Friday, April 12, 2013

Mega-mall churches

Julie and I had a delightful conversation with my cousin Karen last night.  It's such a gift to be able to catch up with family!

One of the richest parts of the conversation for me is that Karen is a strong believer -- she knows Jesus and is tuned in to what the Holy Spirit is up to in the world today.  So a lot of our conversation wove in and out around the church and what works in the church today and where church people are missing the boat.

We talked a bit about churches that still seem to be building more-or-less successful ministries around a 1980's model -- meaning big institutions, big buildings, big programs, big staff.  I believe that some churches can continue to appear successful using this model.  In the 1980's we saw tons of churches growing in this direction.  Willow Creek was the leader of this pack, creating a corporate-headquarters-style church in the suburbs west of Chicago.  Thousands and thousands of church leaders streamed to Willow Creek's leadership conferences over a couple decades.  I was there myself a few times, and learned a lot.

But one of the most interesting visits I made to Willow Creek was in the early 2000's when I heard them say this:  We expected that if people got more involved in our church, that they would love God and love their neighbors more.  But when we studied this, we found that being more involved in church bears no relationship to how much people love God or love their neighbor.

That tears the guts out of the megachurch model.  If participation doesn't equal discipleship, the whole basis of Christian ministry in the last couple decades of the 20th century is suspect.

Look around at the church and that's indeed what you find.  As I said, there are still some megamall churches (meaning churches focused on buildings, programs, staff, etc.) that seem to be doing fairly robust business.  But look closer and you'll find that they have a pretty big "back door" where lots of people are streaming out looking for something else.

What are people looking for?  Just as consumers may still go to the Mall of America for a day out, or for the entertainment, consumers will still go to a church for the programs or for a whiz-bang worship service.  But the disciples, the believers who are living lives dedicated to the kingdom of God, are seeking that out in the world.   They're in conversation with other believers.  They're finding ways to help hurting people.  They're being salt and light, not retreating into a sacred building.

I'm more convinced than ever that the Holy Spirit is creating human community centered in Jesus that operates in a loose relationship with traditional churches.  It's a difficult task today for traditional churches (including the big contemporary worship non-denominational churches) and traditional clergy (including the soul-patch, blue-jean, preaching-from-a-barstool clergy) to figure out their place in this loosely structured world.

The church has left the building.  Now what?

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