Recently I read this article entitled, 'Super-Sized Churches: Do we need Adventist mega churches?' from the Adventist Review a publication of the Seventh-day Adventist church. Note: to really be able to understand and fairly judge for yourself if you agree or disagree you should read the article for yourself.
I've embedded it below for you to read and even allow you to download it and share it with others. (Also let me know if you found helpful me embedding the document onto the blog post. May do it more often as needed and if you find it helpful!)
First let me begin by being clear that as a pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist church I'm not advocating that we aim to have or for any Adventist pastor to strive to have a 'mega-church.' Yet with that said, as I read this article a few things really bothered me specifically what seems to be some of the reasoning against a mega-church, as the author Clinton Wahlen states;
The notion that methods and practices can be theologically neutral is a myth. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the methodology that churches employ always springs from theology. The two are inseparable, and each directly affects the other. So we need to consider the theological factors at work in the megachurch movement, as well as other reasons for concern.Wahlen then goes on to state six different factors. Now I'm not going to go over each of them but I do want to touch on a few points for you to ponder.
1. The fact that doctrine is down played as mentioned in the first point in the article. Now I'm not saying this doesn't happen. Yet it can happen in any church and is not simply a factor that belongs tagged on a mega-church. I listen to many sermons of different pastors, some being 'mega-church' pastors and let me tell you they are fairly strong on doctrine. Some examples: Matt Chandler, Andy Stanley, Craig Groeschel, and yes Mark Driscoll. Now do we as Adventist agree with every point of their doctrine. Of course not, but that's another story.
2. Another point (#3 in the article) Wahlen tackles is the issue that large churches tend to have or lead to spiritually weak Christians. Essentially the implication that they will not be active but simply hide in the vast multitude. Though there is truth to this yet if we are honest with ourselves this is happening in the Adventist church regardless of it's size. I've often heard from different 'Adventist church leaders' that 80% of our churches (give or take) are either dying or plateauing. Now if it's true that large churches lend themselves to spiritual decline and most Adventist churches are not growing and their small, perhaps it's not simply about large versus small, but a problem of the heart. When Jesus touches one's heart wether one is in a small or large church they will be led to be active!
3. Profanation of worship is the last point mentioned in Wahlens article. This is perhaps the one that I question the most. To imply that these churches are profaning God's name in worship to me seems judgmental. Has Mr. Wahlen been to some of these 'mega-churches'? Honestly I don't know if he has or not, but I can tell you that I have been to several and can tell you what I saw. People coming together to worship God! Couldn't it be said that if a small church comes together and sings hymns (or whatever songs they choose) without any true passion along with a heart lifted up to God that they would be 'profaning' the worship experience? Again to be fair we must not state that only mega churches could be profaning God's name in worship. ALL churches must search their own hearts, regardless of worship style and size of the church.
I want to get back to part of the quote Wahlen states that, "...the methodology that churches employ always springs from theology. The two are inseparable, and each directly affects the other." So here's my question; if our methodology as Adventist stems directly from our theology and in North America at least we are not reaching people as we would like and the numbers prove it. Is that a case against our theology or simply our methods? Shouldn't we also be clear that regardless of methods people need to respond to the Spirits call in their lives and the fact that convincing debates don't necessarily produce converted members.
Also a point in regards to the statements made in the article regarding the fact that our large institutional churches don't really fall into the 'mega-church' category, particularly according to The Hartford Institute for Religion Research. I'm just going to be very straight forward and say that I respect Hartford's research and 'their' definition of a mega church. Yet regardless of their definition within the Adventist system 'our' mega churches are exactly those affiliated or in close proximity too our colleges/universities and hospitals. Define mega church however you want, in my book (my definition) Pioneer Memorial church is an Adventist mega church, so is Loma Linda, Forest Lake (in FL) church and we can name several more. Pioneer itself has I believe 7 pastors on staff not including the 'lead' pastor Dwight Nelson.
They are big churches and have a lot to offer and have a lot of expenses, folks can just come and go and never get involved and if the preacher is not careful he can not preach enough doctrine (or in some places to much). In other words these Adventist churches that I'm calling mega churches are susceptible to the six issues raised by Wahlen just as the mega-churches according to Harford.
Essentially I felt that the article was a bit...well...unfair and unbalanced. Bottom line, any church of any size is capable of falling into the six issues raised by Wahlen. As I stated from the beginning of this post, I'm not advocating that the Adventist church strive to have mega churches. You see I love my church both locally and the Seventh-day Adventist church as a whole. I grew up in it, it has blessed me and my family. I believe in its overall message and mission.
I believe that we are to strive to have spiritually healthy and growing churches. People developing into fully devoted disciples of Christ. If by doing this our churches have 'mega' growth, I wont necessarily call it the start of a mega church I'll call it the work of the Holy Spirit...latter rain?
Did you read the article? Do you agree with it's tone? Do you feel that what is addressed concerning mega churches also is true for a church of any size?