Whether a house church or megachurch, consumerism affects them all, according to pastors who have experiences in both and say it's time for churches to put aside their differences and work together.
In an Essential Church podcast released last week, Brady Boyd and Andrew Arndt, pastors at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado — a megachurch with contemporary worship and over 10,000 members — discussed the perils of big churches versus small churches with Glenn Packiam, who leads New Life's downtown campus which has a smaller congregation whose services are framed with liturgical elements.
The pastors discussed Francis Chan's much talked about remarks to Facebook employees about why in 2010 he left the megachurch he started, despite the fact that it was thriving by many accounts, drawing 5,000 people every Sunday. The model he had adopted did not encourage congregational participation and was also expensive to manage. He has since started a network 14 to 15 San Francisco-area house churches called We Are Church. Two pastors are assigned to each church and all are unpaid.
Arndt's previous ministry post was in a network of 20 Denver-area house churches called Bloom, which had some similarities to We Are Church. At Bloom they aim for a more deliberate discipleship model, aiming to do "Kingdom life" together, meeting twice a month in homes and once weekly for a worship gathering in the basement of a local Baptist church.
"Even we who made a self-conscious attempt to avoid the perils of consumerist Christianity could not avoid the perils of consumerist Christianity," said Arndt who recently joined the staff at New Life.
"I can't tell you how many staff meetings [we had] where we would say, 'Now, who's in so-in-so's house church?' And we'd kind of run down the list and go, 'Only six of those people actually come to our worship gathering on Sunday night. What are the other 30 doing, or the other 20 doing?"
He soon realized that the fight against consumerism exists no matter where one goes to church.
Boyd, who has served as the senior pastor at New Life since 2007, concurred, noting that there's no escaping the consumerist tendency, as it's a human problem.
"Pastors are prone to measuring the wrong metrics," Boyd said, nothing that it's impossible to measure everything as so much of the work of Jesus is "hidden."
When New Life puts on an event and thousands of people flood into the building "it feeds a part of my soul that's not good for me. It's not good for my humanity and it's certainly not good for my discipleship," he added.
"Having the building full of people is not the end goal."
Boyd went on to say that pastors can often feel this "moment of success" that feeds their egos in an unhealthy way when a lot of people are in a room collectively, and megachurches in particular are prone to having events and "the big thing."
He recounted that he once hosted a comedian who had come in town and tickets for the event were sold out. Around that same time he had two nights of prophetic prayer ministry and around 800 people attended. The prayer ministry was free, whereas they had to pay to come see the comedian, he noted. The point being, filling the building is not the point.
As the same time, he said, "I think we're way too controlling of the process when we need to trust our congregation to not be consumers."
Boyd also emphasized the importance of establishing connection points so people can serve.
Arndt mentioned that at Bloom they wrestled against the "hubris" that came with doing church unconventionally; they fought the notion that they were somehow the most authentic expression of the faith.
"We had to say, 'Hey guys, there's actually only one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and we're sort of part of it with all of our flaws too. So let's stop with the 'What if we were the first Christians kind of thing.' And let's stop with all of that language.'"
They also had to learn to stop viewing the megachurch as this evil thing, he added.
At Bloom they liked to say they were "lightweight and low maintenance." And then one day we realized that such a phrase had become an excuse to not do the things that genuinely help people.
Packiam's downtown campus of New Life Church originally catered to disaffected evangelicals, some of whom thought of themselves as "proud post-evangelicals" who were tired of the seemingly endless number of church programs.
But then his church grew, and it changed to meet new needs.
"This is tension is every church: the tension between simplicity and hospitality," Packiam said.
"There's a point at which simplicity becomes inhospitable, and you're not really prepared for new people," and not prepared to help them, he said.
None of these struggles are particularly new, the pastors concluded at the end of the episode, recalling how when Peter preached in the Upper Room in the book of Acts, lots of people received Christ. When that happened, they were beset with administration and organizational issues and other things they hadn't had to deal with before, they noted.
"I think there's a lot of self-righteous behavior in the Church, and I think we're coming to a good place in American culture where we had better start working together or we are going to die alone," Boyd said.
"And the Church had better start finding common ground."