Thursday, September 25, 2008

George Fox Q&A: More on megachurches

This question is from Dan J.: "I have been greatly influenced, as have many, by the ministry of Willow Creek. Your book makes some good observations about Willow and other megachurches as far as influencing the lives of suburban Christians. However, I'm wondering how much of a detriment that an all inclusive Christian community such as Willow Creek might be to the overall idea of creating or influencing redemptively the "physical" communities that suburban inhabitants actually live in? In other words, can we really afford to spend more time hiding from the communities that we've been called to?"

Your question gets to the heart of some of the megachurch backlash that we've been seeing in recent years, as megachurch attendees start to wonder if the megachurch is really good for them and their community or not. Call it the law of unintended consequences at work. Megachurches do some (many) things very well, and that's why they're megachurches. They would not be what they are if they were not authentically ministering to lots of people on a large scale. But the fact that they create this "all inclusive Christian community" has its own unintended consequences in relocating the focus of Christian life and activity to the church facilities rather than incarnationally dispersed throughout local neighborhoods. Hence the multisite corrective I mentioned earlier.

I think the bottom line is that megachurches can do some things that smaller churches can't do, and smaller churches do some things that megachurches can't do, and we need both. Some people will be reached by megachurches that would never be reached by smaller churches, and vice versa. So there's a place for both in the suburban landscape. Churches of all sizes need to be aware of their own pitfalls and tendencies, and to guard against negative unintended consequences, like hiding from our communities, as you mention. If church time displaces us from really being rooted and involved in local neighborhoods, then we probably need to cut back on how much time we spend and invest at the church and rediscover ways to locate ministry and community life away from church.

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