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Can Megachurches Be Missional?

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By Ed Stetzer, CP Guest Columnist
September 19, 2011|5:42 pm

Can megachurches be missional? Well, it depends on who you ask.

I've had this conversation many times – it seems that many think that you are a mindless automaton if you attend a megachurch – a mindless consumer, unengaged in mission.

People think this was because, well, it is true at times. I do have some concerns about some megachurches-- when it is all about the preacher and all about the weekend, I am concerned. You should be too.

Yet, I also think that there are megachurches that are indeed seeking to be missional. I have written about it in Outreach Magazine and had a video debate about it with David Fitch in parts 1, 2, and 3.

Will it be hard? Yes, it always is. However, the "bigness" of the megachurch makes it harder. In a megachurch, it is easy to come for the show but not connect with others and serve. Last Sunday, I preached at James River Assembly of God in Springfield, MO on this very topic-- how to move people from sitting in rows, to sitting in circles, to provoking one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24), to living as agents of God's mission. Yet, James River is leading its over ten thousand regular attendees to be in small community and live as agents of God's mission.

I taught the James River Life Group leaders on Saturday with a new seminar I am almost finished developing for megachurch pastors, staff, and key leaders to help engage their whole church in missions-- to move people from being passive spectators to active participants in the mission of God. It is almost done, and I will share the final product with the megachurch pastors of the Vineyard Church in a forthcoming meeting this November.

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I am excited about what God is doing in many megachurches, but I also know that not everyone is. Just BEING a megachurch will get you a bad reputation in many places.

Furthermore, many predict the demise of the megachurch, but that is a prediction driven by a lack of information. The number and size of megachurches is increasing.

As an aside, I think that the megachurch is a growing trend and the house church is also a growing trend-- at the same time. For what it is worth, I am excited about both. God has used the megachurch to reach Korea and the house church to reach China. Let's hold our models loosely and our Jesus firmly.

At LifeWay Research we love both small and large churches. My last article in Outreach Magazine was called, "Small is the Kingdom Big." But, today, we look at how God is at work in larger churches. I'm thankful for both.

In this month's Outreach Magazine, I have an article about some applicable principles that we found in our recent research into the largest and fastest growing churches.

The full issue is here. Below are some excerpts:

Based on our findings, we identified four specific action points for some large and growing churches. Some will relate to all churches, some will relate only to large churches, but either way I hope you find them helpful and rejoice with these churches.

1. Develop On-Ramps for Potential Leaders

Though some surmise that large or fast-growing churches have "outgrown their problems," we found that they are not immune. One challenge mentioned by a number of churches on our lists was the recruitment and training of leaders.

Chris Surratt, pastor of ministries at Cross Point Church in Nashville, Tenn., (No. 6 Fastest-Growing) noted that "raising up enough leaders to keep up with growth" was a major challenge, adding that through Cross Point's leadership pipeline, they encourage existing small group leaders to identify and mentor potential leaders within their groups. Surratt describes another "on-ramp for potential leaders": their use of periodic, open meetings for anyone interested in leading a group. "These meetings give people the opportunity to explore what it means to be a group leader," he says. "If they are still interested, we set up interviews and start the training process."

2. Know Why and How You're Going Multisite

A noticeable trend this year is that an overwhelming 75 of the 100 Largest churches in the survey are utilizing a multisite approach to ministry...

3. Becoming 'Smaller' Is Key to Healthy Growth

Pastors of the Fastest-Growing churches also realize the need for relationships both in the church and with the community. Senior Pastor Mark McClelland of Willowbrook Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., (No. 76 Fastest-Growing) notes, "As we get bigger, we have to get smaller." The way they do that is through small, biblical communities.

"Small groups are the way we encourage relationships between our members," McClelland says. "Willowbrook emphasizes intimacy with God, the big group (worship), the small group, and individual accountability." To reach the community, all of Willowbrook's small groups are encouraged to "find a way to serve the city."

4. Find Ways to Model and Foster Community Engagement

River Valley Church's Rob Ketterling models the strategy of his Apple Valley, Minn., church for creating relationships with people in the community: He invites his neighbors. "My wife, my kids and I have lived in three different neighborhoods since we've been at River Valley," he says. "In a recent service, I was able to ask three different families to stand, one of which had been from each of the subdivisions where we have lived. Then I said to the church, 'We are modeling what we all need to be doing.'"...

You can read the whole article here. For more information on the Outreach 100 visit Outreachmagazine.com.

Adapted from Ed Stetzer's weblog at www.edstetzer.com.

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. Ed is Visiting Professor of Research and Missiology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and Visiting Research Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Ed blogs daily at EdStetzer.com.
 

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