Friday, June 25, 2010
Young Adults, Mega Churches and the Future of Evangelicalism in North America
Young adults are flocking to mega-churches by the mega thousands. Many medium and smaller churches that surround mega-churches feel the drain as more and more of their young families slip away to the "big" church down the street. This is incredibly frustrating to surrounding churches. Some fear that mega-churches will eventually be all that we have left as young adults continue to flock to them. Will the success of mega-churches lead to the downfall of evangelicalism as we know it in America?
Recently a young man started attending our church in Vermont and he has given me a new perspective on the role of the mega-church in the life of American Evangelicalism. He has only been a believer for 18 months. He came to know Christ in a mega-church in Michigan. What appealed to him about the mega-church that he attended in Michigan was that he could slip in a side door and sit anonymously in the back without any pressure. No one knew his name. No one asked him to do anything. He could come when he wanted and not show up if he was busy. He described it as the "perfect way to listen to the Gospel and come to faith in Christ."
But after a while, some of the same things that seemed so perfect at first, seemed less perfect after a longer period of time. After awhile, it bothered him that no one knew his name or spoke to him or missed him when he was not there. In short, once he came to faith in Christ, he desired more than the mega-church could give him.
Just as he began to search for a more meaningful walk with Christ, he ended up moving to Vermont to finish his college education. He visited a number of churches in his town, each week with a growing sense of frustration. In one church he said they never talked about God a single time during the entire service. He said another church was worse than that. I can't quite imagine what is worse than a church that doesn't talk about God, but apparently such a thing exists somewhere in Central Vermont! He then heard from a friend that there was a Gospel preaching church down the road from us. He drove over to our town on a Sunday morning intending to visit that church, and through an odd situation, ended up at our church instead. Though our church is but a fraction of the size of the mega-church he attended in Michigan, he instantly fell in love with it.
What made him fall in love with a small church like ours? People talked to him. People asked him his name. People invited him to sit with them. The music was good, maybe not mega-church quality, but better than most small churches, and the sermon was an in depth explanation of scripture which included lots of practical ways to apply the scripture to daily life. And when he missed coming one weekend because he had a big project at school, several people noticed and reached out to him. That really made him feel special because so few of them had known him for very long.
In short, the very thing that made the mega-church attractive to him before he was a Christian became less attractive to him once he came to know Christ and began to grow in his faith. For a long time the conventional wisdom has been that smaller churches are "feeder" churches for larger churches around them. That may be true. But perhaps as time goes by, mega-churches will become feeder churches for the smaller congregations around them. That clearly has not happened yet. But as people realize they need a real sense of community which is difficult to find in a mega-church, perhaps they will begin to look with longing toward the smaller churches that exist in their community. Instead of being frustrated with mega-churches, maybe we should pray for them to be so successful in reaching young adults that they are overflowing their capacity and that those young adults will desire to move to a church that will know their name.