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Mega Churches And Christian Discipleship

There's a new model in modern Western Christian worship that is growing in numbers far faster than other models...the Mega-Church.  While the vast numbers and rate of numerical growth are impressive, this style of worship and fellowship has significant drawbacks when it comes to discipleship.  We'll cover what the style is, the discipleship drawbacks and a couple solutions that can help overcome the weaknesses of the mega-church to make it personal and inviting.

What Is A Mega Church?  Mega church is the name for huge churches that are popping up all over the world.  As the name implies, these are not just large churches, but have weekly attendance from 1k to 30k or more.  They're regional churches, where people come from as far as 50 miles away.  The sanctuaries often seat as many as 10,000 at a time.  Many sport stadium seating with drink holders and stereo phone outlets to get the teaching translated into other languages.  The sanctuary is usually part of a huge campus that includes classroom buildings, pools, tennis courts, gyms, etc.  Often, they have valet parking and shuttle service from the parking lots to the sanctuary.  Because of their size, these mega-churches can provide a wide variety of services for Christian families of all types and sizes.

Sadly, because of their size, mega-churches are about as intimate as a professional ball game.  You can imagine, if the sanctuary seats 10,000, the sixth grade class might seat 200...Lord, help the teachers!  To get any real fellowship, you'd probably have to be one of the 150-200 pastors, but then, you might be too locked into the institutional mindset and the break-neck pace for any intimacy.  I know something of this, having pastored at one of the smaller mega-churches in California.  Stressful doesn't begin to describe the experience.  After about 4 years there, the Lord moved me to a better paced ministry.  My experience as a mega-church pastor leads me to believe there's too little opportunity for affective ministry.  The numbers of people make it more like herding cattle than sharing the profound and intimate love of Jesus.  Still, this seems to be the trend in the church, so, let's see if we can take this mega-church thing and find a way to infuse intimate discipleship into the process.

What Is Christian Discipleship?  Discipleship, as opposed to popular belief, is not teaching.  Teaching is to discipleship what chewing is to may get a taste but you're still going to starve to death.  You must swallow and digest what you chewed or it does you no good.  You can't be taught discipleship, it takes intimate contact with people who are living it.  Jesus spent 3 years living with the 12 disciples.  They went where He went, slept where He slept, ate what He ate, and witnessed every word He spoke and action He took.  Even after He ascended, the standard discipleship method for 350 years was small, intimate groups who spent most of their lives together.  We're fooling ourselves if we think an hour or two each week spent listening to someone talk comes anywhere near discipleship...even if we're taking notes.  What is needed is intimate small groups, where Christian living is the focus, rather than preaching or teaching.

Two methods of discipleship can still be used well at mega-churches; Cell Groups and one-on-one.  Cell Groups, or small groups, put discipleship responsibility outside the church campus, in homes, where intimate contact and ministry are possible.  Many of the mega-churches are getting small as well as getting big, by adding hundreds of small home groups to their huge menu of weekly services.  This is not new, but definitely bears continued attention.  We know, in modern society, we're not going to get large numbers of people in each other's homes for more than a couple hours a week, but we should take what we get and let the Holy spirit do the rest.  The second method, one-on-one, is the most affective but the hardest to accomplish from the mega-church model.  That's because it depends on individuals being motivated enough to develop personal relationships from the huge group of strangers they worship with each week.  I suspect one-on-one discipleship is as useful in the mega-church setting as in any...other than the small group, which naturally develops relationships.

How Do We Get Discipleship Into Mega-Churches?  This requires a level of dedication to discipleship from the top-down.  Probably the biggest credit to mega-churches and the biggest drawback to discipleship is how devoted the entire staff must be to "the big show."  Obviously, if they didn't do that well, they wouldn't be a mega-church.  Unfortunately, this demands so much attention every week that everything but the "main"  Sunday ministries (sermon, music, children, teens) and the major calendar events, can get overlooked or dismissed entirely.  Making personal discipleship a priority in a mega-church requires an all-hands-on-board mentality that the senior pastor must exemplify and expect of the staff (participation is part of the job description).  Your small groups and one-on-one discipleship opportunities must be promoted as frequently and with as much interest as any other major church function.  Every leader in every group should set the expectation (by word and example) that personal discipleship should be a priority in everyone's life.  If they're not participating, they don't qualify for leadership in your church.  Every bulletin, letter, handout should express the need for this and a way to participate.  Every time someone responds to the message to accept or reconnect with Jesus, those praying with them should be taught to tell them, "Here's what's next..."  Pastor, if you're interested in bringing people closer to Jesus, discipleship should be mentioned almost every week in your service in some way...even in the sermon, along with the fact you're doing it, and how they can get involved.  Is that too hard?  You never forget the offering, do you?

Mega-Churches can change lives and be strong witnesses of the power of Jesus.  By making small groups and one-on-one discipleship as large a priority as the Sunday event, mega-churches can develop the personal touch and intimacy necessary to grow true disciples of Jesus.  After all, isn't that what ministry is all about?

What experience do you have with mega-churches?

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