing gets a bit more traction and develops some kind of profile big enough for non-christians to be aware of it, mega churches are currently offering one of the only means by which questioning people can come into church without fear of immediate judgment.

    i am confident from everything else scott said that he would much rather that these questioning souls find the emergents where they can be known and be accepted, but until that is a more realistic option on a large scale, i think he is suggesting we be content to see people coming in somewhere, even if that place isn't ideal, rather than either coming into a harshly judgmental place and being rejected, or not coming in at all.

    i think he was also suggesting that if we infiltrate the mega church, we can find these people and invite them to our emergent gatherings. then they can be known, be in close fellowship, not be rejected or judged out of hand, and find that the church isn't exactly what they feared it would be.

    the mega church is a cracked eikon just like everything else. let's try to see the value in it, instead of the flaws. that doesn't mean we cease to critique it, only that we must be sure we validate the truth we see in it and do not let our zeal for critique blind us to the good that can go on there.

    but i'm putting words in his mouth.
    maybe i should say "that is what i took away from what he said. that is the meaning i gleaned from it, i hope it matches his intent".

    i have a lot of new language to learn :)

  • At 9/25/2007 10:37:00 AM, Blogger Wendy

    Julie ... you know, I'm sure, that mega churches often have great small group ministries and that's where community can happen. Let's face it ... no worship service that I've ever seen small or large can create community. Community is built in life together, not just an hour or two on Sundays. Worship can enhance community which has already been established, but it doesn't create community.

    I'm beginning to really question the churches emphasis on the worship event instead of building faithful disciples ... that goes for all churches. The sad thing is, that most Americans, at least, don't want to invest in real community. And somehow we (the church) have reinforced the idea of "just come to church".

    So .. I don't think there is anything inherently right or wrong with mega churches ... they will be as they will be ... and the worship experience of a large or small church can be evangelistic if it's followed up by one on one conversation, small group involvement, mission experience and the like.

    Just my two cents ..

  • At 9/25/2007 01:19:00 PM, Blogger paul

    of course if an emerging church grows to 20,000 people will we have to rethimk our ecclesiology ;)

    I guess i am postive about church in all its forms, so i think mega churchs are great as are small churchs

  • At 9/25/2007 02:41:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    let me clarify - my issue isn't with megachurches per se, but with the ability for people to be anonymous in church (which seems to be a draw of megachurches).

  • At 9/26/2007 09:41:00 AM, Blogger jhimm

    maybe it is a question of least evil? which is worse, having anonymous congregants or people who never come at all because they are going to be judged and pushed away?

  • At 10/10/2007 05:46:00 AM, Blogger Matt Stone

    Some time ago I wrote about the difference between missional (believer) services and attractional (seeker) services.
    For the small, missional church, the greatest potential for non-Christian 'try before you buy' interaction with Christians is not in the service but out of the box in other spaces; potentially in non-believer spaces.


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