Over the years, Craig Olson witnessed many problems with the church. But the straw that really broke the camel’s back for him was when his wife committed adultery, and began living with the man she left her husband for and attending Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill. He claims that she was able to go to the megachurch and “not be challenged in any way” for her actions.
This incident, and many like it, led Olson to stop attending church with no intention of going back, unless “they change enough to care for people.”
Out of Olson’s disillusionment with the church comes the recent release of his book, The Casual Christian. He tackles some of the problems he sees with the modern day church. He says a lot can be learned from the first century mindset early Christians had.
The biggest problem he sees with the modern approach to the church is the “lack of community." Most people, if they have a problem, “don’t go to church, they go to their friends,” said Olson.
Megachurches typically have different small groups or programs where people can get involved to keep them from getting lost in the crowd. But Olson believes this only adds to the impersonal level of modern churches, saying, “Ministry in the Bible was never part of an institution.”
Regardless of Olson’s concerns, megachurches are growing. Good, a statistical research company, recently reported, “Churches with between 10,000 to 15,000 people attending grew by 100 percent in 2009.”
Olson contended that megachurches don’t really spell growth in church or faith. “It’s not expanding the kingdom of God, it’s reshuffling the deck,” he argued. About 50 churches close across America every week, he noted.
His views stand in contrast with what Dave Holden, global training pastor at Saddleback Church in Southern California, highlighted earlier to The Christian Post. Holden stressed that much of the success involving megachurches is not simply in the numbers but in the new people they’re reaching for Christ. “Megachurches specialize in reaching new people and not attracting existing Christians,” he said.
Calls to Willow Creek Community Church, meanwhile, were not returned by press time.
Olson, nevertheless, believes churches need outside accountability. They also need to recognize that “it’s not about programs or promoting the church, it’s about looking inwards and rebuilding the community.” His website is one tool he says can help do that. It’s “for evangelism,” he asserts. It’s about giving people the tools to share their faith by utilizing their church website and providing answers to people.
Olson’s vision for the church is to create a sustainable church that grows believers and doesn’t just count bodies. He says the early church is really the best example – people were drawn to them by love and not “by marketing.”