I may have to eat some serious crow.
Several years ago I made the observation that we were entering a time when the rise of mega churches would begin to decline. I have to back off of that observation. The picture is shaping up quit differently than I thought it would. The mega church trend doesn’t seem to have slowed a bit. According to Church Growth Today research, an average of two new non-Catholic megachurches emerge every two days in the nation. Not only that, mega churches continue to grow larger. Once a church gets over five thousand in worship its growth seems to escalate. So a helping of crow is in order.
I made this observation based on several things: one, studies seem to indicate that people prefer a church of around 250 people; I hadn’t considered the multi site option; and from all I read it seemed to me that people under 35 would have a hard time supporting large mega churches. But I keep running into mega churches who are reaching primarily people under the age of 35, churches like Mars Hill in Seattle and Bay Area Fellowship in Corpus Christi (where I attend). I could list more but you get the picture. Couple this with the explosion of the multi site option and the picture isn’t at all what I expected.
However, I’m not the only one who needs to eat crow. Take our latest book for example that is scheduled to come out in April of this year – Go Big: How to Have Explosive Growth. The first publisher we pitched it to refused it because it was not line with the prevailing thought of the time – namely that the emerging church is going to be small and so different from what we know today that it will be hard to recognize. If you look at the publications today, most of them are very anti mega church.Yet large, indigenous churches continue to show up all over the map. Only ten states are void of a mega church. Me thinks that publisher might want a plate of crow also.
Of course I could push away from my plate of crow and say that it’s just going to take a bit longer for the mega church to go away. But I’ve been thinking that now for several years. It may be true that the future does not bode well for the mega church, but for now and the next twenty years or so, it seems that the mega church is here to stay. And since most of us don’t want to wait that long to do effective ministry we better start thinking about size again.
But that’s not all of the picture.
At the same time the mega church is growing larger, medium range mega churches (2,000-4,000 in worship) seem to be stalling out. Many of their flock are now found in the much larger mega church – small mega churches seem to be good hunting grounds for larger mega churches.
On the other hand, we are noticing the emergence of a whole new breed of urthriving, mission minded, smaller congregations (under 600 in worship), most of which are under the radar. We wrote about some of them in book Under the Radar.
So my guess is that like most things in the post modern world over the next twenty years we will find a both/and picture begin to shape up rather than either/or– both mega church and emerging church.
Did you notice what isn’t in the picture? One thing I know I won’t have to eat crow over is this statement – the days are extremely numbered for the traditional, European church. The free fall they are now in will only tend to escalate as we reach the aga mesa. I know. This prediction runs counter to all the denominational gurus such as Roozed and Mieman in their new book, Church, Identity, and Change in which they say denominations are declining, they are just morphing into something new. Hmmmmmm.
So what are the implications?
- Many of the present mega churches will be downsized due to the squeeze from the very large mega church.
- Most of the smaller, established churches today will close even though over the past century they have remained resilent due to the handoff from one generation to another. Now there is no generation interested in taking the handoff. Postmodernity has seen to that.
- The emerging postmodern small church is in for a very bright but volitile future. Volitile because the people it will atract are innovation junkies and will become bored the moment the small church becomes more like an institution than a movement and prefers stability over innovation. Also volitale if it becomes so large that it loses its intimacy and close proximity of the pastor to the congregation.
- Churches over 10,000 in worship will become more influential than all of the denominations rolled into one.
What does all of this mean? It means that:
· If I were a student I wouldn’t go to a denominational seminary. Instead I would hire on at a church planting church or multi site church and learn how innovative churches do ministry and go out from there.
· If I were under the age of 45, I would be very careful what I hitched my wagon to.
· If I were pastor of a traditional church betwee 600 and 2,000 in worship, I would be very nervous if I planned on staying there twenty years.
· The multi-site church is the primary church of the future. Estimates are there are between 1,000 and 2,000 such churches and their number will outstripe the mega movement.
· You should never listen to someone who is making predictions.
Now back to my plate of crow. Hmmmm. Good.