In the future, the 1990s and early 2000s may well be called the “Megachurch Era” by ecclesiastical historians.
Suburban commuter culture, television broadcasting, the Internet, the book publishing industry, the rise of self-help gurus, digital media technology and the contemporary sounds of Jesus People music all provided essential ingredients for enormous churches with a plethora of programs.
All that the ingredients needed were men with the vision, initiative and charisma to muster together like-minded individuals for a common purpose: planting, building and increasing a congregation (well beyond the previous conceptions of a “large congregation”).
And those men came.
Churches with multisite campuses, parking garages, jumbo-trons, award-winning praise bands, laser shows, tremendous charities, political endorsements and even in-house coffee shops sprang up across the nation. Thousands of people—unchurched, disenchanted or pushed out of liberalizing mainline congregations (or stringent fundamentalist ones)—flocked to these new watering holes.
The droves started having offspring as smaller congregations dwindled away. A new way of “doing church” was in town, and it seemed to be primed for being the ideal model for pastors to emulate if they wanted their congregations to survive the coming millennium.
However, critics of this ecclesiology came to the forefront.
They complained of shallow theology, entertainment over discipleship, emotionalism, cults of ego, lack of accountability, giganticism (in terms of architecture, size and theology), consumerism, the prosperity gospel, lack of reverence, therapeutic spirituality and a host of other spiritual maladies.
Most devastatingly, many of the megachurch’s harshest critics came from its own children. In addition, the majority of Americans that remained in smaller congregations also tended to sympathize with these critiques. Indeed, it is almost a truism now to hear a diatribe about the apparent evils of megachurch-style religion.
The glamour of novelty has disappeared.
The very term “megachurch” invokes an immediate reaction in Christians: disgust, a balanced shake of the head or admiration.
And this is where the question lies for the religious thinker, “Has the megachurch lost its luster?”