I like the idea of the “Megachurch”.
Most of the Megachurches in the U.S. I would consider orthodox (as in, a part of the family of the Historic Christian Faith) and are contending for Christ. I find it unfortunate that Megachurches usually get an unfair amount of criticism not only from the “secular” world, but within the umbrella of Worldwide Christendom.
With that, I believe I have an original (and single) incite as to the phenomenon of the Megachurch especially as it refers to the “multi-site” architecture that so many of our larger churches are moving towards.
But first, a brief background:
A Megachurch is defined as a church having 2000 or more attendees for a typical weekly service. Of the 300,000 churches that are organized within the United States, about 1600 evangelical churches fit that definition (On a related note, 3000 Roman Catholic parishes fulfill the same definition, however they are not typically associated with the Megachurch movement.)
Of the 1600 Megachurches in the U.S., about 89 have weekly attendance levels between 10,000 and 50,000.
Now in order to accommodate such a massive expansion to any one congregation, the idea of the “multi-site” emerged. Before multi-site avenues were explored, more service times were added while a larger church building was being built in order to accommodate growth in attendance. But as attendance even exceeded those levels, it became financially impossible to continue building larger and larger facilities. Thus we have the growing popularity of the “multi-site”.
Brief definition: the multi-site church is made up of multiple church meeting places over a certain geographic area (that can pass over state lines) which represent one specific church body. The multiple sites retain the culture of the original church location and most of the time have the pastor of the “mother church” preach via large screen HD video, either live or “taped”.
REMOTE CONTROL PASTOR
Back to the commentary: for the longest time I could not imagine going to church and watching my pastor preach on a large TV. Initially, it seemed a bit ridiculous. I would think: I might as well stay home and watch a TV preacher; or the common refrain: how could the church body get a personal connection from the pastor via a TV monitor? (and that debate rages on within the evangelical community…)
So, rather than be continually snarky, I visited a number of multi-sites.
Shocking to me: I really enjoyed the experience. I suppose a better way to put it is I was blessed by the experience.
The messages given by the TV pastors were professional and moving. And if I ever would need pastoral care, there were always multiple “site-pastors” available. And those site-pastors would always make themselves known to the congregation, both before and after the preaching TV program.
I was (and still am) amazed that I really appreciated the multi-site experience.
After considering my experiences at those churches I began to wonder “why?” they were good. I mean on the surface it did seem ridiculous… until of course I experienced it and know for a fact (in my mind at least) it is not.
So why is it an effective and popular model for the common day church experience?
It hit me when I was reading about television watching in relation to children. You have read the studies, or have read someone reference them, about prolonged TV watching being an unhealthy childhood experience. And you know that children should be reading and playing outside for optimum physiological health.
The specific reason children should not be overly prolonged to TV is because it induces the brain into a subtle hypnosis where brain activity is significantly reduced. I believe without reading a single published study on this fact that you know this to be inherently true. When you are in that reduced level of brain activity, you are no longer creating (thinking) anything in your brain (and when you actively THINK you fire away intelligence increasing synapse activity). So then your brain is reduced to a lazy euphoria where you only take in the images and activity created by another. You are put into a very unhealthy brain wave state. And as everyone knows who is reading this right now, if you don’t actively use the brain God gave you, it will weaken.
So what does this have to do with multi-site churches?
The reason they are successful is because of the subtle euphoric hypnosis experienced by the multi-site attendee. Every single American has been bred on TV, movies and the internet. Visual media and its experience cannot be un-experienced by any of us. Our very existence is now defined by visual media. And since we typically only purposefully watch media that we enjoy, we hardwire into our bodies the subtle euphoria we receive from the pleasurable TV watching experience.
So when we sit in the multi-site church and the large HD moving image of our favorite and well polished pastor begins to unravel, we, by default of our decades of TV watching, fall right back into that Pavlovian subtlety like a warm blanket. It is irresistible.
So what should we make of this? Is there something ethical here which needs to be dealt with? Does the Church flowing with the course of the current Culture lead us down a path unearthing questions with many and disparate answers?
As I watch and pray, I consider the words of the Apostle Paul:
“What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”
~ Philippians 1:18.
~ Daniel Gabriel