The demise of consumeristic churches

Lately, especially today, I have given significant thought to the way we Americans go about "doing church." (Maybe the use of those terms is offensive to some.) If there is one thing that is clear to me, it is that the days of the consumeristic, spectator-based, entertainment-rich, palace-dwelling megachurches are coming to an end. Many pastors will feel like they get a free pass when they hear the word "megachurch," because a megachurch is usually thought of as a 5-10,000+ person body. There are only a handful of churches like this in the country, so why worry about it, right?

I think we need to redefine megachurch a little. I was talking to someone a while back who referred to a 1500-person church in the LA area as a megachurch. I thought, "That's no megachurch. There are plenty of 1500-person churches out there. Can they all be megachurches?" I think they can be considered megachurches, because they act like megachurches in that they tend to rely on highly specialized pastors who work in a corporatized organizational structure. You find a pastor of assimilation (how did that word ever make into the church?), small groups, worship, marriage and family, and so on. I have come to look at these specialized pastoral jobs with a great deal of suspicion. When you see pastors becoming specialized, they also become more administrative. Their jobs revolve around planning, budgets, events, and numbers. This church bureaucrat does not compare well with the New Testament church leader. In the NT, church leaders are hands-on. They are less involved in planning and more involved in shepherding. A pastor who manages more than he shepherds is an oxymoron.

And yet most churches in America either practice multi-staff specialization and bureaucracy or want to, because it is a sign of numerical success. There is something wrong with this picture! The problem has been attested to in numerous recent books. The one I am reading this week is Organic Church by Neil Cole. Cole relates a vision he had many years ago of the church as a critically ill zombie-like woman in a bridal gown. This was a representation of the church. She has been ill, and she has not known it. She is comfortable settling for secondary goods that are more human than divine.

If you read the signs of the times, you can reasonably conclude that any form of church that relies on or panders to American consumerism is floating down a river that leads to lifelessness.


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