Faith musings from the seat of a forklift.
Growth. This is quite the buzz word. For a business to survive, it really need to grow. The best way to grow is find untapped markets and find a way to get into those markets. Sometimes that means getting into something that is normally outside your comfort zone. It could, if you work in the shipping industry, mean looking into shipping freight to Oymyakon in Russia during the coldest time of the year.
Growth. It is also quite the buzz word in church. In the Lutheran church, we often hear of movements like “Ablaze” and “5-2”. Both in and out of the Lutheran church we hear another word. This word has a way of turning many away from the Christian faith. That word is “Mega-Church”.
I live in a city that has a couple of these “Mega-Church” places in it and then there is another one about an hour up the road from me. I have been to one of the local ones as well as the one up the road. I have never felt more uncomfortable in a church before. Maybe it is because I am an outsider, maybe it is because I am of a liturgical church background, whatever the reason, there is something about these churches that bothers me. Specifically, how empty they feel despite being so crowded.
How can a church seem empty while being crowded? Perhaps it was the sermon. I have never been to a “Mega-Church” that had a sermon that gave a proper distinction between law and gospel. Likewise, it seems that nobody really knew each other, or if they did, their relationships were quite shallow. Not only their relationships, but also their prayer life. I could not help but overhear two girls talking after a particular service at one of these churches and one girl asked for prayer that she’d marry a certain “hot guy” and get into a very expensive school without an obligation to pay for it. Quite superficial.
Sadly, this is not an anomaly. Both of these “Mega-Church” groups that I visited were the same in these regards. They also practiced a very common form of decision theology, in which somehow we have the power to choose to become a Christian. The phraseology is always the same. You can hear it when they say “I made a decision for Christ” or “I gave myself to Christ”. Another popular phrase in these churches is “I chose to become a Christian”. Truthfully, there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. Christ Jesus did it all.
Now, we are called to “Go forth into the Nations” and to “Preach the Gospel”. There is no argument there. We are also called to “Not forsake fellowship with one another”. Thus, I have no issue with the idea of church and most assuredly encourage people to attend worship. However, when the church is little more than a shallow social club, which many “Mega-Church” groups give the appearance of being, I have a problem. I despise empty, shallow, worship services in which I hear “feel good fluff” sermons.
The Apocalypse, also known as Revelation, makes reference in 14:6 to “an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth”. This gospel is that very gospel that we are to preach to all the nations. However, that gospel must all be accompanied by the law. For it is the law that convicts and condemns us of our sins, and the gospel which brings the good news of forgiveness and salvation. Any church that does not preach this is not a church. It is a social club.
Yes, I am well aware of Acts chapter 2. However, that entire chapter has been twisted to justify all manner of poor theology. It is true that many were added to the early church rather quickly. However, this was never meant to be the standard practice. If anything, it shows how much people needed the truth of salvation through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus upon the cross. Peter said it best when he confronted the people on that first day of Pentecost with the crucifixion of Christ Jesus and how it was meant for the salvation of all.
Obviously I am opposed to the idea of a “Mega-Church”. So what then? What is my idea of the ideal church? Truthfully, I believe the best church is one that preaches both the law and gospel, and the congregation is roughly 150 to 200, not much more. A church larger than that is just asking for trouble, and is just an empty social club.
Ironically, there was a movie that, without saying it directly, glossed over this issue of the church being a social club. In the movie, the characters identified as Christians, but felt no shame in sinful behavior and backing down from their faith in favor of popular opinion. They still attended church, but the church emphasized its social programs. At the end of the movie, two of the characters watched the main character, a time traveller, vanish before their very eyes, and all they could think was that they missed the rapture. Yes, their church was a social club. That movie was called “Time Changer”.
Growth. It can be a good thing, especially for a business. However, a church should only permit so much growth before it has to ask if it is time to split into two congregations. No church should get so large that the pastor doesn’t know his congregation, nor do the members of the congregation know one another. To this end, I would encourage anyone thinking of joining a church to find a small local congregation. Better to attend a small church that knows you than a large church that doesn’t know you exist.
A church that has become a social club and is only focused on growth is a dying church. Such congregations need to repent and get back to the truth of scripture. Nothing less is sufficient.
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