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What can we learn from our megachurch neighbors?

Megachurches are here to stay, writes Kate Bowler for Faith and Leadership at Duke Divinity. So we might as well learn to get along with them – and find out what it is we have to offer one another.

While most American churches are populated by around 80 people, Bowler writes, megachurches are defined (locally) as having 2,000 or more regular attendees. Since the year 2000, the number of such congregations in America has risen from 600 to 1,650. And, she says,

We must all come to terms with the fact that this form of congregational life seems to be here to stay. According to sociologist Mark Chaves’ most recent National Congregations Study, an astonishing half of all churchgoers attend the largest 7 percent of congregations. In short, more people — across traditions — are becoming concentrated in fewer churches. Though most of us do not attend a megachurch, more and more of us are finding ourselves living in a megachurch shadow.

Misconceptions about megachurches have proved to be stumbling blocks to good neighborliness. Bowler names a few:

One of the most common misconceptions about megachurches is that they are primarily bastions of the prosperity gospel. …

Another misreading is that these churches are independent, hovering above all denominational cares and concerns. On the contrary, a vast number (some scholars say a majority) of American megachurches belong to denominations. … Mainliners would be pleased to know that there are United Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran and United Church of Christ megachurches. …

The world of megaministry has its own rules. …

…They have endless resources, so that small churches can’t compete.

But, Bowler argues that the small church pastor’s keen connection to the needs of individuals and the megachurch pastor’s big dream resources could complement each other, if big and small learned to work together. “We must start by making our peace with the megachurch as our neighbor,” is the invitation at the heart of her essay.

Read Kate Bowler’s essay for Faith and Leadership here. Do you attend a megachurch? A small parish? What have you learned about working together with churches of different sizes and dynamics for the sake of the gospel?

Featured image: By Carol M. Highsmith – Library of Congress Catalog, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons 

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14 Comments
  1. Jim Jordan

    One week, several years ago, I attended the memorial services for two friends, both deeply committed, Christians active in their churches. The first was a non-liturgical service in the almost empty, cavernous auditorium of a megachurch; it was cold, impersonal and left me with the empty feeling no-one at that church knew or cared about my friend and his family. The second was a liturgical service in a 250 member Episcopal church filled with God’s love, warmth, and appreciation; the full church knew, cared, and celebrated my friend and surrounded her family with love. These are isolated pictures, but I was left wondering why one would be attracted to the anonymity of the megachurch.

    • David Allen

      That’s a well-known issue with mega-churches. Most of them try to remedy that with small-group ministries; smaller congregations within the congregation that intentionally place members in the care of other members to develop the bonds that many experience in small congregations/parishes.

      Many years ago the Cathedral of Hope (4000+ members) in Dallas TX, which was a Metropolitan Community Church then and is now a United Church of Christ today, had such a small-group ministry that they called Circles of Hope. They provided leadership training for individuals or couples to lead the circles. The Circles usually met in the homes of circle members for devotional and fellowship activities. They also did service projects together, as well as, entertainment and recreational activities. When something happened to a member of a circle, they turned to their circle leader and the other members, in the same way small parish members do.

  2. David Allen

    IIRC, that is Dallas First Baptist Church in the photo. That is the entrance to their new circular worship center. A large Southern Baptist church, lead by a very homophobic pastor.

    • Rosalind Hughes

      It is Dallas First Baptist – singled out solely because of its photogenic presence in the public domain (I browsed the megachurch section of wikicommons, as it is too cold and sleety to go out and photograph my local megachurch).

      • David Allen

        DFB is one of Dallas’ smaller mega-churches. The D-FW metroplex may well be the capitol of the phenomena. Perhaps the largest in the area is Prestonwood Baptist Church, also Southern Baptist. It’s coloquial nickname is Fort God.

  3. David Allen

    DFB is one of Dallas’ smaller mega-churches. The D-FW metroplex may well be the capitol of the phenomena. Perhaps the largest in the area is Prestonwood Baptist Church, also Southern Baptist. It’s coloquial nickname is Fort God.

  4. Pete Haynsworth

    Define “very homophobic” as opposed to, say, just “homophobic”. So much so that any self-respecting Episcopalian shouldn’t “might as well learn to get along with them – and find out what it is we have to offer one another”?

    • David Allen

      This man speaks against LGBT folks and their allies in the public forum every chance that he gets and enlists the aid of others in doing so. He also preaches against LGBT folks from his bully pulpit. He isn’t interested in getting along or seeking what we might have to offer.

  5. Pete Haynsworth

    “This man speaks against LGBT folks and their allies in the public forum ” … Citations from actual sermons please!

    Does Roman Catholic doctrine – and most Anglicans – considering homosexuality to be disordered mean Episcopalians can’t get along with and learn from such folks? (Stop all feeding ministries!)

    (Most) Episcopalians – including this one – think that homosexuality is, well, “ordered.” That train has left the station.

    • Helen Kromm

      Direct quotes from Robert Jeffress, Pastor of Dallas First Baptist Church:

      In a 2008 sermon titled “Gay is not OK,” Jeffress said: “What they [homosexuals] do is filthy. It is so degrading that it is beyond description. And it is their filthy behavior that explains why they are so much more prone to disease.”

      Also, regarding the LGBT community:

      “There are a disproportionate amount of assaults against children by homosexuals than by heterosexuals, you can’t deny that. And the reason is very clear: homosexuality is perverse. It represents a degradation of a person’s mind and if a person will sink that low and there are no restraints from God’s law, then there is no telling to whatever sins he will commit as well.”

      Regarding other religions:

      “God sends good people to Hell. Not only do religions like Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism—not only do they lead people away from from God, they lead people to an eternity of separation from God in Hell.”

      Catholics:

      “Much of what you see in the Catholic Church today doesn’t come from God’s Word, it comes from that cult-like, pagan religion.”

      Islam:

      “And here is the deep, dark, dirty secret of Islam: It is a religion that promotes pedophilia – sex with children.”

      Regarding the first two Jeffress quotes, if you don’t regard those as “very homophobic”, then please tell us what you do believe might be regarded as a very homophobic statement.

    • David Allen

      Bro Pete, there comes a time in an issue when the tide turns in favor of those who witness to the truth of something, especially from their experience.

      At this time on the road to justice for my LGBT brothers & sisters, I think that it is now incumbant upon you, if you need more proof than my word of experience that he is “very homophobic,” to do your own research on the matter, as Prof Seitz has, on occasion, said to others in this forum.

  6. Prof Christopher Seitz

    Two of the largest Episcopal churches in TEC are in Dallas, and growing. St Michael and All Angels and Church of the Incarnation. The latter attracts lots of millenials from mega churches. It is traditional and conservative.

  7. Pete Haynsworth

    How does a post about getting along with megachurches turn into a rage against such communities?

    • Helen Kromm

      How is it that you can offer such a mis-characterization of the responses in this post, and come back and state they represent a rage against such communities?

      I see no rage against mega-churches, their communities, or their congregants. Not one word of anger or rage.

      One respondent did offer the observation that the pastor of the church depicted in the photo is “very homophobic”. You seemed to challenge that, to the point that you demanded quotes as evidence to back that statement. Those were provided.

      As to rage against these communities, I don’t see that. At the same time, I think it’s beyond dispute that Robert Jeffress is homophobic. Is it that you disagree with that statement?

Comments are closed.