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My Only Mega-issue with Megachurches

I really don’t have an issue with megachurches themselves per se. In fact, there’s much to appreciate; it’s amazing how so many people are able to gather in one space to, hopefully, take steps deeper in the larger mission of both that local church and the larger Missio Dei. If people are coming and growing in Christ, I’m encouraged and excited.

While people may have various issues with megachurches, I think it’s best to simply see them for what they are: another expression of the body of Christ. And we need different expressions that are faithful to the proclamation, declaration, and incarnation of the Gospel.

And while people have their opinions on them including the angle of ‘consumeristic,’ we should all acknowledge that each and every single person is a consumer on some level.  Every one of us.  And the folks that deny that apparently struggle with lying.

And so each church and ministry – no matter what size –  has to wrestle with the balance between catering to the consumption of the flesh and the ministry to the soul.

Having been on staff of a church of 25,000 people for a couple of years, I grew a deeper appreciation for this church, its senior pastor, and its ministry (Seoul, Korea).  Since my departure from this church in 1996, it’s since grown to nearly 70,000 people and is still as missional minded as ever. 

Several months ago, I was speaking and attending a conference and very much enjoyed the refreshing thoughts of a megachurch pastor who responded to the criticisms of megachurches.  His [paraphrased] response to ‘insecurities’:

Stop investing so much energy into what you’re against.  If you dislike the megachurch so much, then create something more beautiful that will compel people to participate in your church and vision.

I loved that because it speaks to what I’ve been trying to communicate to my church and others:

We often live as people who are defined by what we are against and not necessarily what we are for.  Imagine how our lives can be an agent of change when we live FOR truth, beauty, meaning, and causes.  Deconstruction is clearly more fun and draws larger crowds (or traffic to your blog!).  Creating and constructing new culture is much more difficult, but imagine the possibilities.

So what’s my ONE issue with megachurches?  It actually has nothing to do with the megachurches themselves.  I’ve been told by numerous folks (including the aforementioned megachurch pastor above) that megachurches only comprise 1% of the churches in North America.  This stat is often used by folks to share “the megachurch” isn’t a big issue or problem since there are so few of them.

I get it, understand, and agree with it.

But then why is it that the majority of the conferences revolve around the megachurches and their pastors?

This is my issue and concern.  I think megachurches and their leaders are doing phenomenal ministry.  I really do.  But we’ve elevated this 1% as the epitome and face of a successful ministry and created a machine of conferences, publishers, books, and networks based on this very limited expression.

Like others, I’m interested in hearing from Groeschel, Stanley, Jakes, Gibbons, Keller, Bell, Warren, Blah blah and other “big hitters.”  But if we’ve limited the expressions of the church to this supposed 1%, what are we saying?  What’s the message we’re conveying?

There are many wonderful and faithful pastors in our local neighborhood and cities – which you’ve likely never heard of – but they should be heard from.  And if you happen to be one of them reading this entry right now: Thank you for your ministry, faithfulness, and leadership.

One more story and I’ll end this entry:  During my pastorate in Korea, I grew enamored by this particular megachurch and the senior pastor (who I still consider my pastor).  But I was blown away when he shared with me one day that “this church really isn’t church.”

He knew my tenure in that church and in Korea was going to be short, and he wanted to convey to me not to be too influenced by this megachurch.  One week, he sent me away on a “vision trip” and arranged for me to visit small rural churches in various remote areas of South Korea.  I still remember what he shared:

“Don’t pay too much attention to what we’re doing here.  Go and visit these churches.  Meet with these pastors.  Serve at these churches.  Learn what you can because they are advancing the Kingdom of God.”

We all comprise the Body of Christ.  I just want to make sure folks know that the Body is much more diverse than what we see on the Big Screen. 

Eugene ChoEugene Cho is the co-founder (with his wife) and executive director of One Day’s Wages—“a movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty.”  He is also the founding and lead pastor of Quest Church and the founder and executive director of Q Cafe—a non-profit community cafe and music venue in Seattle.  Eugene is considered one of the prominent bloggers on issues of justice, faith, ministry, and utilizing social media for good.  You can follow him via his blog or Twitter. 

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