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Finding Church: The Mega-Church Experience

It was bound to happen. We visited the church of a close friend, and now I have to write a blog post. If I write that we loved it, will it be sincere? What if we decide not to make it our church home later? What if I write that we didn’t like it – will it strain the friendship? The truth is that she knows my taste, and nothing I say will be a huge surprise to her.

Taste. This is so much of what makes one church different from another – its personality, its style, its way of doing things (of course, the other big differences are in specific beliefs). Some differences rise out of nuances of belief, such as how they practice the sacraments (baptism, communion, etc). But things like children’s programs, style of music, song choices, location, size, smaller group gatherings for adults (whether you call it “Bible study” or “small group” or “Sunday School”), and numbers and times of services are all matters of personal taste, though they often derive from real constraints such as space and talent available.

Personal taste isn’t a moral issue. Taste is personal. It is neither right nor wrong to prefer singing hymns with organ accompaniment or songs accompanied by guitars and drums.

Why do we worry about differences in taste then? I think it’s precisely because taste is so personal. If we’re not careful, we can make the mistake of assuming a preference for drums and bass guitar is a judgment against those who love organ music and traditional hymns. We are prone to taking preferences personally. My friend Nish wrote about this recently – why do we take one person’s choices as a criticism of ours instead of at face value?

I have learned to be very cautious about recommending (or the opposite) because of this. People’s tastes are so different, and I don’t like being misunderstood or judged for my tastes, whether we’re talking movies, music, books, or churches.

It’s a risk to invite someone to visit your church. My friend made herself vulnerable by doing so (especially since she’s friends with a blogger – I think her willingness to be my friend gets her halfway to sainthood), especially when she knew that I might not like it.

Hers is one of our city’s mega-churches. It is a multi-location church, and we attended one of the satellite locations near us. They have live in-person music and announcements, but project the preaching from the main location via live video feed. We have visited a church like this once before, while visiting friends out of town, so we had an inkling that it wasn’t for us. Yesterday confirmed it: we are not mega-church people, at least not right now. This is not a moral judgment against mega churches or those who attend them (see above!), unless we’re talking about getting the gospel wrong. I am thankful for the kind of good they are able to do in the community because of their vast resources.

But once again, I felt like a spectator, not a participant. They kept the lights dim, so no-one talked before or after the service. The only person who introduced herself was the woman who registered our kids for their classes. Very few people sang, and the music was too loud to really hear those who did sing (though not painfully loud like another church we visited). The preaching by video feed only added to the impersonal feel.

The content of the message was a mixed bag for us. Sometimes it sounded like the pastor was telling us that God makes our lives here and now perfect if we do things right. My question to this kind of teaching is and will always be an angry one: “If that’s true, why didn’t He do it for me? Why did my daughter die?” [If you will allow me to rant on my soapbox for a sec: God never promises a good life now. God isn’t a vending machine, dispensing blessings or miracles if we put in the right coin. He promises to help us face the brokenness of this world. End rant.] Scott and I each heard different things, so we may have misconstrued the preacher’s message. But it was still concerning.

Scott and I both really enjoy being surrounded by voices singing together. We want church to be interactive and relational. We want to meet people and make connections and find ways to share the gifts and baggage we have to encourage others. After spending the last 8 years in small churches and church plants, a spectator-style church (mega or otherwise) in which it is easy to come and go quietly and without commitment just isn’t right for us. And my baggage shows me that the vending machine god dispensing candy-blessings if I do all the right things is a false god. Things just don’t work that way.

Do you attend a mega-church? How do they teach God’s promises and the problem of evil? How do you make connections and get involved?  

This has been another installment in my series on finding church. You can find the rest of this series here.

P.S. Because of the U.S. Independence Day holiday and volunteering at my son’s camp, I will not be hosting Life:Unmasked this week. See you next Wednesday!

 

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Comments

  1. I so agree with this, Joy!

    I am also not a mega-church person and I suppose that is a good thing since my hubby pastor’s a small church:D

    As to the music, I also recognize that there must be allowances for differences in taste. My own personal taste leans towards music that causes me to reflect rather than just garner an emotionally-driven response in me (I am very moved by music.) when it comes to worship. If the beat is too heavy and loud, then I feel like I’ve walked away from an emotionally packed good time, but I’ve not worshiped with both my mind and heart nor have I necessarily drawn closer to God.

    Some people, on the other hand, don’t get as moved by music and are perfectly capable of focusing on the lyrics when the music is “pumped” and are completely unaffected by it. (This is a fascinating enigma to my right-brain dominated existence:)

    So yes, there definitely must be allowances for different tastes; just as long as the goal is to glorify God and He, not us, is at the center of our worship! (And that goes both for the quiet and the reverberating; as I have seen it being made into a god on both accounts)

    Great post, Joy:)
    Michelle recently posted..Simple Sketch Series #2:My Profile

  2. We began looking for a church last November. It took us about 2to months to land and 6 months to “join”. We visited a church similar to what you describe. It wasn’t for us either. We landed in one we didn’t expect to. I look forward to reading more of these adventures.

  3. LOVE my mega-church! We just had VBS last week. 2,500 kids and 700 volunteers. It was POWERFUL and God did AMAZING things!

    The promises and TRUTH are taught unapologetically. Just because these kinds of churches tend to draw seekers, doesn’t mean that the good old fashioned Word isn’t preached. To me, my church makes the Bible feel SO ALIVE. Evil and sin are addressed head on and though church “dramas” might feel bigger than they otherwise would have because of the size, our pastoral staff and elder board are not afraid to do the right thing.

    When I first started attending and did the 101 class to learn more about the church, I was at first offended by the fact that the Pastor said he wasn’t ever going to know my name. It was a shock to hear his candor, but then he segued into the fact that our “pastor” would be the leader of the ministry we became involved in. He placed a huge responsibility on our shoulders to find a ministry, get involved, and make the walls of the church feel closer and smaller. I began volunteering with the high schoolers, then got involved in the core team for the 20s singles ministry (until I “graduated” out). During those years, I was so connected and loved running into people on Sunday morning. My community tended to sit on one side of the sanctuary and I loved seeing friendly faces…it felt just like the small church I grew up in!
    the Blah Blah Blahger recently posted..WORSHIP ON THE WATERMy Profile

  4. I have attended mega churches before and although they are fun to visit, we don’t prefer anything that large either. We want to be personable and have a chance to grow with a community with a more initiate feel. I agree with you that it’s about preference, nothing ‘wrong’ about a larger church, it just doesn’t work for us. I sometimes enjoy attending a mega church just for the worship part and not stay for the message. ;)
    Sisterlisa recently posted..Missing Church Without the GuiltMy Profile

  5. Megachurches have a lot of weird dynamics to deal with. And some very cool opportunities.

    Most smaller churches expect the pastor to do and be everything…the counselor, the preacher, the janitor, etc.

    Megachurches can reasonably have a dozen pastors with different titles and many deacons or elders who help share the burden…as it should be. The way that we use pastors is not biblical, and usually amounts to Christians refusing to be disciples.

    OTOH, a lot of people go to MC’s to disappear. There are so many people, and often so many services, that you can’t ever know everybody…to some people, it’s more important to be able to say that you went to church on Sunday and heard about God than that you were in relationship, that you were challenged to grow, etc.

    The local megachurch chain, NewLife (there’s also one in OKC which is huge called “lifechurch” tends to attract a lot of young adults, and a lot of older conservatives. My friends have been going there for a while, and while the wife likes it, the husband, who is from a Methodist background, finds himself stymied in connecting, because every small group he tries to join starts off with a topic like “Homosexuals, servants of satan” or “evolution, obviously a lie” and he quickly finds that there’s no place for himself.

    I attended a Megachurch when I was freshly out of college and worked sound crew there. There was a definite expectation that people would find interaction and relationship through small groups, but it could be a true chore to find one that actually fit you at all.

    Personality isn’t just “how do I feel about this?” It’s your giftings, the way God made you…if being who you are in a particular church means that there will never be any way for you to serve with the gifts that you are given, maybe it’s not the place for you. If you will only worship as other people like to worship, only study things that you studied 10 years ago and never progress, etc. maybe it’s a sign, Or maybe it’s just time you became a teacher.

    In the end, a big truth is that at some point, you have to learn to “feed” yourself, rather than depending on church to do it. Until you do so, you will expect church to accomplish things that it can’t.
    Todd Erickson recently posted..Meditation upon vampires in gamesMy Profile

  6. Steph Sikorski says:

    On Sunday I blogged about not attending church. As a former ministry family we cant find a local body to connect to. So … We go nowhere! I struggle with that refularly, but not on Sunday when we’re sleeping in a regaining what 14 years of working on Sunday did to us.
    Steph Sikorski recently posted..Just Breathe!My Profile

  7. Yes, your friend is courageous. I think God is really working on my character these days. I’ve been so bitter about people leaving our church or not choosing it (I’m embarrassed to say), and I knew it was wrong but didn’t know why I struggled with it. I finally figured out that I’m the elder son to the prodigal son who was mad that he had to “stay and do all the work” while his brother got to go off and have fun.

    I would never think of leaving our church, but I’ve been viewing it as work and as a duty, and not with contentment and joy that at least I have a a spiritual home. God said to him, “Everything I have is yours and you are always with me” (paraphrasing) and I’m learning that it applies to me to.

    Time to grow. Again.
    Lady Jennie recently posted..Deductive ReasoningMy Profile

  8. I have never been interested in mega churches but was connected with one albeit in a round about way for a couple of years when I lived in America. I attended a small plant (well small compared to the mother ship as it was called) and took on the role of head of the sunday school, due to my previous experience and that brought me into contact with the mega church. I was impressed with the leader of that church who said that he had no idea how many people attended and he didn’t want to know, but what was important was connection to a small group. He likened the church to a community of small groups. I found that encouraging. I also was encouraged by the pastors who were on the team, they were a humble group of people and I feel that is important too. That still didn’t make me want to go to the mega-church but that was my preference, I could still respect the guys for being who they were.
    Joanna recently posted..AnimalsMy Profile

  9. The Lucky Calvinist says:

    Just a thought from the hinterlands. You might find some grist for the mill if you did a little reading on the Regulative Principle – basically sola scripture applied to worship. It was years before I realized that both Old and New Testaments actually had a lot to say on what God thinks of our worship. Some have actually told me the NT is almost silent of the subject – not so.

    Anyway, it is another way to look at the mega-small, traditional-contemporary discussion.

  10. God never promises a good life now.

    THANK YOU for saying this.
    We need to say this often, as Christians. It doesn’t sell as well as the other stuff, but it is exactly what the Bible teaches.

    Prayers for you on your journey. Cling closely to His Word!

    Emily
    http://www.weakandloved.com
    Emily Cook (@Weakandloved) recently posted..One Generation to Another: On the Blessings of GranparentsMy Profile