Mega Churches

There is a trend in the west, particularly in the United States, for bigger churches. Many of these “mega” churches have elaborate sanctuaries and large campuses filled with offices, classrooms and even fitness centers, daycare, bookstores and coffee bars.

There is nothing inherently wrong with such complexes. Or is there? Large church communities are nothing new. History shows that over a hundred years ago there were often weeklong evangelical gatherings that would attract many thousands of worshippers. Whole tent cities were often constructed.

Even during the beginning of the Christianity the Bible reports of three thousand new believers joining the Christian fellowship (Acts 2:41).

People are often attracted to dynamic and charismatic speakers. Preachers with such talent can start churches that are small and then grow over the years to very large worship centers.

 
Danger Signs

The danger, as I see it, is when these mega-churches lose focus of the Gospel message and putting Christian principles into action in their communities. A big church can mean big administration challenges. Large amounts of money can present their own problems. The church has the danger of becoming more of a social gathering place than a center of learning, worship and transformation. Big sporting events and rock concerts can have much in common with the multiple thousands attending services on a Sunday. How many of those gatherings are more entertainment than opportunities for spiritual awakening?

Recently in Albuquerque a large church with over 14,000 regular members went through some upheaval. Calvary Chapel in Albuquerque was started in the early 1980’s by Pastor Skip Heitzig. Originally it was a small group meeting in his home for Bible study. By 1985 they had bought and renovated an indoor sports complex into their church. In 1988 and 1989 Calvary of Albuquerque was considered the fastest growing church in America. I used to attend from time to time and I found Heitzig’s sermons thought-provoking, Biblically based and inspiring.

Skip Heitzig stayed with Calvary of Albuquerque until 2002 when he moved to California to pastor Ocean Hills Church in San Juan Capistrano. He stayed on as a member of the Board of Directors, continued with his radio ministry, and the church followed his recommendation to hire Pete Nelson as their new Senior Pastor.

The church continued to grow, to expand its facilities, but apparently all was not well within. The reports are that Nelson wanted to have more local members on the board (most board members were from out of state) and more decision making responsibility for Albuquerque. He resigned recently and there was a flurry of news reports about internal struggles and conflicting reports about who was handling what. It was unfortunate that so much of that was in the press, but because the church membership is so large and influential in the community it became front page news.

Carrying the Message

I moved away from Albuquerque in 1987, only to return ten years later. At that time my spiritual path had me attending a different Christian fellowship, but I did work at a radio station owned by Calvary Chapel (KNKT-FM) for a couple of years. I was never close enough to decisions makers to have an informed conscience on their administration. I could only form my own opinions. I have met many wonderful people at Calvary, some truly sincere Christians and loving people. However, I find the fundamentalism of their teaching to not be as open and broad as I understand God to be.

Still, I think their message of Christ’s love and the saving grace of God and the many ministries they are involved in to be commendable.

It is not my purpose in this article to go into the details of Calvary of Albuquerque’s recent struggles. The reader can readily research and form an opinion. I use Calvary of Albuquerque as an example of what I observe in many very large churches and ask that we consider if this is the best way to build the Body of Christ. Ultimately, Jesus calls each of us to a personal change of heart and a life-giving transformation. Regardless of the size of the church you attend I think it is important to be involved, especially in smaller groups, and to reach out to others with the message of love, justice and saving grace that Christ brought (and brings) us.

God is Big

I strongly believe that God is at work in our lives and bringing to light universal truths through many avenues. You may find it at church, at a movie, in a book, talking with a friend or in the beauty and wonder of science and nature. God is big. I’m not so sure our worship centers need to be.

-Tom Gilbert

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®.Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of International Bible Society.

NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of International Bible Society. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of International Bible Society.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, IL 60189, USA. All rights reserved.

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