The Megachurch Juggernaut: The making of McChurch

The megachurch phenomenon is four decades in the making. Unleashed in the anti-establishment cultural shift of the 1960s, the first modern ritual-less services to gain megachurch traction were harvested in the Crystal Cathedral of Orange County, California. According to the New Yorker, televangelist Robert H. Schuller, founder of Crystal Cathedral, “advocated and launched what has become known as the marketing approach to Christianity.” These tactics included, among other things, referring to church guests as “customers.”  

Rooted in Pentecostalism, the megachurch of today is breaking all kinds of new ground. The Madison Square Garden of the south? Yes, that actually is a church. In 2005 Joel Osteen, head pastor and televangelist of the world famous Lakewood Church, spiritual home to some 30,000 members, had, according to Business Week, laid out “$90 million to transform the massive Compaq Center in downtown Houston (former home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets) into a church…complete with a high-tech stage for his TV shows and Sunday School for 5,000 children.” Osteen predicted that the move would ultimately launch weekend attendance to numbers at or near 100,000. According to Lakewood’s website, Osteen’s “broadcast [now expands] into over 200 million households.” As of 2007, Lakewood’s congregation has grown to over 52,000 and climbing. Says Osteen to Business Week: “Other churches have not kept up and they lose people by not changing with the times.” 

Modern megachurches tend to be characterized not only in size (over 2,000 members), but in subscribing to corporate standards of operation. Conspicuously epitomizing a “market approach” to Christ has given way to the term “seeker-friendly.” The seeker-friendly method aims at making church as unobtrusive and entertaining as possible in order to expand and exponentially thrive on an infinite base of new customers. Hence, what is often called—or what critics consider—a self-centered over God-centered theology seems to marginalize biblical orthodoxy by reducing God to a practical “domesticated deity,” to quote the New Yorker: “a God [demanding] no real sacrifice from his children.”  

Megachurches are modeled off the Fortune 500 playbook where church leaders are literally CEOs. As reported in Business Week, Reverend Bill Hybels, founder of the 20,000 member strong Willow Creek Community Church in affluent South Barrington, Illinois, “hired Stanford MBA Greg Hawkins, a former McKinsey & Co. consultant, to handle the church’s day-to-day management.” Identical to Joel Osteen, Hybels strings together self-help programs with optimistic messages intended “to make people feel good about themselves.” Indeed, Business Week continues, “So adept at the sell are some evangelicals that it can be difficult to distinguish between their religious aims and the secular style they mimic.”

continuarea mai babană:

Dacă e baltă, musai trebuie să fie și broaște. Știați că broaștele își mănîncă mormolocii? Mai bine să crească ele decît să crească ei.


mascaE simpu. E nevoie de o scenă, un actor și un auditoriu. Stingi lumina în sală lăsând întunericul pe fețele celor mirați, pui reflectorul pe dantură, dai drumul la muzica de fundal și începe piesa.

O piesă-n trei pași, pardon … scene.

SCENA1. Te faci plăcut auditoriului.  Ești printre ei, visele tale sunt și visele lor, vorbești aceiași limbă. Zâmbești larg, îmbrățișezi mulțimea, arăți cu degetul și critici pe ceilalți actori și piesele lor. Pui afișe peste tot. La ghișeu se vând bilete, ești fericit, sala este plină. Privești cu milă … în sălile celorlalți actori … sunt goluțe.

Dai drumul la aer condiționat, parfumezi sala … ca bonus pentru cei ce vin prima dată … niște aplauze.

SCENA 2. Descoperi printre ei, în sală, nu oameni cu probleme sufletești, ci indivizi ce-ți strică piesa. Ce bombănesc, ce te cheamă la sfârșit și-ți spun că piesele jucate sunt…

Vezi articolul original 137 de cuvinte mai mult

De Alexandru Nădăban Publicat în Ştiri

The Church Dropout

Published in Charisma Magazine, December 2009. (

Over the last decade many Christians have given up on church—often because leaders failed them. Is there any chance those leaving through the back door will return?

The Church Dropout

Like many charismatic Christians, Bob* (not his real name) has given up on church—at least for now. The first congregation he attended closed after two years when the pastor was caught stealing money from a church account. When Bob joined a second church he was pressured by leaders to attend two membership classes a week in order to be a part. When he balked at the demands, he was told he was “rebellious.”

Bob left that church wounded and disillusioned. He avoided his Christian friends for a few months, wondering if he even belonged in a community of faith. Finally he joined a casual Bible study that meets at a coffee shop once a month. Today, that monthly meeting is his only connection with Christians—but he considers it his “church” for now.

Bob’s story is certainly not unique.

All across the United States today, believers who once attended church regularly are in the dropout category. Some quit because they were wounded by leaders or disappointed by pastoral failure. Others became bored with irrelevant church programs or petty squabbles. Others simply felt relationally disconnected, even though they sat beside the same people week after week.

In an increasingly secular culture, pastors are facing the reality that the social pressures of respectability or family influence that may have once filled church pews no longer hold sway. Additionally, committed believers are asking whether their Sunday morning ritual of sitting in a pew, singing songs and listening to a sermon is what it means to obey the Scriptures’ command to be the church.

From graphic sermons about sex and contests to win a Hummer to cafés and skate parks, marketing techniques and programs are the methods some churches have resorted to as the way to counteract this trend, targeting the unchurched or de-churched in an attempt to regain their participation. But could this effort actually intensify the problem?

The seeker-sensitive and church-growth movements of the 1970s through the 1990s made churches aware of nonessential layers of tradition that turn off outsiders, and they helped pastors become savvy in how they communicate the gospel to seekers. But an unintended consequence was that church became not an essential means of discipleship and accountability for the family of God, but an optional consumer product that could be shaped to appeal to specific audiences.

And for many—particularly the young—this option is just as easily ignored. A 2007 study by LifeWay Research revealed that 70 percent of young adults ages 23 to 30 stopped attending church regularly for at least a year between ages 18 and 22.

Their reasons for leaving ranged from wanting to “take a break from church” (27 percent) and going to college (25 percent) to “religious, ethical or political beliefs” and—perhaps most telling—“I was only going to church to please others” (17 percent). Among the reasons there is no mention that these young people left because the programs weren’t meeting their needs or the message wasn’t being communicated in a relevant way. If this were the problem, it could easily be solved with some simple programmatic shifts in the way we do church.

In fact, the situation is much more serious. As LifeWay President Ed Stetzer laments in his analysis of the study, “Parents and churches are not passing on a robust Christian faith and an accompanying commitment to the church.” In other words, declining church attendance is a symptom of a deeper problem: Many churches are not venues of active and effective discipleship. And this epidemic has driven some church leaders to abandon the system altogether.

‘Detoxing’ From Church

James Bradshaw served as an ordained United Methodist minister for 22 years until June 30, 2009, when he voluntarily surrendered his credentials and resigned his position as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Sanford, Florida. No, this was not another pastoral scandal. Bradshaw felt called to leave the church to pursue a more “authentic understanding of the kingdom of God.”

“The organized church today has been infiltrated over the centuries by religious things that have watered down the gospel,” he explains. “It started in A.D. 300 with Constantine. The church sold its birthright when the apostles and prophets said to the king, ‘You govern, and we’ll do the spiritual stuff.’”

Since his departure, Bradshaw says he’s been “detoxing” from organized church and has connected with an apostolic network in Atlanta that shares his views. Although he admits to being tempted to start a nondenominational church, he notes, “It would have been the same thing all over again—the house of Saul.”

Instead, he envisions himself tent making in the secular workplace so that he can pursue relational discipleship among a smaller group of people in hopes of raising up “spiritual sons”—sons he believes are much less likely to be dropouts from the body of Christ.

For Frank Viola, stories like Bradshaw’s are an indication that a “second reformation” is already happening. The co-author with George Barna of Pagan Christianity, Viola has long been a controversialist in evangelical circles and a popular speaker in the house-church movement. Although he admits that some are leaving the church because of a shallow or nominal commitment to Christ, Viola argues that many more are doing so for all the right reasons.

“Of the 1 million adults who leave the traditional church every year in the United States, a large number of them are joining simpler forms of church, such as house churches and organic churches,” he notes. “God is moving once again, and He’s bringing His people back to His original intention for church life.”

The numbers on these “simpler forms” are notoriously fuzzy. A 2009 Barna Group study attempted to pin down the movement’s size with specific questions on house-church involvement and discovered that 3 percent to 6 percent of adults claim to be involved in home-based fellowships “not associated in any way with a local, congregational type of church.”

These would be considered the classic house churches that gather in homes, coffee shops and pubs, have a minimalistic view of leadership and structure and—sometimes—a negative attitude toward the institutional church. But, in addition to the “not associated” there are an increasing number of simple church groups that are affiliated in some way with traditional congregations—even if their members never walk through the doors.

Dan Lacich is pastor of distributed sites for Northland, a Church Distributed, a megachurch with multiple sites in the Orlando, Florida, area. Northland Senior Pastor Joel Hunter said he felt called in 2008 to plant 1 million churches, which led to the congregation of 12,000 partnering with the house-church movement to accomplish this goal.

“We knew these 1 million churches would not be traditional churches,” Lacich explains. “It would have to be a first-century model in which people self-organize the church.”

To that end, Northland created high-tech resources for home fellowships and partnered with Global Media Outreach, an online evangelism tool affiliated with Campus Crusade for Christ, to disciple people who come to faith through the church’s Web ministry.

“Our goal is to figure out how we can help someone be the church, even if they never walk through the doors of a traditional church,” Lacich says, describing a new interactive Web platform that the church is creating.

“We hope they never find out who we are, and the Web site we’re putting together to make this happen has no connection with us.”

Although Northland has an extensive community of online worshipers, Lacich stresses that the church’s intention is not to accomplish its vision of 1 million churches by simply replicating miniature franchises of the megachurch. And the church will not collect offerings or dues from the house gatherings that use its resources or stream its services.

Lacich admits the open-handed approach comes with its own problems.

“What if someone does something wrong in one of these churches?” he asks. “The incorrect assumption is that we have it under control and don’t have troubles in a large church.

“There will always be the chance that someone will do something that’s heretical. Just like the first-century church, we have to trust that the Holy Spirit is in this thing.”

Any conversation about house churches naturally gravitates toward the issues of heresy, but from a historical perspective, the assumption that smaller churches are more vulnerable to heresy is problematic.

When one observes the theological corruption that led to the Protestant Reformation or the current schisms in denominations over the ordination of practicing homosexuals, it could be argued that large, top-heavy church institutions are worse breeding grounds for false doctrine than small groups of believers seeking accountability and spiritual growth together.

“I get asked about heresy more than almost anything else when I am teaching about organic church,” says Neil Cole, a church planter and author of Church 3.0: Upgrades for the Future of the Church. “But the best solution to heresy in the church is not to have better-trained leaders in the pulpits but better-trained people in the pews.”

Cole left his role on staff at a megachurch in the Grace Brethren Church in 1998 and launched Church Multiplication Associates (CMA). The organization has trained nearly 22,000 church planters from all denominations to start churches as small as two or three people that are called Life Transformation Groups.

Although Cole argues that because of human weakness no church will ever be able to completely avoid heresy, he says intensive discipleship models such as CMA’s create settings in which new believers learn Bible study methods that will help them discern truth from error.

“Perhaps we have misread what is the real threat of false doctrine that infiltrates the church in the West,” he notes. “Sometimes we can espouse the right words and live by the wrong ideas. Having correct statements of faith in your creed is not all there is to being orthodox.”

Cole’s statement touches on the root issue of “church dropouts.” At its core the trend of church dropouts is only a crisis if those “dropping out” are moving away from authentic biblical Christianity—which may be cultivated outside the institutional church but not outside the body of Christ in its many local expressions.

Of greater concern are those who don’t drop out but remain in the pews as passive consumers of a religious product that never transforms their lives, convinced that the Sunday ritual somehow earns them favor with God and satisfies His radical call to discipleship.

The Historic View

No one is sure where the “simple church” model will take us. But at a time when moral absolutes are being reconfigured in our culture, it would be beneficial to consult with early church fathers on this subject.

The third-century bishop of Carthage, Cyprian, is known for his declaration, “Outside the church there is no salvation.” Whether he was referring to those who left the church or those who had never been a part of it, he compared their plight to that of the poor souls who didn’t make it on the ark before the flood.

This may sound like a blunt and condemning statement in the ears of a postmodern Christian who attends church if, where and when he or she chooses, and who believes one’s relationship with God is an entirely personal matter. The problem is, Cyprian had the Bible on his side.

The New Testament does not envision the possibility of authentic spiritual life outside the body of Christ. Whether it’s in the “I am the vine” passages of John 15 or the exhortation to not “forsake the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb. 10:25, NKJV), Scripture is clear in its teaching that Christian faith is meant to be lived out in community.

In addition to the positive instructions to participate as an active member of the body of Christ, Jesus’ words on church discipline reveal the serious side of life outside the church. Although it may not carry much weight today, for early Christians, the threat of excommunication was a dire warning that put their very souls in danger.

Jesus says this much when He lays out the earthly—and eternal—consequences for the unrepentant sinner who is put out of fellowship: “‘And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’ ” (Matt. 18:17-18).

Later, Paul fleshes out Jesus’ principles on church discipline when he instructs the church at Corinth to expel the immoral member in their midst. Paul notes that by doing this the church is turning the unrepentant sinner over to Satan so that, though he may be physically destroyed, his soul might be saved (see 1 Cor. 5:5).

Like Cyprian, Jesus, Paul and the writer of Hebrews are not suggesting that salvation comes through participation in church activities. They are saying that fellowship with the body of Christ reveals and strengthens the union believers already have with Christ Himself—the two are inseparable.

In this season of uncertainty about what a genuine church looks like, it is essential that we hold on to the historic, biblical concept of the family of God and our membership in it. Although it is crucial for us to reject old, tired models of church that don’t inspire vibrant faith, we must be careful that we aren’t attempting to tear down what God intends to build.

After all, it was Jesus who said in Matthew 16:18: “‘On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.’ ” In the end, regardless of the opinions of men, the church will stand.

Minciuna *1

De ce Dumnezeu nu și-a școlarizat mai temeinic cuplul A & E nimeni nu poate ști. Bănuiesc că ar fi avut cam tot atîtea rezultate cîte am și eu cînd le spun copiilor mei: Dacă faci cutare lucru, o să pățești cutare lucru RĂU! Inutil să menționez că todeauna au făcut lucru ăla, mai puțin datul focului la casă și atîrnatul de firele de înaltă tensiune ce trec prin fața aceleiași case. A & E nu erau COPȚI pentru școlarizare. Le trebuia o lecție și cu toate că era timp cu carul, au avut parte de un craș cours pe maturitate.

După o introducere timidă, a venit tîrîtura aia să le spună: Faceți cutare lucru și o să vă deșteptați!

Și culmea, a prins! Din prima. E putea să-i spună lui A: Hani, vezi tu fructa aia de acolo? Mi-o trebuie, o vreau. Fă-te luntre și punte și …să o am la micul dejun… că dacă nu, nu știu ce fac cu tine!

Dar n-a fost așa.

S-a stat de vorbă. A fost un dialog deschis și sincer, ca de la om la drac, ce mai!

Sigur că unii și-o pot închipui pe E ca pe o femeie activă, luptătoare, determinată, cățărîndu-se, julindu-se și poate chiar înțepîndu-se ca să ajungă la frunctul oprit, dar la fel de bine putea să culeagă unul copt, căzut pe jos sau de ce nu, unul care îi venea drept în palmă, adus de o pasăre fermecată, deosebit de frumoasă, dar încă necatalogată de soț: Minciuna.

Era atît de frumoasă, de ușoară, de bine intenționată, că nu îi putea rezista. (Pe această cale țin să precizez că nu vreau să dau vina pe E pentru alungarea din paradis. Evident vina o poartă A: dormea în post!!!)

Dar în fine, cine n-a fost mințit sau n-a mințit cel puțin o dată-n viață?

Îmi aduc aminte de prima minciună pe care am încasat-o. Se distrau unii cum o credeam! Normal, aveam aproape 5 ani! Eram vulnerabil.

Dar nu îmi mai aduc aminte prima minciună personală. Probabil că s-a refugiat în subconștient. Nu îmi mai aduc aminte a doua, nici a treia, dar cred că îmi aduc aminte unele mai noi. La început nu îmi reușeau. Și eram pedepsit, așa că a trebuit să mă perfecționez. Era stimularea negativă. Altora le reușeau atît de bine încît îi invidiam. Invidia e said efectul minciunii. De ce alții reușesc și eu nu? Fire-ar să fie de capra-vecinului!

Cînd am devenit adolescent, întorcîndu-mă acasă unde mă aștepta mama, am întîrziat. Nu făcusem ceva rău, nu călcasem pe bec, dar îmi dădeam seama, în urma unei analiza a logicii interioare, că adevărul meu adolescentin nu era credibil și nu va fi crezut. Dacă nu-l credeam nici eu…

Așa că m-am gîndit la o minciună. Nu rețin dacă erau mai multe disponibile și am ales una dintre ele. Mi-am închipuit dialogul ce va urma și care va fi efectul minciunii personale. Mi-a dat aripi. Era o minciună originală.

Zis și făcut. A mers. Uns. Clin cat! Și așa am ajuns să mint de nevoie, frumos și eficient. Asta a fost stimularea pozitivă!

Și uite ce a urmat: am uitat adevărul pentru că minciuna era mai atractivă. Cea mai atractivă. Mai ales în lipsa unui adevăr care să mă favorizeze.

Mai multă minciună, mai puțină bătaie de cap. Mai puțină bătaie de cap, mai multă liniște și pace.

Note falsificate, bani subtilizați, timp petrecut la filme, cu prieteni dubioși, pe coclauri, cînd ar fi trebuit să fiu acasă, să învăț.

Noroc că pe vremea aia nu aveam telefon. Noroc că nu m-a prins nimeni în flagrant delict. Noroc că am putut să mă desprind de prietenii care furau și valorificau ce furau.

Noroc? Nu sunt un tip norocos, sunt un tip muncitor. Sau mai bine zis eram…

Îmi aduc aminte că după ce am devenit creștin am dat-o în bară cu ceva documentație tehnică ce trebuia trimisă unui serviciu. Mi-am luat inima-n dinți și m-am dus la șefu. A căscat ochii mari și m-a trimis pe firul documentației să repar ce am stricat. Îmi era groază să recunosc că am greșit. Dar, inima, dinții și picioarele la spinare.

Culmea: a fost mai ușor decît m-am așteptat. Într-o țară în care minciuna era politică de stat, era o premieră să spui că ai greșit, că trebuie să îți semneze că au luat la cunoștiință de schimbarea documentației și că asta e! Toate trebuiau văzute și aprobate de alți șefi, mai șefi ca șeful meu, așa că eram cu inima aia din dinți cît un purice!

Ba au fost și faze hazoase. Unul dintre șefi, se uită la mine semnînd și complice îmi spune: Las că nu tu ești de vină pentru astea! Tu ești numa curierul! Să fi venit ăla care e de vină!

Și mi-a întors spatele plecînd cu documentele.

Se spune că minciuna  are picioare scurte. Scurte, scurte, da să vezi cum îți face cu ochiul!