The “Leadership Network” recently released a report claiming more young adults are flocking to megachurches than has been reported in the past. As with any of these types of reports, it’s hard to gauge hard numbers because it really depends on who you talk to. If these folks stopped by many of the coffee shops I’ve visited in Denver and spoke to the young adults there, it might be another story entirely. However, their report can’t be ignored and it’s worth looking into. Some initial observations from this report include:
The study, Scott says, shows that people who attend megachurches aren’t radically different from those who attend Protestant churches of all sizes. “But the complex organizational structure, multiple programs, and large scale social formats often create the possibility for interaction and involvement in ways that are different from smaller churches,” he says.
This is something that caught my eye. Many young adults I talk to disdain the “complex organizational structure” of most mainline protestant churches they’ve attended. In fact, I’ve recently had one young family tell me that the polity of such a structure is what is driving them away from their church because they feel they cannot get involved because of having to take so much time to get “in the system” of leadership. While scripture is adamant about not putting a neophyte believer in leadership until they have grown some in the faith, this family isn’t that type.
As for the “multiple programs and large scale social formats”, I could see this one easily. There’s a tension to manage when a new church is starting because there isn’t enough people to start “multiple programs” and yet, new attenders are conditioned to believe that’s the driving force of the church. Social interaction can happen at any level but we as a culture have come to expect customized programs based on our ages, wants, and desires. This isn’t just the case in church circles either. Look at the long list of specialized programs offered at places like recreation centers and larger shopping malls. Fast food operations tout in their advertising “Have it YOUR way”. With this as a standard, it’s only natural to expect that the mentality of “my way” would carry over into church.
Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how.
(Matthew 16:24 MSG)
I wonder how many truly take this verse to heart? Another key comment in the report summary was this:
..Attenders report a considerable increase in their involvement in the church, spiritual growth, and needs being met at the megachurch. Yet, 45% of megachurch attenders never volunteer at the church, 41% don’t participate in small groups, and more than 30% give very little money.
This part baffled me. If you read the first part, it just doesn’t jive with the second does it? If you’re not helping others and learning more about God’s Word, how can you grow? Tithing is one of those issues that new Christians like to debate but the reality is the practice is more about obedience than money. Once I embraced the fact that nothing I had was truly mine but given to me by God then I realized that I needed to be a better steward of my resources. The financial crisis we are in now highlights the fact that money isn’t the end of all things but simply a resource that has be managed. But according to this report summary, many will not give anything and probably a larger percentage give sparingly.
When it becomes more about the programs than the Bible, when serving OUR needs becomes more important than serving others, and when OUR wants are more important that Jesus’ we will have an unsettled heart and never be satisfied. We will search endlessly to fulfill our desire not knowing that it could possibly be the wrong desire.
As the deer pants for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. (Psalms 42:1 NLT)
When our heart beats in unison with God’s all the other things fall into place and our perspective is changed. When our desires focus on us rather than Him, then we will search for a “copy” that satisfies us…
For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to right teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear.
(2 Timothy 4:3 NLT)
So I take reports like this to heart. It’s sobering to see the reality of what the 21st century church is becoming. We must seek to engage the culture but we must balance that with a rock solid commitment to never waver on the doctrines of our faith. The balance is harder and harder to find. And it’s not about megachurch versus small church. This report summary focused on megachurches but I dare say this battle is being waged in churches of all sizes.
What do you think?