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Learning from the Megachurch

I just finished reading Scott Thumma and Dave Travis’ book Beyond the MegaChurch Myths: What We Can Learn from America’s Largest Churches.  It makes for fascinating reading.  Perhaps the most significant insight is this:  “We argue that the greatest contribution of meagachurches is not about growth or being large so much as it is about learning how to address the contemporary needs of people in the Community.  In many cases, megachurches have figured out how to do this in ways that resonate with their neighbors – an insight that has great value to congregations of all sizes.”  (p. 191) 1. MYTH: “All Megachurches are alike!”     REALITY: They are not all alike but in fact very diverse.  They do share some common organizational characteristics. 2. MYTH: “That church is just too big!”      REALITY: “The reason that megachurches are so large is ultimately because many people are getting their needs met in them.” (p. 46) Younger generations are comfortable with and in larger institutions and often find in them small intimate groups for nurture and discipleship formation. 3. MYTH: “Megachurches are cults of personality.”      REALITY:  Leadership is a critical factor in any size of church.  Megachurch pastors lead teams of people with a clear sense of vision and mission. 4. MYTH: “These churches are only concerned about themselves and the needs of their attendees.”      REALITY:  Great initial growth tends to focus a church on building facilities and internal structure but as churches mature, they diversify and strengthen their outreach in ministry often far beyond other churches.  Many (if not most) megachurches have great missional outreach to those in need. 5. MYTH: “Megachurches water down the faith.”      REALITY:  The evidence is just the opposite.  Clarity of mission means that these churches “actually call many believers to higher levels of commitment.” (p. 92) 6.  MYTH: “These churches are bad for other churches.”       REALITY:  They have resulted in the loss of power and influence from smaller churches but the “benefits these congregations bring to other churches can outweigh the challenging situations they create.” (p. 119) 7. MYTH: “These churches are full of people of the same race, class and political preferences.”      REALITY:  While this can appear true at a distance, closer examination often reveals greater diversity than in traditional congregations!  Every study done on megachurches shows a considerable mix of economic groups, education, & occupation. 8. MYTH: “Megachurches grow because of the show.”      REALITY:  Preaching and excellence in worship are a hallmark of megachurches.  As a group, these churches are widely diverse in worship styles and much better at connecting with the “heart language” of new generations.  They speak both to and with the culture.  Quality is a crucial explanation for growth but not the only factor! 9. MYTH: “The megachurch movement is dying – young people hate these churches.”      REALITY:  Just the opposite is true!  “There are large numbers of young adults in these churches – perhaps in greater percentages than in any other congregational size or form.” (p. 169) There is much to learn here for all kinds and sizes of churches.  Thumma & Travis’ core insight bears repeating.  “We argue that the greatest contribution of megachurches is not about growth or being large so much as it is about learning how to address the contemporary needs of people in the Community.  In many cases, megachurches have figured out how to do this in ways that resonate with their neighbors – an insight that has great value to congregations of all sizes.”