Thinking Out Loud

July 9, 2015

What the Modern Megachurch has in Common with A Prairie Home Companion

MegachurchThough the conversation was nearly fifteen years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. We were talking about a new megachurch that was experiencing meteoric growth, and the pastor said, “That church is a house of cards. As soon as ________ leaves, the whole thing collapses.”

This is something I’ve heard expressed before in other contexts. And it came to light again this week as Christianity Today considered the multi-site church model. Mega and Multi are often seen together holding hands.*

But first, a diversion, as one pastor defines the phenomenon:

Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church in Washington, D.C., summed up this concern in a 2011 blog post for the Gospel Coalition titled, “Multisite Churches Are from the Devil.”

“Try as one might,” he wrote, “I can’t escape the conclusion that those who take the multisite option are effectively saying, ‘My preacher is better than your preacher, so we’re gonna brand him and export him to a theater near you.’ That’s crass, I know. But that’s really the bottom line.”

Okay. Back to our discussion. This is the quote from the piece I really wanted to highlight:

…Given Mars Hill’s highly visible collapse, questions remain about the long-term viability of multisite churches.

Chuck North, an economics professor at Baylor University, said the fall of Mars Hill mimicked what happens with successful startup businesses and their founders…

One of the big challenges for such businesses is succession planning. Who will take over when the founding or longtime CEO leaves? Likewise, “the pastor is the face of that church,” he said. “How do you get a successor who is going to fill that role?”

That would resonate with the aforementioned pastor with whom I had my discussion. We tend to use terminology like, “Bill Hybel’s church;” and “Rick Warren’s church;” and “Kyle Idleman’s church;” and “Pete Wilson’s church;” losing the bearings of the people listening to us if we reference Willow, Saddleback, Southeast or Cross Point. Right now, if someone says to me, “Ed Young’s church,” I can’t name it.

GarrisonKeillorWhich got me thinking of A Prairie Home Companion, the long-running Saturday night radio show that started back in the days when they had to hand-deliver radio shows to each house by truck.

Last week it was announced that iconic show runner and host Garrison Keillor would step down to be replaced by Chris Thile (pronounced THEE-lee) who guest hosted earlier this year. Not everyone is thrilled.

For many, the show is G.K., and they can’t imagine it without him. Others are excited.

In church life, we do tend to associate the pastor as being the brand. It’s hard to imagine certain churches without the key man — in business, you can take out insurance against such losses, called key man insurance — but life goes on at Mars Hill Bible Church without Rob Bell, at Cornerstone without Francis Chan, and was, until recently going fine at Coral Ridge Presbyterian without James Kennedy.

The CT article hinges largely on the situation at Mars Hill Seattle, post-Mark Driscoll. That one fulfilled my pastor friend’s prophecy, and whether or not you want to call it a house of cards, it definitely collapsed.

How can churches mitigate against that happening? How do they prevent the church from being personality-driven?

The A Prairie Home Companion situation is made easier by Keillor’s retirement. He will transition out slowly he says, returning to do key characters and narratives. In church life we don’t always have that luxury, if the pastor feels called to another location. Flying and back and forth to your old church is generally frowned upon. The ties usually become severed, and the congregation looks forward, not back. It’s often ten years later that the former pastor is freer to return for a special anniversary or similar event.

Small groups also make a huge different. If you are closely knit to the people in your home church group, what’s happening at the weekend services is of diminished importance. At Canada’s The Meeting House, teaching pastor Bruxy Cavey tells his people, “If you have to make a choice this week between Sunday and home church, attend your home church.”

Serving also helps. People who work on music, tech, greeting, parking, children’s, youth or counseling teams are invested long-term; they have a commitment that goes beyond who is preaching the sermon.

Finally, I suppose much has to do with viable alternatives. Sometimes it’s hard for people who have been friends of Mega and Multi to feel comfortable again in the closer surroundings of a 250-seat or 500-member fellowship. Without strong ties, it may be easier to drift through a time of pastor transition, but even the largest cities can only support so many mega-churches.

Personally, I think the Saturday night NPR radio show will survive the transition, and as for Thile as host, I’m going to trust Keillor’s judgement. In church life, outgoing pastors generally don’t name their successors, but it would be ideal if they could put their rubber stamp on whoever is ultimately selected.


 

*As a writer, I really liked that sentence; but in the interest of full disclosure, not all satellite (or shall we say secondary) campuses attract huge crowds. While North Point (Andy Stanley’s church) tends not to start a new campus without critical mass, the branch of Harvest Bible Chapel (James MacDonald’s church) we attended in Elgin, IL in 2009 was in development at the time; we worshiped with a crowd I would estimate at around 200 max; though that location has grown considerably since we were there. Some of The Meeting House’s locations are still running under 100 according to some reports, and I am told that LifeChurch.tv (Craig Groeshel’s church) a leader in multi-site, has often had softer launches in order to serve a particular geographic area sooner than later.

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October 5, 2011

Wednesday Link List

More newsy stuff this week, rather than blog links per se…I get to play news anchor…

  • Tennessee teachers supervising students at the annual See You At The Pole events are in trouble for praying along with the students at the event. “Teachers have not been banned from praying, but if they do – it must be done out of sight and earshot of students, the newspaper reported.”  Read more on this confusing development at The Tennessean.
  • Young abolitionist Zach Hunter is now 19, and his three books, including the popular Be the Change have been reissued by Zondervan to reflect his current look.  He recently did a guest post at Huffington Post. “When I was 12 I started a campaign to end modern-day slavery. I wasn’t a theological prodigy. I was just an awkward, pre-adolescent kid trying to follow Jesus. I heard about people being bought and sold and abused day in and day out and I couldn’t imagine Jesus being O.K. with it…. Occasionally, I’ve received some criticism about encouraging this kind of passion in my generation. Mostly, it comes from people who share my faith — I’ve even been told, ‘It’s great what you and your friends are doing, but why aren’t you just preaching the gospel when your whole generation is going to hell?…Continue reading at Huff Post…
  • Never was an event so well-named

    James MacDonald finds himself defending the decision to include T.D. Jakes in next year’s sequel to the one-day Elephant Room Conference.  “I believe modalism is unbiblical and clearly outside confessionalism, but I do not believe it represents Bishop T.D. Jakes’ current thinking. Whether I am right or wrong is something that will be discovered in the Elephant Room where our purpose is, as Pastor Mark [Driscoll] posted, ‘to talk to people rather than about them.'” Read more at James’ blog, Vertical Church.
  • Oh, and here’s a recent sample of what he’s defending himself against.  Thabiti Anyabwyle writes, “This isn’t on the scale of [John] Piper inviting [Rick] Warren. This is more akin to Augustine inviting Muhammad. This invitation gives a platform to a heretic… Can the Lord squeeze lemonade out of this lemon? Absolutely. I pray He does… What should MacDonald do now? I’m not even sure.” Read more of this at TGC.
  • If the above word, modalism, is new to you, it was covered on this blog in a lengthy article back in February, Why Are Non-Trinitarians Included Among ‘Christians’?
  • Mexico considers solving the divorce problem by issuing a marriage license that expires in 24 months. ” Mexico City lawmakers want to help newlyweds avoid the hassle of divorce by giving them an easy exit strategy: temporary marriage licenses… that would allow couples to decide on the length of their commitment, opting out of a lifetime. The minimum marriage contract… could be renewed if the couple stays happy. The contracts would include provisions on how children and property would be handled if the couple splits. ‘The proposal is, when the two-year period is up, if the relationship is not stable or harmonious, the contract simply ends,’ said Leonel Luna, the Mexico City assemblyman who co-authored the bill.” Read the full article at Reuters Faith World.
  • Another news story from Reuters Faith World…  A few years back, this was one of the few Christian blogs to look at the ban on minarets (Muslim prayer towers) in Switzerland.  Now the country’s lower parliament has voted to ban face veils as well. “By enacting a ban, Switzerland would follow other European countries such as France, the Netherlands and Belgium which have either already proscribed veils or are debating such measures, sometimes encountering sharp condemnation from civil rights and Islamic groups.”
  • The supreme court will not hear a case brought against World Vision in regard to hiring practices.  “The Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari lets stand an August 2010 decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of World Vision and against three employees who were fired after the organization concluded that they did not believe that Jesus Christ is fully God.” More details at Christianity Today.
  • A Texas oil change shop will service your car for only $19.99 if you will quote John 3:16 from memory.  Legal experts in the state can’t find the owner is in violation of anything from a consumer retail business standpoint.  But one customer didn’t recite the verse and got billed for over $46.  Is this a positive move for the business owner or a liability?  And is it a definite liability for Christians who abhor this evangelism methodology.  Dallas attorney Andy Siegel said,    “The study of Bible has many rewards, [but] I’m not sure if God intended for a lube discount to be among its many riches.”  More, with video at CNN Religion.
  • Also at CNN, an in-depth review of Belieber, the book examining the faith factor in the life of pop star Justin Bieber.  The star told Rolling Stone, “I feel I have an obligation to plant little seeds with my fans. I’m not going to tell them, ‘You need Jesus,’ but I will say at the end of my show, ‘God loves you.’ ”  Read more at CNN.
  • Time Travel Piece of the Week:  A short word bite from Steven Furtick on Church Hopping, It’s Time to Stop The Hop. “If you’ve fallen into the trap of church hopping, let me encourage you: embrace your place somewhere where God can use you. At the end of your life, God’s not going to be impressed or pleased that you saw what He was doing at ten different churches. He’s going be more pleased that you were a part of what He was doing at one church.”
  • If you think all the great ministry ideas have been covered, you could always start an underwear ministry.  No, it’s not a reference to Mormon underwear, rather: “Every day with no fanfare, the Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver… receives all kinds of donations… But one recent drop-off was so unique it could not go unnoticed — a donation of 3,500 pairs of men’s underwear. Calgary residents Robb Price and Brent King delivered the gift…the first of 10 deliveries they plan to make at homeless shelters between Vancouver and Halifax. Read more at Christian Week.
  • Wrapping it up this week with the graphic that’s been on so many blogs; How The Denominations See Each Other.  The bottom right corner credits this to ThomasTheDoubter.com where it was posted on September 15th, and also to the Subtle Designer blog, where it’s described as being a copy of a similar infographic done about higher education.  (You might need to switch to full screen.) Enjoy!

December 16, 2009

Link Time!

Once again, free of charge, here are a few things you might not have known were just a link away…

  • Jeff Goins at the blog, Pilgrimage of the Heart, noted that his webzine Wrecked for the Ordinary, showed much interest last week on this topic, “Is The Cross The Wrong Symbol for Christianity?”     Before I even got to the article, I made the following observation at his blog:

    I remember years ago hearing people talk about recovering the towel and the basin as the symbol of Christianity; the idea was that the core concept of following Christ is to follow him as he washed his disciples’ feet.

    The discussion was still going on today here.

  • Did you hear the story this week about the eight-year old boy sent home from school for drawing a picture of Jesus on the cross?    Asked to draw something that reminded him of Christmas, the boy drew a simple crucifix — pictured at right — with an ‘X’ in place of each eye to show that the person on the cross had died.   The school sent him home citing concerns of violence and ordered a psychiatric evaluation.   You can read the original Taunton Gazette Dec. 14 report here, and the latest update on the story here from Fox News.
  • Here’s an internet archives classic:  A much younger looking 22-Words blogger Abraham Piper, pictured alongside his personal testimony — “When I was 19, I decided I’d be honest and stop saying I was a Christian…” — offers advice for the parents of prodigals in this 2007 article at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website.  (22-Words regulars might notice the resemblance between him and his son Orison)
  • Sadly the Alltop blog aggregator is rapidly losing its usefulness when overtly commercial sites like Best Travel Deals are accepted.  Currently however, if you’ve never checked out the site, you can scan the titles of the last five posts at top blogs in the Christianity, Church and Religion categories.
  • A few nights ago I ended up at a YouTube video containing the Casting Crowns song, Prayer for a Friend, when I was suddenly reminded of a CCM classic song by Debby Boone, Can You Reach My Friend? also on YouTube.  While both are homemade vids,  these are both great compositions.  How much time do we spend crying out for friends — both current and long lost — who have not yet crossed the line of faith?
  • While the Grand Cayman Islands may not be the place to picture Christmas done up with snowmen and sleighs, they really do the lights thing to the max.   Zach and Cory, who attend Thabiti Anyabwile’s church,  post a few pics  at the appropriately named blog, Life in Grand Cayman.  (See sample at the top of this blog post.)
  • Got more Christian books and Bibles lying around than you know what to do with?   In the United States, check out a program called Bare Your Bookshelf, where you can directly ship up to four pounds of books to someone in need.   In Canada, consider a program that gets large container loads of Christian resources to missionaries overseas at Christian Salvage Mission.    (Read the history and then click on “area coordinators” to find the closest contact to you.)
  • Our cartoon today is from Mike Waters at Joyful Toons:

HT – for the Taunton, Mass. student story to Tom Bauerle at WBEN radio in Buffalo, with additional links from David Mercier at the blog Redeem The Time.

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