All my life I’ve heard preachers talk about a coming worldwide revival.
But it’s never happened.
There have been pockets of excitement, from the Jesus Movement of the 1970s, to the church growth movement of the 1980s. The 1990s brought local spiritual outbreaks in places like Toronto and Florida, along with controversy over their genuineness and effectiveness. And the new millennium brought The Renewal from England and Australia.
But most of the people who have any awareness of those episodes are like me – professional clergy.
The average person has no idea any of those movements happened. Aside from the rise of the megachurch and new casualness in our music and dress, most people haven’t seen any change in the way we do church.
Because of that, I never thought I’d be the one to say this.
I feel a stirring going on.
Hold that idea. We’ll come back to it.
Yes, No, Maybe So
Is the era of the megachurch over? Yes. And no. I hope so. But I hope not.
Let’s look at these four contradictory responses one at a time, shall we?
- Yes. The first generation of the megachurch is most definitely over. The sad demise of the Crystal Cathedral was the first domino to fall. As one of the original megachurches, its jaw-droppingly swift and total collapse has shown others what can happen after the charismatic founder of a megachurch steps aside and the next generation tries to step in. Megachurches that ignore the lessons to be learned from this sad episode do so at their peril.
- No. The era of the megachurch is not over. Not only will there will always be megachurches among us, they are currently growing faster and bigger than ever. Megachurches have discovered and, in some ways, created a spiritual thirst in a segment of society that can only be fulfilled by the full-service, high-quality product that they offer.
- I hope so. For the past three decades, the megachurch model has not just been the dominant method of teaching how to do church, in evangelical circles it’s been virtually the only one. It certainly has been offered up as the ideal. I hope that era is over and that new models will start being added into the conversation. Not to replace the megachurch model, but to work alongside it.
- But I hope not. I truly hope the era of the megachurch is not entirely done with. Many people have been, and continue to be blessed by megachurches. As I describe in The Grasshopper Myth (Chapter 8 – Why We Need Churches of All Sizes), megachurches offer many much-needed ministries and resources that smaller churches will never be able to provide.
A Deeper Longing
Recently I’m sensing a growing desire in people to reconnect with God and with others who love God. But what they’re longing for has very little to do with what we, as pastors, have been taught to produce.
There’s a sizable group of people who don’t want the well-ordered, fully-prepared, passive-rather-than-participatory experience that megachurches are so adept at providing. They want genuine, intimate fellowship and worship.
The current wave of complaints being voiced about the institutional church have little to do with being anti-God, or even anti-church. Often, these frustrations are cries from a deeper longing for a real experience with God and for a healthy church to express it in.
I talked to a friend last week who used to be a megachurch attender. About a year ago she and her daughter started attending a Small Church. Her face lit up as she told me how much more they were both getting out of church, now that they were in a place where they felt needed, cared for and a part of genuine fellowship. She’d never sensed that in the bigger churches she used to go to.
It’s not that fellowship and connection can’t exist in a big church. Most of them have very healthy small group networks. But in a big church you have to seek that out. In a Small Church, it’s more likely to happen by default.
The era of the megachurch may be drawing to a close as the perceived “correct” way to do church. A new era may be starting in which we value what churches of all sizes can bring to the mix.
I hope so.
I may even be starting to believe so.
Yes, I definitely feel a stirring going on.
So what do you think? Are you sensing a shift in what people want from their experience in church?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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