Saturday, July 24, 2010

One Future for the Church

I love the church—all sizes, types, etc. I love the church when it is hard to love it. I even have an unusual fascination with the megachurch. I am a fan of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. Although the megachurch is not for everyone, the folks at Willow Creek know how to do it well. There are several things I like about them. They involve women in leadership roles, they seek to be multiethnic, they embrace social action, and they are open about their failures (for example, AXIS, the attempt to reach young adults that was something of an embarrassment). Each megachurch is different, of course, but I think that those of us who are more traditional in our approach to church tend to look down our noses at our mega brothers and sisters. In so doing, we may be missing an important learning opportunity.

In light of that, I found the article “Going Mega” by John Dart in the current issue of Christian Century very interesting and informative. Dart draws on recent research and personal interviews to share some insights on the movement. I will comment on some of those in upcoming blogs.

The primary point I want to make here is that the megachurch is a reality on the Christian scene. We can “cuss it and discuss it” (as a friend used to say) but it is here to stay. Dart points out that a number of traditional, denominationally related churches have moved into this category and megachurch attendance accounts for a significant percentage of membership in some denominations.

The megachurch is not the only new face of the church, of course. On a smaller scale, emerging congregations and organic house churches are growing not only in the United States for around the world. But the megachurch may have a more profound impact on Christianity. Quoting researcher Scott Thumma of Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, Dart writes: “’In some sense, megachurches are becoming de facto replacements for denominations and seminaries’ by providing resources and training staff more efficiently.” The megachurch will have long-term impact on how churches cooperate and how ministers of local congregations are trained. We ignore these implications at our own peril.

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