Friday, August 29, 2008

Food for Thought

Lots of press off of Adam Hamilton's Big Church Convention in Atlanta this week. It certainly is interesting stuff; it's encouraging and exciting. I've been a part of a big church; I've been a part of little church; I actually enjoy both and have been blessed by both.

I live in the "Land of the Mega-churches" -- Atlanta has a nice big share of them. I've often wondered if it is a result of the explosive population growth in the North Georgia Area. Sometimes Mega-churches are just lumped together in a one really big box, but the truth is each seems to have it's own flavor. The ones in my personal experience really are ALL different. The each have their own emphasis, their own ways of doing things and their own maximum size. I have found that for the large majority of them, money is not a huge issue (I think we all have the stereotype of the Mega-church begging for money.) I also have found that there are groups within the Mega-church who have very high expectations and a very developed sense of spirituality. I have worked at a baby Mega-church and have found it to be more like a cooperative collection of small groups; each of which I would call "church."

There are others reflecting about this today:
There is a cautionary tale here as well. It seem to me that the Mega-churches that are associated with a larger denomination (like the UMC) tend to stay on track better than those that are non-denominational. You don't have to look far in Atlanta to find (for instance) a lot of angst about Chapel Hill Harvester (or at least that is what it USED to be called) and Earl Paulk. The larger denominational structure allow for accountability. It's also surprising for most people to realize that the majority of Mega-churches are indeed associated with a mainline denomination (I think you can look this up at Hartford Seminary's Facts On File website.)

But on a personal note, I will say this -- if it was a convention about small churches, I'd feel the urge to defend the larger church model -- that said; the press makes me want to defend smaller churches. A LOT of good comes from smaller churches. I have an urge to defend small church. It's a part of my personality to always defend the underdog.

It does makes me think of some questions:
  • What exactly is church?
  • Is the true apostolic model of a church a House Church?
  • Should we spend our money on buildings and possessions as long as there are places we can use the money in mission?
  • Is evangelism just getting more people in the pews? Getting more young people to go into the ministry?
Please let us not use rhetoric that devalues the work of small congregations and of older pastors. Let us remember our heritage and the current workers of the fields and celebrate just a little what they are doing as well.

Edited: I want to spend more time talking about effectiveness, integrity and intentionality than size. Mega-churches in Atlanta work; mega-churches outside of Atlanta may not work that well. There are so many different factors -- I think a better question to ask about a church is about it's health -- is it healthy? Some churches are going to be Mastiffs and Great Danes; some churches are going to be tea-cup poodles or 3 pound chihuahuas. Each size of church is going to have different health issues -- but isn't it all about the effectiveness and the wellness of the church that really matters?

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