In Defense of the Megachurch

Lately, I’ve heard and read several conversations wondering about the megachurch.  Some question its authenticity,  others question its methodology, while some just question whether big is good.   As these questions bounce around in my head, I’m serving on staff at the largest United Methodist congregation in Oklahoma City.  Needless to say, I’ve got a little different take on the megachurch than some of the voices you hear.

Just this week we started Vacation Bible School.  Yesterday, those of us here in OKC were just about washed away in a torrent of rain, and we ended up having to cancel the first day of VBS.  As a result, several of our members who were volunteering quickly found themselves as volunteers without a cause.  In the end this was a real blessing, because I was able to have some great conversations with the folks who waited inside to avoid going home in the hardest rain.

As I was speaking to one of our volunteers, we began to talk about her children.  As we talked she mentioned a friend of her children who has experienced some hard times, but is facing those difficulties with the help of an amazing community surrounding them.  As she described the beauty of this caring community, she gestured around at our building and the people gathered there and said, “You know, this is that community for our kids, and it has been since they were little.”

In that moment, I realized something.  This family has specifically chosen to raise their kids in an intentional way, surrounded by incredible men and women of faith, and it just so happens to be here in a megachurch.  When I look at this family, I can say the same thing for myself.  I want my kids to grow up in a community of faith like the one I’m appointed to serve.

Although megachurches are bigger than the churches many of you attend or pastor, they are no less communities of faith and discipleship.  In fact, they aren’t even necessarily big for the sake of bigness.  In a very large urban or suburban area, the megachurch actually shrinks the city and becomes a smaller community of faith and discipleship within that setting.  We aren’t the big box store selling religious experiences or goods; we are a community of people, albeit a large community, who’ve said, “This is where I want my family to grow and be shaped in their faith.  This is the place where I want to live out my faith, both inside and outside the walls.  This is the place where I want to nurture Christian friendships and live out my commitment to Jesus Christ.”

Are we bigger than some of the small towns in Oklahoma?  Sure we are.  But just as people who live in those towns are shaped by the life of those communities, people here at Servant are shaped and formed into the image of Jesus Christ because of the living, breathing, faithful men and women who come here to celebrate the goodness and grace of Jesus.

Megachurch Pastors

Leadership Network has just released the results of a study of 232 pastors in megachurches around the United States (h/t John Meunier).  Their criterion for being a megachurch is averaging more than 2,000 in worship.  Since I’m in a megachurch now (even though we miss their average by about 150), I’m really interested in the results of the studies being released.  Here are the basics.

  1. They think of themselves more as teachers and directional leaders than as pastors.
  2. Preaching tops the list of things they do best.
  3. They haven’t always worked in churches.
  4. Being an extrovert isn’t mandatory.
  5. Family stays at the top of their mind when it comes to prayers.
  6. They usually like the people they work with.
  7. They believe their top gift is leadership (77% of respondents reporting they have this gift).  The second highest response is teaching (67%).
  8. They are actively involved in sports.
  9. They find worship at their church helpful for personal spiritual growth.
  10. They’re not thinking about quitting.

Top five magazines read by Senior Pastors of Megachurches:

  1. Leadership Journal
  2. Rev!
  3. Outreach
  4. Christianity Today
  5. Fast Company

Top five books recommended by Megachurch pastors (wow, I’ve read all of these…associate pastors in megachurches must all read the same books as their senior ministers. ha!)

  1. Simple Church by Thom Rainer
  2. Axiom by Bill Hybels
  3. The Reason for God by Tim Keller
  4. It by Craig Groeschel
  5. Leading on Empty by Wayne Cordiero

If you’re interested in these findings, I recommend you download the full study.  It’s pretty good information for understanding today’s megachurch pastor.  There is also a study of executive ministers in megachurches that is well worth a read.

See any surprises here?