Today (Monday, May 09, 2011) my local newspaper, The Tennessean, had an article titled, “Mega Churches Grow Without Building On.” The article highlighted one church in my area, Bethel World Outreach Center, that has grown by starting satellite campuses. This is the newest trend in church growth. A church outgrows its space and then starts another congregation in another part of town (sometimes another state). In some cases, the pastor of the church will travel to the satellite location until the church is able to pay its own pastor. (This is how Bethel Outreach has done it. For awhile, the pastor at theNashvilleChurch would preach inNashville and then hop a plane toNew York to preach at the satellite campus.) Most of the time, these satellite campuses will have their own “campus pastor” and praise team on site, but the message is delivered by the senior pastor either through tape delay, or delayed by a week or weeks. This type of church expansion is sometimes called “branding” or “franchising.”At times, this type of expansion makes sense and is cost effective. At other times, it may contribute to our culture of materialism and celebrity idolization. This type of church growth is like any other type of church growth. In some situations it works, in other situations it doesn’t. Sometimes it is done with proper motives, other times it is not. I am in no position to judge or criticize anything or anyone. There is no perfect church or church growth system because there are no perfect pastors or people. I love all churches of all sizes and philosophies as long as there are preaching the resurrected Christ and reaching people.
The thing I want to call your attention to in this article are the “comments” made by people who read the article. Most of the comments are negative about this type of church growth and the perception that all mega church pastors are wealthy and churches are nothing more than businesses, with the pastor serving as the CEO. Read the comments, they are enlightening.
I know that some will read the comments and say, “What else should you expect from people who are away from Christ? We shouldn’t listen to their criticisms because they are only out to destroy any and all churches.”
There is a big part of me that agrees with that idea, but I want to challenge you to consider it from another perspective. We need to listen to some of these critics. We need to be aware of what the unchurched think of us. For all of our bright ideas and innovative approaches to church growth, church growth in theUnited Statesover the past 50 years has not kept with population growth. We have deceived ourselves into thinking that the church inAmericais strong, but in reality she is dying; and some of these critics may have some clues as to why.
Another reason we should listen to the criticism is because of what Paul said to Timothy. He says that church leaders (pastors) “must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap” (1 Timothy 1:7, NIV). Now I know that like everything else, balance is the key, but as pastors, regardless of the size of our church, we need to be more concerned about our reputation with outsiders than we are with people inside our religious organizations. We need to ask ourselves, “What does that person far away from God think of me,” instead of being concerned with numbers and budgets. There is an old Arab saying that goes, “If one person calls you a jackass, ignore him; but if two or more people call you a jackass, buy a saddle.”
I love the Church, and have devoted my life in serving her. But I do think it is time for us to wake up and realize we have a disconnect between what we think of ourselves and what outsiders think of us. I want nothing more than to see the Church awaken from her slumber and self-deception and reach the world for God. Instead of building our own little kingdoms (or brands) we need to work together to build God’s Kingdom. Will you join me in praying for revival; for another Great Awakening?