In two–thousand years of church history there have been many battles, but the most recent battle is for territory and turf. It seems that the franchise model of churches has brought competition in evangelicalism. Most Awana programs, youth groups, and young adult programs have been sucked up by the business model of megachurches. The issue that I have with these megachurches is how they seek their members. Do they use market capitalization and product development principles in pursuit of church? Or do they rely on biblical principles that will grow them into a healthy chruch?
Discernment is needed at this moment. Megachurches seem to derive their strategies from a shareholder mentality, where church attendees are consumers needing to be pleased. They offer a product called churchwhere many can participate, regardless of their spiritual state. In fact, everywhere you go, you can find a similar megachurch product, whether it’s called Elevation, Revive, or Summit. The names seem more like happy meals than the fellowship of believers (Acts 2:42–47).
Churches have branded their efforts in the name of reaching many, but in doing so, they have made far fewer disciples. Their attendance is mega, but their members are few. This is an un-healthy church, and unfortunately many churches in the area are using the megachurches as their model. Sadly, the megachurches’ staff are so large that they have no choice but to adopt business structures, equal employment opportunity, and diversity and inclusion initiatives. You will hear the tenets of carver rules of governance and Roberts rules of order, even if you don’t see any mention of these practices in Scripture.
I am aware that several business-minded Christians may say, “corporate practices are part of God’s common grace.” That is true to an extent. However, I had over six years in corporate finance, and when I entered the church as a regenerate believer, I never imagined corporate America having so much presence in God’s kingdom on earth. I saw the church run by business executives more than qualified preachers and theologians. I was looking for a church, not a business. This realization drove me to look elsewhere. Here are three concise reasons why I left the megachurch.
The modern church has replaced rich, expository teaching with that which is shallow and consumer driven. The teachers leading Sunday worship in the megachurches I attended seemed to rely on an emotional experience over theological conviction. The emphasis on emotionalism through loud music, dimmed lights, and an abundance of illustrations that over-emphasized personal experiences rather than exegetical truths led the philosophy of ministry for the megachurches’ growth. As I got to know the congregation, I soon realized that many of them were not acquainted with the basic tenets of mature teaching. They didn’t have opinions on reformed theology, eschatology, spiritual gifts, or even the slightest care for theological development. I often wondered if the leaders even read the Bible with a hermeneutical approach in mind (e.g., exegesis) or if they pre-supposed that growth is what dictates theological necessity (e.g., eisegesis). It felt like the overarching theme was “We’re all Christians. Let’s just get along. You’re judgmental. Knowledge puffs up,” but rarely did they enjoy talking about biblical themes that were not connected with feelings. They ignored the great commission for the sake of large numerical gatherings and a false understanding that “God was at work” because many consumers were around. However, the megachurches failed to realize that the consumers would withdraw and no longer walk with the church if they returned to biblical preaching (John 6:66). To be honest, I felt they had become “dull of hearing” and partaking only of milk as Hebrews 5:11–14 says:
Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
It felt as though my theological curiosity for solid food was outgrowing the church.
Scripture does not advocate for or demonstrate a satellite campus model. Let me be specific, I see nowhere in Scripture that lets a body of believers (e.g., a local church) be without representative elders or without autonomy of oversight (e.g., approval for decision making apart from the main campus). It is an unhealthy practice for main campuses to control the pastors of a satellite campus by giving them prescribed sermon topics, themes, or even visions. The solution to satellite campuses is to plant churches and support them spiritually and financially until they can operate autonomously. This is why Paul writes that “the elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Tim 5:17). Can you imagine if we limited pastors from operating their God-given ability to preach and teach consistently in their congregations simply because the main campus of the megachurch, with a personality cult pastor, wanted all the attention?
I remember attending a satellite campus of one of the biggest churches in the country and expecting the satellite campus pastor to preach, only to find out that after he was done with the announcements, we would hear from a pre-recorded sermon from the main campus. This felt too much like the corporate control of product development from headquarters that I experienced in my former finance career. The preacher should be the one who knows the Sheep (Ps 23; 1 Pet 5:1–7). I was looking for a more authentic experience and less of the manipulative, control-based church experience that muzzled the ox while threshing (1 Tim 5:18). Let the churches and preachers lead as they are called.
I remember being in a megachurch and finding out that over seventy percent of the congregation were not members. This so often the result of a church that is “seeker-sensitive.” Seeker-sensitive means that you are conducting your worship in a way that attracts regular attendees more than committed disciples. Discipleshipin the Greek (matheteuo) describes a learner or follower. It does not mean fast-food Christians who come to their drive-through Christian experience on Sunday for a quick, low-nutritional sermon. Instead, in means following the leader’s examples and discipleship.
I think discipleship is the most misunderstood term in Christianity. Here, I will attempt to define it biblically. The Church’s great commission—found in Matthew 28:18–20—is to “make disciples.” In fact, the other three verbs in this passage are what we call instrumental participles, which are the tools to carry out discipleship: going, baptizing, and teaching. If matheteuo means to make followers of Christ, then why would a church adopt a mindset to get as many professions of faith as possible at an emotionalized worship night? The megachurches I attended were so focused on professions of faith that they didn’t lead substantive baptisms, memberships, or discussions of the Bible. Sanctification and accountability were a moot point.
In fact, I would hear many well-respected Christians say, “Last week I led so and so to the Lord” or “Last week so and so came to the Lord.” I would reply with excitement and say, “Have you talked to them since . . . are they coming to church this Sunday . . . are they getting baptized?” But no matter the emphasis I would place on following Christ after a supposed profession of faith, it would seem that my concerns were dismissed with comments such as “that’s not how God works . . . once saved always saved . . . you`re being judgmental.”
I believe that churches need to place more emphasis on the biblical definition and force of making disciples. For instance, much of discipleship comes after the gospel is shared; sharing the gospel and counting someone as believing in Christ is just one part of the “instrumental” participles found in Matthew 28:18–20. Discipleship in the church has become more of a passive activity where we create an event that responds to decisions, instead of making disciples. I remember the megachurch pressuring me after a weekend-long retreat to add up how many teenagers made a profession of faith; this always made me uncomfortable.
So why do we become consumers of the megachurch marketing campaigns that some buildings call church? Perhaps it is our nature to be consumeristic. We want to be a part of something that everyone else knows about and also participates in. We want to be a part of the church that is known, just like McDonalds is known. We want to participate in a finished product rather than doing the hard work of discipleship one conversation at a time. We like to follow numbers rather than the biblical principles. We believe that If it’s growing it must be blessed by God. Perhaps consumerism has outgrown our desire to contribute in discipleship and church.
However, we are called to be contributors by discipleship, not consumers. We are called to follow the kingdom calling of Matthew 28:18–20 to make disciples by living evangelistically without biblical compromise. We are called to tell those who profess to believe to be baptized, become members, and partake of solid food (e.g., doctrine). We must seek to contribute to those aspects of the church and leave the results up to God. When we leave the results up to franchise philosophies, growth may occur at the expense of biblical discipleship. Business-minded megachurches need to focus less on market capitalization and a shareholder mentality where growth drives theology. Size is not to outweigh functionality, purpose, and mission. Jesus always kept the size of His crowds in theological check because he knew that many were there for the wrong reasons (John 6:24–27; 65–66).
I hope you leave any church that places shallow teaching, multi-campuses, and consumeristic discipleship above true spiritual growth.
I hope this helps you pick your next church and not rely on numbers, but on inter-personal discipleship and authenticity.
This blog was originally posted at Fight the Good Fight of Faith Ministries.
Consider making a year-end tax-deductible gift to our ministry, a decision that supports vital work and helps provide resources for Christians around the globe.