The Missional Megachurch

What do you think of when you hear the word “megachurch”? Maybe polished productions, big personalities, an expansive building, stellar programs (lots and lots of programs), and crowded parking lots with orange-vested attendants come to mind. Maybe a great worship service that leaves you laughing, crying, or both. Or perhaps a creative children’s ministry—kind of a Jesus-meets-Chuck E. Cheese type of place.

To most people, the word “mega” suggests bigness and power, not necessarily missional ministry and sacrifice. (It combines nicely with well-known words like megalomaniac, megaphone, and mega-millions. Words like mega-service, mega-sacrifice, and mega-witness, well…not so much.) Although “mega” is not exactly a word we think of when subjects like Jesus, the Bible, or the Early Church are discussed, it definitely grabs our attention.

 

But what’s next for megas besides the infamous big productions and headline-making numbers? People have been criticizing the practices and predicting the demise of megachurches for more than a decade now, and some of their criticisms are valid. Many megachurches don’t live with a Kingdom focus—unless that kingdom has the megachurch pastor as the sovereign. At times, megachurches have seemed shallow, ego-driven, and less than engaged in their local and global community.

 

On the other hand, I’ve been doing quite a bit of research to uncover whether bigness always tramples the values of Christ. Are the thousands of megachurch attendees across the globe really that shallow and easily fooled by the music, lights, and makeup? Are the hallmarks of the megachurch still consumerism, excess programs, and marketing tactics?

 

Some may say yes, but lately I’ve noticed a progression in the way these churches are bringing the Gospel to the community and the world. Following their trajectory helps us identify five missional realms megachurches are stepping into—key realms that will likely define their future.

 

1.  Community Transformation

 

While some megachurches are building their own bowling alleys so believers won’t be offended by the lifestyles of those abrasive lost bowlers, others are serving and impacting their communities in profound ways—engaging the poor, working for the welfare of their cities, meeting practical needs in the community, purposely joining “secular” sports leagues—and seeing lives transformed by the power of Jesus Christ.

 

For example, the 3,300 members of Calvary Church in Charlotte, N.C. (calvarychurch.com), engage in more than a dozen local outreach opportunities each week. Church volunteers operate the Homeless & Street Ministry where they cook and serve breakfast to hundreds of people on Saturdays at the Uptown Shelter and on downtown streets. And every Wednesday, the volunteer-run Clothes Closet provides quality, gently used clothing to those in need in the community. Church members also serve at the nearby Jackson Park Ministries, which helps inner-city families deal with extreme financial hardship and broken family relationships by providing housing and services to help them recover and stay together. The ministry also offers classes on money management, as well as marriage and parenting skills.

 

What’s happening at Calvary Church is a practical outworking of missional living. Calvary is focusing on something other than its members, its services, and its programs, and by doing so, it’s joining God on His mission in the world. Like Calvary, other megachurches are also deciding that what they are receiving from God—an abundance of people, resources, and callings—is going to be the determining factor that drives their ministry purpose, commitment, and giving. They’re turning their focus from “every member a minister” to “every member on mission,” and effecting change in the lives of their members and communities.

 

Megas are also partnering with organizations and individuals in their community to harness various talents and abilities for Kingdom work. For example, 10,000-member First A.M.E. Church of Los Angeles (famechurch.org) conducts a free legal clinic two Sundays a month to assist people who cannot afford an attorney with landlord/tenant disputes, credit issues, real estate, and more. The church clinic networks with the UCLA School of Law and its students to provide totally free assistance with no income requirements.

 

While silencing megachurch critics may be next to impossible, it’s hard to argue with the demonstrated power of community transformation. The scope of these endeavors is proof of the existence—and the rise—of others-centered megachurches across the country. Who, after all, is better at pulling together diverse people, resources, and organizations and getting the whole community to take advantage of beneficial opportunities? It seems the megachurch is a pretty good candidate.

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Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.

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