In 2000 years of Church history there have been many battles, but the most recent battle is for territory and turf. It seems that the franchise model of Churches have brought competition in evangelicalism. Most awana programs, youth groups, and young adult programs have been sucked up by the business model of mega-Churches. The issue that I have with these ‘mega-Churches’ is how they seek their members. Do they use market capitalization principles, and product development principles in their pursuit of Church? Or do they rely on Biblical principles to grow their Church with health in mind?
Discernment is needed at this moment. Mega-Churches seem to derive their strategies from a ‘shareholder’ mentality, where Church attendees are the consumers they seem to please. They offer a product called ‘Church’ where many can participate, despite their spiritual state. In fact, everywhere you go, you can find a similar mega-Church product; whether its called ‘Elevation’… ‘Revive’… or ‘Summit’. The names seem more like happy meals than designed for ‘in-gathering’ purposes (Acts 2:42-47). Churches have branded their efforts in the name of reaching many, but in doing so have reached far less disciples. Their attendances are ‘mega’, but their members are few. This is an un-healthy Church and sadly many healthy Churches in the area are using the ‘mega-Churches’ as their model. Sadly, the mega-Churches staff are so big that they have no choice but to adopt business structures, equal employment opportunity, and diversity & inclusion initiatives. You will hear the tenants of carver rules of governance and Roberts rules of order, even if you don’t see any mention of these practices in Scripture.
I am aware that several business minded Christians may say, ‘corporate practices are amidst God’s common grace’. That is true to an extent. However, I had over 6 years in corporate finance and when I entered the Church as a regenerate believer, I never imagined corporate America having so much presence in God’s kingdom on earth. I saw the Church run by business executives more than qualified preachers and theologians. I was looking for a Church, not a business. This realization drove me to look elsewhere. To be more specific, here are 3 concise reasons why I left the mega-Church.
1- Shallow teaching
The modern Church has replaced the emphasis from deep teaching to shallow, consumer driven preaching. The teachers leading Sunday worship in the mega-Churches I attended seem to rely on an emotional experience over theological conviction. The emphasis on emotionalism through loud music, dimmed lights, and an abundance of illustrations that over-emphasized personal experiences rather than exegetical truths led the philosophy of ministry for the mega-Churches growth. As I got to know the congregation, I soon realized that many of them were not acquainted with the basic tenants of mature teaching. They don’t have opinions on reformed theology, eschatology, spiritual gifts (i.e. cessationism vs. continualism), or even the slightest care for theological development. I often wondered if the leaders even read the Bible with a hermeneutical approach in mind (i.e. exegesis), or if they pre-supposed that growth is what dictates theological necessity (eisegesis). It felt like the overarching theme was ‘we`re all Christians…let’s just get along…your judgmental… knowledge puffs up’, but rarely did they enjoy talking about Biblical themes that were not connected with feelings. They ignored the great commission for the sake of large numerical gatherings and a false understanding that ‘God was at work’ because many consumers were around. However, the mega-Churches failed to realize that the consumers would withdraw and no longer walk with the Church if they returned to Biblical preaching (John 6:66). To be honest, I felt they had become ‘dull of hearing’ and partaking only of milk as Heb. 5:11-14 says:
“Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”
It felt as though my theological curiosity for ‘solid food’ was outgrowing the Church.
I don’t see anywhere in Scripture that constitutes for a satellite campus model. Let me be specific, I don’t see anywhere in Scripture that lets a body of believers (i.e. a local Church) be without representative Elders or without autonomy of oversight (i.e. approval for decision making apart from the main campus). Personally, I find it manipulative when main-campuses control the pastors of a ‘satellite-campus’ by giving them prescribed sermon topics, themes, or even visions. The solution to satellite campuses is to plant Churches and aide them spiritually and financially until they can operate autonomously. That is why Paul writes that ‘the elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching’ (1 Tim. 5:17). Can you imagine if we limited pastors from operating their God-given ability to preach and teach consistently in their congregations, just because the main campus of the mega-Church, with a personality cult pastor, wanted all the attention? Sounds like narcissism to me. I remember attending a satellite-campus to one of the biggest Churches in the country and expecting the satellite-campus pastor to preach, only to find out that after he was done with the announcements, we would hear from a pre-recorded sermon of the ‘main-campus’. This felt too much like corporate control of ‘product development’ from ‘headquarters’ that I experienced in my former finance career. The preacher should be the one who knows the Sheep (Psalm 23; 1 Pet. 5:1-7). I was looking for a more authentic experience and less of the manipulative-control based Church experience that muzzled the ox while threshing (1 Tim. 5:18). Let the Churches and preachers lead as they are called.
3- Consumeristic Discipleship
I remember being in a mega-church and finding out that over 70% of the congregation was not even members. That means it was ‘seeker-sensitive’. What does ‘seeker-sensitive’ mean? It means that you are conducting your worship in a way that attracts regular attendees more than committed disciples. Discipleship in the Greek ,matheteuo, means followers. It does not mean ‘fast-food’ Christians who come to their drive-through Christian experience on Sunday for a quick low-nutritional sermon. Instead, in means following the leader’s examples and discipleship.
I think discipleship is the most misunderstood term in Christianity. So let’s define it Biblically. The Churches’ ‘great commission’ is found in Mt. 28:18-20 and is to ‘make disciples.” In fact, the other three verbs in Mt. 28: 18-20 are what we call instrumental participles; which are the tools to carry out discipleship: going, baptizing, and teaching. Make disciples, matheteuo, means to make followers of Christ. It does not mean to ‘get as many professions of faith at an emotionalized worship night’. However, the mega-Churches I attended felt so focused on professions of faith that led to no further baptisms, memberships, or discussions of the Bible. Not to mention sanctification and accountability were a moot point. In fact, I would hear many well-respected Christians say ‘last week I led so and so to the Lord’ or ‘last week so and so came to the Lord’; but I would reply with excitement and say, ‘have you talked to them since…are they coming to Church this Sunday…are they getting baptized?’ But no matter the emphasis I would place on ‘following Christ’ after a ‘profession of faith’, it would seem that my concerns were dismissed with comments such as ‘that’s not how God works…once saved always saved…you`re being judgmental’.
I feel that Churches need to place more emphasis on the Biblical definition and force of ‘making disciples`. For instance, much of discipleship is after the Gospel is shared; sharing the Gospel and counting someone who proclaims they believe in Christ is just one part of the ‘instrumental’ participles found in Mt. 28:18-20. Discipleship in the Church has become more of a passive activity where we create an ‘event’ that responds to decisions, instead of making disciples. I remember the mega-Church pressuring me after a weekend-long retreat to add up how many teenagers made a profession of faith; this always made me feel uncomfortable.
So why do we become consumers of the mega-Church marketing campaigns that some buildings call ‘Church’? Perhaps it is our nature to be consumeristic in behavior. We want to be a part of something that everyone else knows about and also participates amidst. We want to be a part of the Church that is known, just like McDonalds is known. We want to participate in a finished product rather than doing the hard work of discipleship one conversation at a time. We like to follow numbers rather than the Biblical principles. We believe that ‘If its growing it must be blessed by God.’ Perhaps consumerism has outreached our desire to contribute in discipleship and Church.
However, we are called to be contributors by discipleship, and not consumers. We are called to follow the kingdom calling of Matthew 28:18-20 to ‘Make Disciples’ by living evangelistically without Biblical compromise. We are called to tell those who profess to believe to be baptized, become members, and partake of ‘solid food’ (i.e. doctrine). We must seek to contribute to those aspects of the Church and leave the results up to God. When we leave the results up to franchise philosophies, growth may occur at the expense of Biblical discipleship. Business minded mega-Churches need to focus less on ‘market capitalization’ and a ‘shareholder’ mentality where growth drives theology. Size is not to outweigh functionality, purpose, and mission. Jesus always kept the size of His crowds in theological check; because he knew that many were there for the wrong reasons (John 6:24-27; 65-66).
I hope you leave any Church that places shallow teaching, multi-campuses, and consumeristic discipleship above true spiritual growth.
I hope this helps you pick your next Church and not rely too much on numbers, but more on inter-personal discipleship and authenticity.
David J. Lupinetti is the Associate Pastor at San Tan Bible Church in Arizona. He has a passion for Expository Preaching, Biblical Counseling, Discipleship, and Evangelism.