Today’s post is filled with questions I don’t have answers for. That’s where you come in. Warm up your typing fingers to add feedback in the comment section. But first, a little background.
For the past 20 years I’ve pastored a Small Church in Orange County, California. In the past 50-plus years this county has given birth to the Crystal Cathedral, Calvary Chapel, The Vineyard, TBN, Saddleback Church and many other megachurches and mega-ministries. We’ve become Megachurch Central.
Also in those 50 years, church growth principles have become the preeminent way pastors are taught about how to have a healthy, growing church. Not just here, but around the world. Many of those principles started here, and some of their most visible successes are within a half-hour drive of my front door. A lot of those principles have been very helpful. I still use many of them today.
So Orange County may be home to more megachurch success and teaching than anywhere else on earth. Which leads me to my first question-without-an-answer for today’s post.
Question #1: How much impact has the megachurch movement had on the culture of the communities where megachurches are thriving?
If individual congregational church growth is as important as we’re told it is, shouldn’t it be having an obvious impact on the culture at large, especially in the communities where it has been so successful?
Who’s Changing the Culture of Our Communities?
Most megachurches have done great ministry in their communities. They’ve fed the poor, mended marriages, helped recovering alcoholics and addicts, brought people closer to Jesus and so much more. There’s no question the moral slide of those communities would have been faster and steeper without the influence of good, healthy churches, both large and small.
If there’s anywhere on earth where the moral climate should be higher now than it was 50 years ago, it’s Orange County, where we have so many successful stories of church growth, right?
But has Orange County become a more church-going place in the last 50 years? A more Christian place? A more moral place? A more compassionate place? A more Godly place?
You don’t need to live here to know that the answers to those questions are no, No, No, NO and “you’re not seriously asking me that question, are you?!”
Instead, it could easily be argued that our county’s culture has been more impacted by Disneyland than by all our churches combined. Including the church I pastor. Sadly, the cultural influence of our churches probably even lags a little behind “The OC” and “Real Housewives” TV shows. (Incidentally, I’m married to a real housewife of Orange County. That show ain’t it.)
And Orange County is not alone in that indictment. Which leads to my second question.
Question #2: Is there any region on earth where the rise of megachurches has elevated the moral or spiritual climate of its surrounding culture?
There may be some. I hope there are. But I don’t know of any.
Has someone done a study on this that I’m not aware of? If so, I’d love to know the results. If not, maybe this post will spark someone to do one. After all, one of the primary tenets of the church growth movement is that churches that reach their communities will grow. If that’s true, then the flip-side must be true, too – communities with successfully growing churches should be feeling the impact of those churches on their overall culture.
If we don’t have an answer to this, isn’t it important to find out? As my church growth friends like to say, “If you mean it, measure it.”
Before this is perceived as going somewhere I am not taking it, I need to say this. I am not blaming megachurches in any way for the cultural slide of our culture or my county. After all, my church has been here for the past 50 years, too. None of us has an exemplary record on this issue.
So please, don’t use the comment section to take snarky pot-shots at megachurches – or my beautiful county, for that matter. I will delete them. (I have the power! Hear me roar!)
I’m merely asking honest questions that need to be asked, even if we don’t have answers for them yet. These questions matter, because without them we won’t be keeping our eyes open for the answers.
What Kinds of Churches Impact a Community?
To close, I’d like to rephrase, clarify and extend my first two questions with four more questions I’m truly seeking feedback on. I apologize if this feels redundant.
Question #3: If church growth is so essential, why hasn’t the rise of megachurches seen a corresponding elevation of the spiritual and moral climate of their surrounding communities?
Question #4: If church growth isn’t the answer to changing the hearts and minds of the people in our communities, what is?
Question #5: How does the church impact a culture? Bigger churches? More churches? Better churches?
Question #6: If the answer is better churches, what do “better churches” look like?
Now I leave it to you.
I doubt if anyone really has a definitive answer to these questions, but I’m sure we all have some strong opinions. And I think this subject is important enough to have an honest, open, friendly discussion about.
So what do you think? What kinds of churches change a culture?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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