Creative LeadershipEngaging Culture

The Primary Red Flag with Mega-Churches

I have no issue with mega-churches – many of them are my clients.  But my concern is not with size, but with values. The larger you grow, the more  utilitarian, compliant, standardized, and corporate you tend to become. Large organizations by their nature rely on templates, and have a more difficult time encouraging creativity, innovation, spontaneity, and tolerating mistakes.

My friend Erwin McManus, leader of Mosaic feels that larger churches often become about meeting their own needs, not empowering people to meet the needs of the world.  It’s hard to argue with.

Smaller organizations are often more nimble, react to change more quickly, and know how to innovate.  So if you’re a leader or member of a large church, never get so big as an organization that you cease to create, encourage spontaneity, innovate, and change.

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  1. Amen, Phil.

    Awhile ago I worked at a mega-church. Great pastor & people. But one of the downfalls to even greater success was the fellowship's inability to be innovative and spontaneous. Creativity was stifled. There was fear of risk. Innovation went through layers of leadership until a race horse became a 2 humped camel – the original idea was so severely tweaked it didn't look like the original after so many threw in their input.

    The other issue was decision-making. The process, mostly, came down to what the pastor thought. But because he was so busy – and with a burdensome speaking and travel schedule – decisions large and small often went weeks or months without an answer. Paralysis. Inertia.

    Your comment about smaller churches being more nimble might very well be on target. Simply because of their compact size and shorter threads of decision-making, these fellowships can respond to needs more quickly…and are fare more willing to try something new and innovative – because the risk is less.

  2. We've seen this first hand, unfortunately.  I believe the biggest casualty for the larger churches and for those trying to acquire mega status is its people.  There's this slow but surely shifting of focus that moves from ministering people to administering people (along with all the over head that comes with management technology, facilities, equipment, etc). Granted, we've seen some that have been able to pull it off, but its rare.

  3. The greatest concern I have with Churches as they get larger is that it is the nature of organizations as they grow larger to serve their own needs and to sacrifice individuals to that.

    I've seen some instances where that has been minimized through intentional leadership, but unless that vision is maintained, eventually there comes a time where due to a change in leadership or perhaps extraordinary needs and circumstances that vision dies and the organization enters the normal life-cycle of decline that Churches seem to generally follow.  The problem is that by the time people can read the signs and see the quantitative and qualitative decline, it's too late to change much. 

    The time to address the problem is before the curve starts down and few there are with the vision and wisdom to see it.

  4. I go to a big church and know what you mean. There are so many staffers "protecting" the pastor from the congregation that it has left him isolated. By "protecting" I mean they are limiting access to him so that no one else with a fresh idea can get through that there are things that can be done much better.

    Things just keep on being done the same old way because it is the path of least resistance. Sometimes the boat needs to be rocked to eject some of the dead wood from the staff. 

  5. Church has become so commercialized. With that comes all of the woes of running a business.  I wonder if pastors shouldn't be getting business degrees along with their theological training. I'm sure some do.

    This whole post sort of bleeds into another recent post of yours, Phil. The fact is, churches don't become "mega" overnight. By the time a church achieves its "mega" status, a select few individuals have exhausted a good bit of the blood, sweat, and tears to get there.  Enter the "newbie" who has fresh ideas that may save the mega church from the drudgery of template-surfing. Alas, no one wants to listen!

    To the corporate mind, creativity almost always threatens predictability… and there is a tremendous amount of perceived safety in predictability. Sigh.

    I'm not sure there is a solution. If you wanna own a pet skunk, there will be an odor. 

  6. I know that church, or rather one like it. The one where the senior leadership decided the senior pastor needn't be bothered with people. I watched the pastor wake up (sort of) realize he was out of touch with the congregation, embark upon a 3 month re-dreaming process to help him get back in touch, and then filter all those ideas back through the same staff that isolated him in the first place. He eventually resigned and left the pastorate.

  7. There is a large, respected church with a so-so tv ministry that hired a famous media consultant awhile back to come in and evaluate their media ministry. The consultant met with people from leadership to lower level, looked into what was working or not, checked the facilities, equipment, walked through the church and asked questions, etc. The consultant then went home and wrote a solid, detailed report of the good, bad and ugly. Made some professional recommendations, described what needed fixing, created a plan.

    A few key leaders made sure that report – in its original form – was never read by the pastor of the mega church. Because the report was critical and uncomplimentary of leadership…that management needed to make certain specific adjustments and that some ministry leaders were the cruz of the problems with tv & media.

    The leaders sanitized the report taking out the portions uncomplimentary to leadership (them). That cleansed report was what was handed to the pastor. Today, 3-4 years later, that tv ministry still struggles, off target,  a mere shadow of what it could be. Not hard to figure why.

  8. Sadly, there aren't a whole lot of positive comments about mega-churches listed. What about the mega-churches that make it work? Organizations where size hasn't stifled growth, creativity, and effectiveness to the world. Does a place like this exist? YES! It is right here in Chicago.  plenty of creativity that is on message and effective with an impact to the community and the world. what makes it tick? What is so different from all the other places.  How can they seem to get thousands of people in dozens of locations able to not only stay on message but stay creative and effective and actually have an impact on the world and do the one thing that is missing from all the posts about other places? Bring people back to God and build relationships with God. Isn't that what it is all about anyway? Have you heard of or seen the impact that Community Christian is having whilst being a mega church and getting more mega every day/month/year? 


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