Mega Church Observations and Musings

I attended a concert last Friday at a local large non-denom facility very nearly the size of what one would call a “mega-church.” (I’d estimate about 2,500-3,000 seats) The christian pop/rock band Sanctus Real and two others performed and my wife and I decided to go and enjoy. It was called “Life Changers International Church.”

In college (decades ago now), I spent a lot of time with non-denominational evangelicals, so I thought I knew how to feel comfortable with them, but that was at the dawn of the mega movement. I’ve not been in the walls of a large non-denom place, nor heard an evangelical sermon (universal in such concerts) in a long time and was struck by a few observations.

  1. The ‘sanctuary’ made an excellent concert hall. Upon closer examination, it IS a concert hall and was obviously designed from the ground up to be one. From the giant projection screens that flanked the stage, to the elevated theater seating (seat numbers even!), to the acoustic clouds and catwalk system overhead to serve the changeable lighting system design. There was not one permanent architectural feature that would suggest that the auditorium was built as a worship space. Very bewildering. The very substance of the facility suggests that its purpose is to entertain its visitors rather than to direct their attention towards Christ. (Not that most modern catholic churches are doing any better, mind you.)

  2. Catholic parishes are doing good to have a narthex or other basic minimal gathering space between the parking lot and the pews, but this place was over the top. I kid you not, there was a “Food Court”. Not just some tables and chairs, but a permanent concessions setup. It felt a little bit obscenely commercialized. Or maybe I was just looking to nitpick.

  3. On the impressive side, I had been used to hearing little to nothing on the social justice implications of the gospel from my evangelical friends in the past and this occasion was marked by reminders about the poor in the third world (song lyrics, video images and sermon), pushes to sign up that night for child sponsorship missionary programs and reminders that faith is not just a feeling, but a life committment. As a catholic, I’m used to us doing a better job than them on social justice issues, but I gotta say that we don’t generally do as good a job of fusing our social occasions with our ministry as these guys are doing. (Ever had a conversion moment at Bingo?)

  4. As usual, the music was enjoyable with an occasional lyrical “yikes” via my always active theological filters on such occasions. Can’t blame folks for incorporating what they believe into their lyrics though. Blame them more if the DIDN’T. And the evangelical community is doing a better job than us of coupling the commitment to the faith to musical creative talents of our respective constituents. Surely we have somebody more talented than Marty Haugen out there by now…

Overall, it was an interesting experience. Obviously this was a concert, not the usual Sunday fare, so I can’t say what their ‘liturgy’ is normally like. I’m guessing it is heavy on the praise music (architecture rule #1 is that form follows function). On the whole, it felt different from what I remember in college. More polished, professional, slick … and yet less somehow. The small, shoestring evangelical operations had a more genuine appeal to them. Again, maybe I’m biased but the sheer professionalism of the entire operation just seemed to emphasize the absence of the transcendent. No statues, no stained glass with images, no murals, no altar, nothing that made you want to kneel, just to be entertained and have your emotions tugged at.

I attended services with a protestant friend of mine - by building size and attendance they have a mega-church (two story with elevator) in a large city.

The center walkway through the front doors contained a Christian bookstore and a designer coffee shop with tables and seating.

:slight_smile:

The services I attended were geared toward young people. They held it is an auditorium that I’m pretty sure was also their basketball court and stage.

I’m not sure if protestant denominations follow a liturigal calendar, but there seemed to be a focus on King David. We sang a lot of songs featuring King David, but not necessarily the Psalms.

Like you, I noticed an “absence of the transcendent…no statues, no stained glass with images, no murals, no altar, nothing that made you want to kneel, just to be entertained and have your emotions tugged at.”

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[quote=Barbkw;7183738Like you, I noticed an “absence of the transcendent…no statues, no stained glass with images, no murals, no altar, nothing that made you want to kneel, just to be entertained and have your emotions tugged at.”
[/QUOTE]
[/quote]

LOL…you should visit a Friend’s Meeting…none of the above PLUS no piano, stage or sound system. Our Meetinghouses are as plain as possible…The “transcendant” occurs “within” as the Presence in our midst is realized and experienced. We join ourselves to the Living Silence and “wait upon the Lord” for Him to speak to us…and sometimes listen to the ministry of someone led to speak…although…not too much to have one’s “emotions tugged at.”:)**

I really can’t get over the Food Court inside the local Mega Church. It’s really jaw dropping.

It looks like a hospital from the outside. No crosses or anything. Even on the inside, I don’t recall seeing any crosses.

Mostly what I have noticed is the mega church’s seem to do a better job with sending missions to Africa and such other places, sponsoring children in other countries etc.

My wife’s church is a medium mega church and they do a lot work in Uganda sending food sponsoring schools paying to have well’s drilled.

We are a diverse family, I am Anglican my wife is non-denominational, my oldest son is going to become a Catholic priest :extrahappy: and my youngest son is agnostic. :rolleyes:

This experience you describe would be more appealing to me than the commercialized worship-service/concert description provided in the OP. While I’m not saying it would take the place of mass, I agree that there is something more sacred about contemplative prayer (as you described above) than there is about heart-tugging emotional music. I think this is so even if the latter is well performed, professionally presented, and enthusiastically consumed by sincerely seeking christians.

That being said, I like a good concert too, and the OP’s experiences sounded like “fun.” But I think it’s the equivalent of a spiritual big mac, as opposed to the banquet presented at a well celebrated mass, or even the hearty fare of a good Quaker meeting.

Peace,
Robert

I bet Thankgiving dinner at your house is a hoot. :thumbsup:

I would say that it’s their path. If it brings them closer to God, then I’m glad there are mega churches for them to attend.

Your friend
Sufjon

I think that would bother me less. By eschewing ALL exterior stimulus you are at least attempting to make a statement that God speaks softly and that He is HERE in our presence. That IS a type of transcendent experience and I can respect the thought process that leads to an architecture that would make that statement.

I don’t agree, mind you, that the exterior stimulus of a worship environment is useless at best and harmful at worst. As a catholic, I think we simply must discern which elements genuinely point towards God and which merely satisfy our appetites. Use more of the former and less of the latter.

Years and years ago, what you have written about this mega-church could easily be said about rock concerts. Well, except for the positive view of God.:rolleyes:

I’m not following you. It WAS a pop/rock concert, though offered as an extension/expression of evangelical ministry. What are you trying to say? That rock music as a type is inherently flawed as a form of musical expression. Please clarify.

I am saying that maybe some of these mega-churches have borrowed from Metalica’s playbook.

Metalica? I little harsh, don’t you think?

My brother in law’s church has a rock climbing wall. And a basketball court. Actually, come to think of it, it’s got nicer workout facilities than my gym!

I’m not a fan of ‘christian rock’, I don’t care how ‘rockin’ it is. That’s just me. In the immortal words of Hank Hill, ‘Rock and Roll doesn’t make Jesus cool. It just makes rock and roll bad.’ I know, I know, people love it. Then again, people love Clay Aiken. There’s no accounting for taste these days…

Maybe I spent too much of my youth getting wasted at rock concerts so that I can’t appreciate it outside of the old-school context? I went to my brother in law’s concert at his church. It just made me want to have a cigarette and a vodka-tonic. :shrug:

Not if you LIKE metallica…at least when I was still going to concerts, they put on a GREAT show. :thumbsup: That was back when they were all alcoholics, though…not sure if they’ve gotten better or worse since they cleaned up.

“I went to my brother in law’s concert at his church. It just made me want to have a cigarette and a vodka-tonic.”

:smiley:

Pantera? Cycle Sluts from Hell?:smiley:

The megachurch bug doesn’t just affect nondenominational circles. The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod has its fair share of seeker sensitive problem childs.

Examples:

King of Kings (Lutheran?) Church right here in my hometown of Omaha is an LCMS megachurch. For instance, here is a drama dubbed to Everything by the group Lifehouse performed during Easter in 2008 I found on YouTube. youtube.com/watch?v=bzS7k-IQxWo

Second, LakePointe (Lutheran?) Church in Arkansas has been a more recent example of the Synod losing its Confessional identity us Orthodox Lutherans have been complaining about for a while now :slight_smile:

youtube.com/watch?v=jcIKFP_hsw8

Take the first two examples in contrast to Grace Lutheran Church in Tulsa, OK:

youtube.com/watch?v=6qo0V57INpA&feature=fvw

It’s not just the mega church, it’s practically all of the newly built churches. There are two new (built since 2000) Baptist churches in my community. Each will seat about 500 people and each of them is built more like a concert hall than a church. There are no more hymnals; all the songs are projected on to their big screens. No stained glass windows. I’m not sure why but I think it has more to do with their cost than any stylistic choice. Both these churches have crosses but you have to look for them because they have been integrated into the structural architecture of the buildings. As for altars, forget it. Evangelical churches never had them. Huge foyers are also common in the new church architecture. I haven’t seen any food courts but these are good gathering places. They also are nice for social events such as receptions. Don’t come to one of these churches expecting a quiet contemplative worship experience, because it will be a loud demonstrative experience instead.

If I can take a step back to my days across the Tiber.
“Mega-Churches” are a current fad. After a while people tire of the music (Christian ‘rock’: SCREAM, SCREAM, SCREAM Jesus SCREAM, SCREAM, SCREAM;)). They also tire of the “seeker-friendly” preaching (Most MC preachers are dull as dust).
The real damage is done to small Protestant congregations who lose members to MCs. They cannot compete, nor can they afford to compete, with the smoke and mirrors.
Even though I am Catholic now, I truly feel sorry for those mainline churches that are being eaten up by these MCs.
Entertainment is not spirituality.

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