I actually have two unpublished books. Longtime readers here are aware of one of them, but on the weekend I came across the manuscript for the older one, a book which predates the owning of a computer and would therefore need to be manually retyped in order to serialize it here.
The theme of the older book is about change in the church, empowerment of the laity, the need for new types of churches, etc. Sound familiar? It got really trendy really fast. In other words, in the years that followed my going into the distraction-free room in the basement and typing a little each day, my topic became part of a much larger movement, and my book was rewritten by others at least, no exaggeration, about a thousand times.
Still, re-reading it was interesting, especially for the stories it contained which I had forgotten.
One was about a California church I visited regularly throughout the late 1970s and early ’80s. They had three services, 8:30, 10:00 and 11:30. After each service, the lead, teaching pastor would be outside for about 15 minutes to greet people. “Hi! We’re the Logan family from Iowa, and we drove for three days just to see you in person!”
Standing next to the pastor was a staff associate. His job was to keep the long, post-service lineup moving. Everybody got about 20 seconds. 30 seconds if the pastor was seemed truly interested. (There was probably some type of visual code.) Regulars probably didn’t use this time very often, deferring to the Iowa tourists.
It was said at the time that if you really wanted to make an impact, you lined up after the third service, when things were less rushed. If you had an idea, or a concept, or a thought that the pastor might be interested in, you lined up over several successful weeks. If that worked, he would say, “Why don’t you make an appointment to drop by during the week? Tell my secretary I agreed to meet with you.”
That was how you got to speak with the lead pastor. By working your way through a complex filtering system…
…My visits to American megachurches are somewhat sparse now. We have no money. We have no inclination to visit a country characterized by gun violence. My wife has no interest in visiting any more megachurches. (That third factor may be key!) But I’m told that several pastors whose sermon videos I download make it a point to be in the lobby or on the patio when the service is over, and while they may have handlers, I haven’t heard horror stories about restricted access.
Some pastors however do not do this at all. Well one in particular. He disappears into the depths of a labyrinth of inner offices.
Either way, the megachurch creates a system where access to the person you would call ‘my pastor’ if anyone asked is rather limited, if not non-existent. The days of the country parson at the door shaking hands during the organ postlude are long, long gone. Churches do have staff, and parishioners often find a staff member with whom they identify and then enjoy greater contact with that person…
…Was the church — by which I mean now the definition that delineates the place where you worship on the weekend — ever intended to be that big? How did we get from the “meeting from house to house” in the book of Acts to the place where we have 10,000-member congregations?
Furthermore, even with the presence of home church groups or house fellowships or small groups, is it logical to have someone speaking into my life 52 Sundays per year, and I never get to say anything in return? I can’t find that model in the Bible, and I can’t imagine anyone in the history of the church deliberately conceiving it.
Without the direct feedback, I would argue that the megachurch is going become immune to change. When the next church-culture shift happens, the larger churches are going to discover that it’s hard to change course quickly when you’re steering a big ship; and this isn’t even taking into account the challenges of what personality driven churches do when the founding pastor deems it time to move on.
I suspect there will be a number of large auditoriums for sale. But we’ve already looked at that possibility here before.
Several hours after this was published, I noticed this at yesterday’s Master’s Table blog post. You can decide if it’s relevant to this article.