Why is Carlos Whittaker Rethinking Megachurches, Church Growth and Alpha Male Pastors? And Why Should I Care?

loswhit 200cYour MegaChurch Is Growing? That’s Cute. Cause The Church At Large Is Shrinking.

That’s the title of a post that came across my Twitter feed on Monday. How could I not read it? Resistance is futile.

So I clicked it and read a pithy post that Carlos Whittaker had written on June 7 at RagamuffinSoul.com. My first thought after reading it was, “Wow, that’s gutsy. Does Carlos know he may be biting the hand that feeds him? And does he care?”

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

If we want to know how gutsy his post was, we need to know the answer to three questions. 1) Who is Carlos Whittaker? 2) What did Carlos say? and 3) Why should I care what he says?

 

Who Is Carlos Whittaker?

Carlos Whittaker was a big-time worship leader at a megachurch. He got so consumed with his church work that he started losing his family over it. Then he had the audacity (aka courage) to tell that story on the TV show, LA Ink where he got a tattoo of Saul’s Conversion to remind him never to put ministry ahead of family again. 

Since then, Carlos’ blog has become one of the most-read Christian blogs in the world. His YouTube channel is massive – including one video of a hilarious, off-the-cuff moment of awkward parenting that’s been viewed almost 7 million times. He’s no longer on staff at a megachurch, but travels as a musician/worship leader to megachurches and church conferences.

Here’s how Whittaker describes his current attitude towards ministry, from his website’s About page:

“Perhaps my voice before was a little more cautious,” he explains. “But now that I’m not working in a church I can be more…” [pause] “…aggressive? I mean that I am better able to question the evangelical community. These days I can say the things that will get me into trouble and lose readers and commenters, but these are the things that matter – these are the things that are true.”

A guy who’s trying to say things that are true, even if it gets him in trouble?

I’m in.

 

What Did Carlos Say?

Carlos’ style isn’t for everyone. That’s OK, neither is mine. Or yours. But I’m glad his voice is out there.

In his “…that’s cute…” post, Carlos wrote of his concern that “the American church is dying” even as many congregations are getting bigger. At the end of the post he asks, “At what point does one sacrifice the success of one’s local church in order to spur the existence of His global Church?”

One reason his post struck me so hard was that, just about an hour before reading his post I had published my own post on the same subject, entitled Why Hasn’t Church Growth Elevated Our Communities? Carlos’ post felt like a reader’s response to the questions I was asking.

Then, while I was reading Carlos’ six-week-old post, he published another post entitled, The Death of the Alpha Male Pastorbased on a talk he heard several years ago from Jon Tyson. In it, Whittaker wrote that building our churches on the back of dynamic leaders is a bad idea.

He started with, “The church with an Alpha male leading it is setting itself up for failure because the only person that can replace that leader when it is time is someone with equal qualities. A 10 replacing a 10.” He suggested that this makes it almost impossible for churches to transition when the original Alpha male pastor is gone.

Then he really turned up the heat by suggesting that video venues reinforce this Alpha male syndrome. “One pastor speaking to many video venues sets a church up for this. It works. But it relies on one single personality. …There MUST be a rethinking of the current church model that is sweeping evangelical America.”

 

Why Should I Care What Carlos Whittaker Has to Say?

The reason I cited some of Whittaker’s credentials isn’t because his audience numbers make his opinion matter more. That would defy everything this site is about.

What Whittaker says matters because of the risk he’s taking. He depends on megachurches and their leaders for a large portion of his ministry and income. But he speaks up about the problems he sees inside the system that supports him. That’s gutsy.

So it’s not just you and me asking these questions. If a guy like Carlos Whittaker is expressing his concern about our obsession with church size and our over-dependence on superstar ministers, maybe there’s more going on than many of us see. Maybe others in the world of megachurches see the same issues, but he’s one of the first to say it out loud.

Something is definitely stirring.

 

So what do you think? Is Whittaker right? Wrong? Have you read anything else that tells you other church leaders are re-thinking their approach to church growth, numbers and leadership?

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13 thoughts on “Why is Carlos Whittaker Rethinking Megachurches, Church Growth and Alpha Male Pastors? And Why Should I Care?”

  1. Karl, I believe one of the waves of the future is shared leadership with no alpha person at the head. It is the call to ministry of all the baptized. A very important book on this subject is Born of Water, Born of Spirit: Supporting the MInistry of the Baptized in Small Congregations, published by Alban Institute, 2010. It is not the easiest book to read, but it speaks of shifts in thinking that I believe are critical for every church of every size. Whatever the size of our church, we have done the people of God a disservice by cultivating too much dependency on clergy. You can read a full review of this book at http://maryharristodd.wordpress.com/2011/02/15/powertothelaity/

  2. WOW…I think Carlos is spot on. But here’s the rub – the audience demands the the power speaker/leader. Or at least that is often why people go to a particular church.

  3. Praise God for megachurches that are keeping the statistics from falling even further. Praise God for guys like Carlos (who still regularly leads worship at a megachurch) for continuing to use his strong leadership gifting to help lead people to the feet of Jesus. Praise God there is a place in kingdom work for those who have towering gifts to lead and inspire and influence.

  4. I am greatly concerned if this discussion is merely small church pastors trying to pluck the log out of their mega-church brother’s eye. There is value in this discussion IF we have it for the sake of examining our own motivations for and methods of doing ministry in our own field of responsibility. It is easy for us as pastors of smaller congregation to emulate the same methods and motivations (i.e., gimmicks, personality-based leadership, etc), and then criticize others for being successful at it. Thankfully, I am not accountable for or to the mega-church pastor nor he to me. I am accountable to pray for him, support him, and bear his burdens. Let’s thank God for what others are doing for the Kingdom, return our focus to introspection and speck removal, and continue to do faithfully what He has called each of us to do.

    1. I agree entirely, Dan.

      One of the challenges of this ministry is fighting the mis-perception that I am in any way against megachurches. That’s why one of the first posts I wrote here was “Hi, I’m Karl, and I’m NOT a Megachurch Basher” (see link below). And your concern that this might turn into Small Church pastors who “emulate the same methods and motivations (i.e., gimmicks, personality-based leadership, etc), and then criticize others for being successful at it.” is also valid.

      My issue, like Carlos, is not with megachurches or their numerical success. How can we not be happy when 3,000 to 30,000 people gather to worship Jesus every week? It is with the obsession we’ve had that the megachurch model has been taught as the “best” or sometimes the “only good way” to do church.

      Here are links to a couple previous posts that might help clarify this.
      http://newsmallchurch.com/not-a-megachurch-basher/
      http://newsmallchurch.com/its-time-for-small-churches-to-become-great-churches/
      http://newsmallchurch.com/small-churches-are-not-a-problem-a-virtue-or-an-excuse/
      http://newsmallchurch.com/megachurches-are-not-normal-and-thats-ok/

      Thanks for commenting.

      1. Thanks for the reply, Karl. I appreciate this blog and your point of view.

        I think I have come to the place in my own life where I am (mostly) over any obsession may have had (either positive or negative) with the mega-church phenomenon. I do continue find it interesting, but have no need to obsess about it. Frankly, I am so busy with my own ministry that I have little time to think about it these days.

        Keep up the good work!
        Dan

    2. Hey Dan — I don’t think that’s it. It has to do with assuming that if it works for them it has to work for me.

      So many wrong assumptions. If your church is growing it must be healthy. Or the reverse, churches that are not growing are unhealthy.

      I am not bashing mega churches. At least two of them are friends of mine and I’ve learned from them. But they will be the first to admit that what they’ve done would not work in my ministry.

  5. The largest mega church in the world would be all the small churches as a whole. if we consider the organized religious world as a pyramid, the small churches are the foundation. There is a move of God among some small churches in which we get that we are not to imitate the methods of mega churches. this is us. and many of us have non-alpha females at the helm (please, no hate mail about that one 🙂 )

    1. You’re so right. I take an entire chapter in The Grasshopper Myth to talk about that. And I touched on that subject in a series of posts on this site, too. (The link to the first post in the series is at the bottom of this comment.)

      No church stats are exact, but of the 2 billion Christians in the world, about 100 million attend megachurches, 1 billion attend churches of less than 250-350-or-so people, while the remaining 900 million attend churches in between those sizes. That means Small Church pastors lead a “church” of more than 1 billion people. That’s more than any Christian denomination and more than any other religion.

      Those numbers don’t make anyone better or worse than anyone else, but it should make us pause to realize that Small Churches are not a minor part of the work God is doing in the world. And I also agree that we can’t just imitate the megachurch model if we want to pastor our Small Churches well. The megachurch model is great – for megachurches. But no Small Church can be healthy using someone else’s model.

      And yes, many of those healthy Small Churches are led by wonderful, non-alpha females – and a whole lot of non-alpha males, too.

      http://newsmallchurch.com/the-astonishing-power-of-small-churches-over-one-billion-served/

  6. In the past I have spoken with other churches and pastors on things they want to change or fix within their church. First and foremost I like to ask is what has God called a particular church to in regards to their mission and vision and is it written down clearly for the whole church. Then armed with that information we begin to look at how does musical style, programs, outreaches and the like apply within that scope.

    I have seen many small churches give up as people leave instead of trusting God that He will begin to refill those empty seats. As soon as you set that course I have seen Pastors end of with a Jonah in the belly of a whale type moment and wonder why.

    The key as I see it is not wavering from what God has called the church to, and it is the hardest part, we want to retract or agreement with God and try to manipulate things here and there to keep it together, when if we have relied on God and He has given us our marching orders, then we need to rely on the fact that the work that He has begun, He will finish.

    Breaking this idea that I have to use a business model approach to build the church and that I need to be a mega church or a large church in order to show that we have it together is awesome and having been in mega churches and small churches, I have had enough of my own Jonah moments to last a life time, so sticking with keeping Christ in the center and staying true to the vision and mission He has given the Pastor/Church, writing that vision down making it plain before the people, so they can run with it, I have found in turn God will build His church the way He wants it, big or small, and I am content in His plan at each moment of growth and opportunity He presents.

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