More on Megachurch

Thanks for all your comments on “Willow Creek and postmodern worship”, and for your honesty. it is obvious that there is real tension between large church structures and the emerging organic structures of church. It was helpful to let those feelings to the surface, as well as to land on a place where we can all respect other.
Now that is behind us, lets take another look at megachurch.
It has become fashionable to beat up on the megachurches, especially those that are no longer growing numerically (a failure by their own measurement, not ours) but still teaching others. i am hoping that we can all see the positive contributions that mega churches have made, as see our own history mirrored in their story.

As I mentioned a few days ago, I see Willow Creek as having make some giant steps for emerging church – digitizing and layering the worship elements, and breaking us free from having to host service on Sundays. In fact, the reason for starting up Willow Creek had more to do with building church around the unchurched than around the believers, who were flexible.
I visited Saddleback Valley in Caifornia in the 90’s. I also took my family to Willow Creek in Barrington, IL in 1999. My kids loved the children’s church so much that we had to return the next week. Its really a great and historical church. It marks an era on our history where the church made a mark. I hope it stays where it is and how it is so that some of you can also experience it.
I also attended a Wiilow Creek confernce for pastors in 1991. It was GREAT and we were inspired. They did a good job with drama and brought taboo issues, including sex, onto the stage. Right after the conference, i started “Sunday Nite Live” at the Baptist Church i was pastoring in Australia and it was heavily influenced by the conference. More grungy, of course, than Willow. Those were good times, even though it was exhausting to put on such a service each Sunday.

Another reason we need the large churches. If it were not for these large churches, many of my colleagues out here would have to return home. When I was in Chicago, Mark Soederquist took me to see a converted Masonic Lodge that had become a youth center. Apparently Willow Creek had written a huge check so they could buy the building. They can support large projects and cover the backs of missionaries in ways that our small organic churches cannot.

Future collaboration with emerging church? I was thinking about this last week, while attending Hillsong London. The shape of emerging church is modular rather than singular, which means we will probably find ourselves inside their world more often than they venture into ours.
They have resources and buildings and we often dont.

More later – i have to go now . . .


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Jay says:

    You are of course right about your analysis of the positive contributions of the megachurches of our world. To deny the value of what theybrought to the table is to somehow call into question the validity of megachurch folks experiences of God.
    I think the difficulty comes not in how the “emerging” (whatever the heck that means) church defines the megachurch, but how leaders in the megachurches have defined church in general. Most of the literature from the movement says that if a community of faith doesn’t maintain a program / needs and marketing based orientation, then that community ceases to be of value. I don’t deny the power of numbers, the need for growth, etc. And yet, I believe there is a place in the kingdom for other expressions of church — be it the emerging house church, the local Anglican parish, or any other expression of faithful service to Christ. There are those of us who are called to offer Christ’s love, but who will never be a Rick Warren, and that’s okay.
    Thus the frustration I feel is in the publishing / pastor’s conference movement which tries to tell me that I must be like Rick or Bill or Lee to be an “effective” pastor. I’m not these guys — I don’t want to be but more importantly, god didn’t create me to be them. Thus the personal question is how I define “effective,” “vital,” “growing,” and all the other market driven metaphors we use to describe the health of a congregation.
    Thanks for the post — it offered much food for thought.

  • Chad says:

    I live a mere three hours from Willow Creek and have seen and heard it all from and about them. I appreciate your thoughts here and agree that the future of “emerging” churches is modular. As our faith community is just beginning, we are in dialogue with a “mega-church” about taking us under their wing…without imposing their models or methods. (Of course, this “mega-church” doesn’t really have the same ethos as Willow or Saddleback…) I have been struggling with this idea because of my aversion to the “mega-church” concept, however, I have come to the realization that we are all one church, and if we find commonality together, why not try to learn from one another?
    Peace to you,

  • maggi says:

    they do sex on stage at Willow Creek?

  • jen lemen says:

    i knew i should have visited willow creek.

  • sex the topic! and without demonstration. thanks maggi for bringing that to our attention.
    thanks also for teaching my wife about monastic prayer vs. sanctuary prayer – our kids enjoyed that kind of prayer yesterday.

  • maggi says:

    you are so welcome! there’s nothing like a bit of quality tradition, however emergent we might like to be… 🙂

  • BrotherPhil says:

    Andrew, great comments and insight… I think (as I slowly move into a more “emergent” way of thinking about church), however, the true test of both mega and modular church is this: how well does the process of discipleship work so that the ministry is multiplied through each of the worshippers involved. While it IS easy to “get lost” in a mega church, and several come to be served and not to serve, I have noticed a faithful committment by most mega churches I have visited.
    As I am in rural Northeast Alabama, I’m not able to investigate a more modular-type church, I can’t honestly say how that process is working in “emerging” churches… but it stands to reason that if that process IS successful, that the emergent church would be viral in its growth. I pray that it is… so I may see a viral revival in my time!

  • JohnS says:

    With a bad attitude about the megachurch, I went to the Willow Creek leadership conference in 2002 (my church paid for it). Though I’m not about their style, I was surprised. It seemed God had done a work in Bill Hybels in terms of justice/inner-city issues. Additionally, Hybels spoke of letting go a third of their staff due to the economy and 9/11 (it was painful for them after being so “successful”). The 20/30 somethings where leaving, so they started Axis (a program for that group). Things are not as great as we might think for the megachurch.
    I’m still not about megachurches, but God is a big God and even he can work through the CEO model of pastor (though lots of normal peoplepastors get burnt trying to emulate). Seeing it up close helped. I wasn’t as down on it. I think lots of us (I’m the best at this) criticize the things we don’t know about based on preconceived ideas (this goes both ways). Maybe we should all visit the other side before we rip it (this goes both ways as well).

  • Tom Datema says:

    Sometimes we make the mistake of not recognizing some of the nuances of the megachurch. A pastor of one in my area says he adds a new pastor for every 150 new people. In a sense they are a lot of small churches that come together to share resources. Some allow an incredible amount of flexibility to be different between these many “congregations.”

  • Mike says:

    From a person looking in at this whole “conflict” or “disagrement,” it seems rather silly. I understand that you are trying to find good and bad things about the mega church. But let us as Christians not forget, that they are your brothers and sisters in Christ, and love Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior just as much as you do. So in all things let us build each other up, not tear each other down.
    God bless you all.

  • Brothers and sisters, yes. I completely agree that they are. A lot of which do love God to the best of their ability and know-how, just as we do. But, they are a different culture. We are from to almost completely different cultures. And sometimes we are in great need of those who would be ambassadors between the two. Interpretors, emmissaries, ambassadors, and even anthropologists. It’s not so much of a conflict as it is a cultural difference, sometimes even a cultural impass. We are a foreign country. We have our own customs, our own language, our own way of life. Much like the difference between a Messianic Jewish Synogauge and a Baptist Church. They worship the same God, but not in the same way, and in that, there are many cultural differences to be explored.

  • Andrew Jones has more to say about “megachurch”

    Andrew writes: “Thanks for all your comments on “Willow Creek and postmodern worship”, and for your honesty.

  • djchuang says:

    megachurches will serve/reach people that emerging churches (whatever they are) won’t serve/reach.. and supposing that half of megachurches aren’t growing and have plateaued, what kind of churches are really growing anyways? Okay, maybe we should just set the church growth thing aside, then what? .. jump tracks to the non-profit buzz-words of reproducible or sustainable, what would a new kind of church look like that had longevity beyond one generation – and shouldn’t a church be concerned / have some kind of responsibility to pass on the faith?

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    …from Ray Onami’s post “Pastoring Thoughts” Well, North American churches have really latched on to this “Purpose Driven” fad (I…

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