Sunday, January 27, 2008

Problems with Megachurches

JeffD wonders if there is study showing that smaller churches are closing their doors as megachurches grow. Yes.
William Chadwick has written a book, Sheep Stealing: The Church's Hidden Problem with Transfer Growth. Blogger Tim Challies says, "Chadwick writes about the dark side of church growth. Having done extensive research and having examined the fruits of his own early ministry, the author came to the startling revelation that the church growth movement has succeeded far better in pulling believers from other, smaller churches than in reaching the lost. 'Great effort is being expended, but few are actually turning to Christ for the first time. Instead, the faithful are mostly just changing churches' (from the back cover)."
I read Chadwick's book, and I urge all to read it, even though I don't agree with one of his central claims. He thinks when churches take transfers from other churches this is stealing in the ethical sense. I can't accept that, because it implies that churches OWN their members. But there is a moral problem, when the church is structured mainly to appeal to existing Christians and is not reaching non Christians.

According to Barna, small churches have their own problems, including being more theologically liberal and full of low-involvement members. David Charlton agrees from personal experience "Overall attitude is TOTALLY different. In a larger “church”, there’s much more TEAM in everything, while smaller churches overall attitude is apathetic towards involvement and commitment... Clarity of vision or lack of in smaller churches. It seems like every 'gimmick' under the sun is talked about but action rarely gets done-talk is cheap, and people know that." And, "While you’d think as a servant you’d get pastoral care and guidance in a smaller church, what’s true is just the opposite."

But Barna also says tens of thousands will close in the coming decade in Revolution (a book I didn't like at all). And I'm racking my brain to remember where I read extensive research on how the number of small church closings in America is reaching shocking proportions. If anyone can find this research, give it up in a comment. I'm going to have to work on this and get back.

Related Links"
Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary
David Charlton
Tim Challies


Anonymous said...

So, from what you've written here, there is also an upside to larger churches drawing people from smaller churches (more team efforts). Could it be that the majority of people who are moving from small churches to larger ones are moving because they want to be more involved in reaching people and their smaller churches weren't doing that?

Dennis said...

I agree that there is an upside to larger, vital churches drawing people away from dead smaller churches. That's where I don't agree with Chadwick. I know we've had people come here from dead churches, and I don't feel bad about that at all. If their church isn't going to feed them and disciple them, they should leave.

The problem comes when large churches aren't winning people from the world, and are just going to settle on getting people from other churches. That's where I agree with Chadwick. Most churches consciously try to compete with other churches in town to capture church-hoppers. That stinks.

Anonymous said...

So, what do you do with chronic "church shoppers?" It seems that most folks these days are looking to have their ears tickled, as Paul wrote to Timothy. Do you think that simply doing away with many of the things that typically draw experience -oriented people would be enough?

Dennis said...

I definitely believe we have to give a clear message out that the church is not here to meet it's members' needs, but to equip them for service.

I think we need to make it clear that transfers are welcome to stay as long as they get in line with out mission and don't cause trouble.

I think they need to be told that they are not special, and they need to establish credibility with others through a proven life of service and love.

We may need to offer to re-equip them under a new paradigm. Transfers often think they know more than they do because their knowledge may be academic and not service-oriented.

Our meetings and practices need to be suited to accomplishing our mission, not pleasing transfers.

We find that if we follow these steps, few transfers every stay around. In our church only 13% are transfers from other believing churches.

Anonymous said...

People who are genuinely responding to God by seeking a group that follows Jesus Christ may visit several or possibly many churches until they settle on a home. However, I suspect that many get involved somewhat ignorantly, only to find a better option a year or two later. For various reasons, Americans must have the best. Acquiring top-notch clothing, entertainment items, foods, cars, homes, degrees, spouses, careers, etc., are primary objectives in our society. Thus, an excellent condition is applied when seeking church membership, rather than God's leading. Nonetheless, if any person were to use such particularism in choosing a spiritual group, along with wisdom from the Lord, I think they would do well.

Dennis said...

Anonymous, you are quite right that many people visit multiple churches for legitimate reasons. That's a good point to remember, and should cause us to be welcoming and open-minded when people want to transfer.

At the same time, there are thousands of "wine-tasters" in each metropolitan area who make a regular habit of hearing which church has the hottest worship team or the hippest teaching, etc. These are usually looking for a place they can take, rather than where they can give out.

Anonymous said...

So, in order to transform wine tasters into wine stewards, the word needs to get out about this issue. What else can be done to reverse this major problem?

Dennis said...

This is s a good question, and probably deserves a post of its own. We find that if the church is serious about reality, including discipleship, witnessing, and real community, these church hoppers flee like roaches when the light comes on.

Provender said...

A problem with many megachurches, and many small churches, too, is a sense of elitism, that our church is ever so much better than others. We look down with disdain at those who don't quite have what we do. I see that haughty attitude mostly in abusive churches, but it's creeping into many that I hadn't previously thought of as abusive.