Mega Churches And Christian Discipleship
There is a new model in modern Western Christian worship that is growing in numbers far faster than other models…the who is jesus. While the vast numbers and rate of numerical growth are impressive, this style of worship and fellowship has significant drawbacks when it comes to discipleship. We’ll cover what the style is, the discipleship drawbacks and a couple solutions that can help overcome the weaknesses of the mega-church to make it personal and inviting.
What Is A Mega Church?
Mega church is the popular name for huge churches that are popping up all over the Western world. As the name implies, these are not simply large churches, but have regular weekly attendance from 1k to 30k or more. They’re not community churches, but regional churches, where people come from as far as 50 miles away, thanks to freeway travel. The sanctuaries of some of these facilities seat as many as 10,000 at a time. Many sport cushioned stadium seating with drink holders and stereo phone outlets to get the teaching translated into a number of languages. The sanctuary is usually just part of a huge campus that includes classroom buildings, swimming pools, tennis courts, gyms, etc. Often, they have valet parking and shuttle service from the huge parking lots to the sanctuary and other points of interest. Because of their size, these mega-churches can provide a wide variety of services for Christian families of all types and sizes.
Sadly, because of their size, mega-churches are about as intimate as a professional basketball game. You can imagine, if the sanctuary seats 10,000, the sixth grade class (for example) might seat 200…Lord, help the teachers! To get something close to intimate fellowship, you’d probably have to be one of the 150-200 pastors, but then, you might be so locked into the institutional mindset and the break-neck pace to be able to approach Christian intimacy. I know something of this, having pastored on the staff of one of the smaller mega-churches in Northern California. Stressful doesn’t begin to describe the experience. After about 4 years there, the Lord moved me to a better paced ministry responsibility. Personally, my experience as a mega-church pastor leads me to believe there’s too little opportunity for affective ministry and too much administrative responsibility. The sheer numbers of people make it more like herding cattle than reaching people with the profound and intimate experience of Jesus. Still, this seems to be the trend in the modern church, so, let’s see if we can take this mega-church thing and find a way to infuse intimate discipleship into the process.
What Is Christian Discipleship?
Discipleship, as opposed to popular belief, is not teaching. Teaching is to discipleship what chewing is to eating…you may get a taste but you’re still going to starve to death. You have to swallow, digest and metabolize what you chewed or it does you no good. You can’t be taught discipleship, it has to be caught by intimate contact with people who are living it. Jesus spent 3 years living with the 12 disciples. They went where He went, slept where He slept, ate what He ate, and witnessed every word He spoke and action He took. Even after He ascended, the standard discipleship method for 350 years was small, intimate groups who spent most of their lives together. We’re fooling ourselves if we think an hour or two each week spent listening to someone talk comes anywhere near discipleship…even if we’re taking notes. What is needed is intimate small groups, where Christian living is the focus, rather than preaching or teaching.
Two methods of discipleship can still be used well at mega-churches; Cell Groups and one-on-one. Cell Groups, or small groups, put discipleship responsibility outside the church campus, in homes, where intimate contact and ministry are possible. Many of the mega-churches are getting small as well as getting big, by adding hundreds of small home groups to their huge menu of weekly services. This is not new, but definitely bears continued attention. We all know, in our modern society, we’re not going to get large numbers of people in each other’s homes for more than a couple hours a week, but we should take what we get and let the Holy spirit do the rest. The second method, one-on-one, is the most affective but the hardest to accomplish from the mega-church model. That’s because it depends on individuals being motivated enough to develop personal relationships from the huge group of strangers they worship with each week. I suspect one-on-one discipleship is as useful in the mega-church setting as in any…other than the small group, which naturally develops relationships.