Church Education Trust

By definition, Mega churches are usually independent in structure and separate from traditional denominations. Miller suggests that Mega Churches are “in rebellion against intolerant establishment religion”.[1]  This is a strong statement but as we will see it is perfectly legitimate as a description of the attitudes of many of the new paradigm churches. From the 1970s there has been a trend in America to develop larger and numerically strong mega churches which while being conservative theologically are certainly not in any shape or form “socially regressive”.[2]    
Therefore, in church historical terms, the mega church is a fresh and new social phenomenon.  From the year 2000, Thumma and Travis calculate that Mega Churches came into being at the rate of 100 per year.[3]  In a growth survey carried out in 2005 by Thumma & Travis[4] the average size of a Mega Church was 3585 persons compared to an average of 2000-2279 persons in 2000, implying that Mega congregations grew by 57% in a five year period.
Mega churches have spread right across the USA from coast to coast but the State concentration of these churches indicate that there are 178 Mega churches in California, 157 in Texas, 85 in Florida, and 73 in Georgia.  Over the past few years growth of Mega Churches has been significant in the Northeast and central states of America.  The impression of a balanced geographical spread is beginning to evolve.[5] 
Thumma and Travis suggest that in 2008 there is a Mega Church within a ninety minute drive of 80% of American homes. While many older Mega churches were established in urban areas, they were often high status, white, downtown churches i.e. First Baptist of Dallas, and First Presbyterian in Houston. From the 1980s a geographical change took place.  The location of new Mega Churches followed migration dynamics and the Homogenous Unit Principle of McGavran as the cultural background began to reflect the type of Mega Church.
Developing suburban areas of major cities house many of the newest Mega Churches. The east coast of USA has had more than it full share of such development.  There are many reasons for the development of Mega Churches in suburban areas. For example land prices could be a significant reason for moving to a suburban site, plus there are zoning and planning regulations which are less restrictive which help decide which sites to purchase and the type of premises needed. Often transport infrastructure is excellent in suburban areas. 
However, the key reason for the growth in suburban areas is the context where the people of the area are usually consumer orientated, commute naturally great distances, are highly mobile and well educated, financially able and family orientated.  These are the people and the areas into which the Mega Church is moving in the 21st century.
Americans in general feel comfortable in large institutions,[6] from commercial and leisure, to shopping malls, so a Mega Church suits their mentality.  The force of cultural conditioning on the American psyche makes the link with a large Mega Church almost easier than choosing to go to a small church. Statistics prove this to be the case. If there are 1250 mega churches and 335000 traditional churches in America and 33% of the total worshiping population is found each Sunday in Mega churches, the case for their existence seems evident.
The modern MCM has defined itself, its worship and other aspects of ministry to such a degree, that it has a very post modern expression of Christian faith. The MCM has intentionally or unintentionally “created forms and features in their churches where they have been able to meet the unspoken needs of a contemporary audience”.[8] Having said that, there are a number of important characteristics which make the MCM a significant option for the seeker and those characteristics can be seen in the development of the Saddleback church.
3.2 Characteristics of the Development of a Mega Church.
Those special characteristics that caused the MCM to be recognised as a new ecclesiological model need to be examined.
3.2.1 Redefined Vision..Vision is not just a theological or spiritual term to be used from time to time in sermons; vision is at the heart of all that is considered the Mega ChurchWarren[9] suggests that “vision is the ability to see opportunities within your current circumstances”.  He goes on to define vision by suggesting:Most people think of vision as the ability to see the future. But in today’s rapidly changing world, vision is also the ability to accurately assess current changes and take advantage of them. Vision is being alert to opportunities.[10] 
Vision is outworked in many different ways and yet inevitably becomes the driving power of its leaders.  Hybels, Warren, Schuller and Southerland are but four of many senior pastors who believe that all that has been achieved in Mega ministry is the direct result of personal revelation from God through the message, mission and method of communication to a particular local community in a prepared context.
Miller identifies the concept of personal vision as the obvious outcome of “Individualism” at work in the body of the believers especially when believers are encouraged to, “(interpret) scripture for oneself, directly interacting with God through prayer and visions”.The idea of personal revelation and personal guidance forming vision is clear and as Miller[12] suggests, identifiable.  These visionary experiences connect socially the believer with his or her culture giving them individually and collectively the opportunity to bring a Christian influence to community thus producing “cultural repair” as opposed to cultural isolation.
Pastor Criswell[13] reflects on Warren’s vision for service as being “grounded in the infallible and inerrant word of God, Spirit anointed servant leadership”. Vision according to Warren is theability to recognise what God is doing, how to cooperate with what he is doing, and how to become more skilled in riding a wave of God’s blessing.[14] Dan Southerland [15] defines vision and its practical outworking in three steps: discover your purpose, define your target and decide your strategy. 
This is where the pragmatism and marketing of Drucker has greatly helped the Mega Churches understand how to contextualise their vision and message and develop their ability to positively connect in a relevant way with a post modern society.Drucker challenges his readers to ask three simple questions: What business are we in? Who is our primary customer? And how will we reach that customer? Miller[16] reflects, that Rodger Finke and Rodney Starke state, “Religious economies are like commercial economies in that they consist of a market made up of a set of current and potential customers and a set of firms seeking to serve the market”.
The fate of those firms according to Miller will depend on “aspects of their organisational structure, their sales representatives, their product and their marketing techniques”. Southerland[17] suggests that if the church defines its vision, then the challenge of purpose, target and strategy must be faced; the Mega Churches are all about asking the right questions.  Einstein once said that “any fool can give answers but its takes a genius to ask the right question”. Part of the genius of the MCM is its ability to not only to ask the relevant questions but to seek for answers which would become their foundational vision for reaching into their ministry context.  Vision drives the MCM and moreover the vision in the Mega churches is imparted by dynamic spiritual leadership.
3.2.2 Dynamic Leadership.
Bill Hybels[18] passionately believes in dynamic leadership. He suggests that the church in general has been led by teachers and not leaders. This for him was a serious problem, a key issue and one of the many causes of slow growth or even decline in the traditional church. Gifted teachers[19] are needed in the church to educate and edify but dynamic leaders are needed to inspire and motivate. Leaders naturally organise people into effective teams becoming active in the outworking of the vision.  Hybels was such a leader; he had the capacity to “cast his vision”[20] in such a way that he got the necessary positive response from his congregation.

[1] Donald E. Miller, Reinventing American Protestantism, 11.
[2] Miller, RAP, 12.

[3] Scott Thumma & Dave Travis, Beyond Megachurch Myths, 6-7.

[4] Thumma & Travis, BMM, 8-9.

[5] Thumma & Travis, BMM, 8.

[6] Scott Thumma & Dave Travis, Beyond Megachurch Myths, 14.

[7] Ref: Foot note 136.

[8] Scott Thumma & Dave Travis, Beyond Megachurch Myths, 15.

[9] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 28.

[10] Warren, TPDC, 28.

[11] Donald E. Miller, Reinventing American Protestantism, 20.
[12] Miller, RAP, 22.

[13] Criswell, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas. The Purpose Driven Church, 11.

[14] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 15.

[15] Dan Southerland, Transitioning, 45.

[16] Miller, RAP, 3.

[17] Dan Southerland, Transitioning, 45.

[18] Bill Hybels, Rediscovering Church, 148.

[19] Hybels, RDC, 149.

[20] Hybels, RDC, 151.

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©2008 Church Education Trust