"MEGACHURCH ASSOCIATION of AMERICA"
-by Frank Chase.
Megachurch Association of America, 1950 Slippery Slope Drive,
Bald Tyre, California 92630.
We, the leaders of the modern phenomenon known as the church
growth movement or megachurch movement, wish to correspond
with the leaders of the past, namely the Old Testament prophets,
Jesus Christ, the apostles, the reformers and the revivalists, about
some differences between your methods and ours that are becoming
increasingly apparent. We cannot help but acknowledge that you
did a commendable job in advancing our heavenly Fathers Kingdom.
We are especially inclined to admire your accomplishments given
that you labored under such difficult circumstances and without
the knowledge of our modern methods. How you built such great
and enduring walls for the King without the contemporary straw
and mortar that we find so helpful is a puzzling mystery to us.
Our motivation in writing to you is twofold. First, we would like to
obtain your official blessing on our new methods. We are sure that
you already approve of them and perhaps are envious of our great
success as you sit in glory watching us reap a tremendous harvest
for the Kingdom of God. However, we feel that an official sanction
from the leaders of the past is warranted. Second, we have spent
many months examining your methods, and we feel that in light of
our modern advances a few of the numerous mistakes and errors
that you unfortunately fell into must be pointed out.
We do not consider ourselves superior to you. It is only by our
methodology that we have surpassed you older saints. By the
providence of God, we were born on the cusp of this progressive
and superior methodology. While we greatly respect the methods
employed 2000 years ago by our Savior, Jesus Christ, we flatly
reject the use of His methods in todays culture. We desire our
ministries to glorify Jesus, not necessarily by following His example
or by using His methods, but, instead, by reaping a large harvest
for Him using our contemporary methods. Our hearts overflow with
thanks to God who has graciously shown us a better way to live
and minister in these turbulent times.
It cannot be denied that ours is an important movement in the
annals of church history. In 1970 there were only 10 megachurches
in America. Today there are over 800 such churches. Last year
brother Bill Hybels in Illinois had over 100,000 church leaders
attending his church growth seminars while brother Rick Warren
(of Purpose-Driven Life fame) had 250,000 leaders attend his
seminars. Please note also that our dear brother Joel Osteen at
Lakewood Church in Texas is soon projected to have 30,000 in
weekly church attendance.
We have managed to grow our churches aggressively, by the grace
of God, in an era of declining church interest and blossoming
secularization. We could not have achieved such success without
much help from those who came immediately before us. More
about them will be discussed later.
Our movement has been dubbed the seeker-friendly movement.
This title sums up our criticism of the ministries of all those to
whom this letter is addressed.
As we read the Bible looking for corroboration of our methods, we
have to conclude that God is doing a new thing among us. One of
our brothers the Pastor of Greater Arts in Rick Warrens
megachurch, was recently quoted in a newspaper saying, Dont
forget, Christ used user-friendly language. He spoke to his followers
in parables (The Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 30, 2003). We
thought this idea might serve as some type of Biblical precedent
for our approach of broad appeal and inclusivity. Then someone
pointed out that in the 13th chapter of Matthew, Jesus stated that
the reason He spoke in parables was so that people might hear
Him, yet not understand Him. This idea sent our search for Biblical
justification back to square one. Therefore, we must conclude that
there is no Biblical precedent for what we are doing. Nevertheless,
we know that our methods are right, and we will boldly let our rising
numbers speak for themselves. Hence, pragmatism remains our
chief principle: if it appears to work, it must be right.
It is evident to us that in todays culture your archaic methods
could never produce the results that we have achieved. We cannot
bear the thought of proclaiming to this generation words such as
the following spoken by Isaiah:
"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your
sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be
red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient,
ye shall eat of the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye
shall be devoured with the sword." (Is 1:1820)
The above verses violate another one of our key principles: we never
imply that someone is guilty of sin. After all, it is the Holy Ghosts
job to bring about conviction of sin. Since the Holy Ghost convicts
of sin so rarely in our churches, it would be highly presumptuous
for us to take upon ourselves this role.
We have uncovered many of our guiding principles through the use
of modern marketing techniques that have confirmed that unchurched
people and backsliders are offended at direct and plain speech
such as Isaiahs above.
Gods ministers must not make anyone feel uncomfortable. We
want people to have fun in church. We do not want the atmosphere
to be unfriendly or offensive. Neither doctrines nor Biblical standards
have ever saved anyone, but church involvement has led many
people to the Lord for salvation. We have, therefore, made the wise
decision to sacrifice the better for the best in doing away with all
doctrines or Biblical standards that would seem to inhibit church growth.
For example, take the Biblical view of the self. The Bible teaches
that we should esteem others as better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3).
You men of old, whether from Bible times or from later centuries,
uniformly thought of yourselves as mere dust before an infinite and
holy God. The modern theory of self-esteem, which has become
highly popular in the church over the past 40 years, has no place
in Scripture. Neither is there any evidence in church history of
such a notion. Yet the idea that one must have a positive self-
image in order to be happy and healthy has so permeated the
church that one would be considered mad if he were to question it.
Even though this idea has no basis in Scripture, no basis in church
history, and you men of old believed the exact opposite of this
modern doctrine, we gladly embrace it since the notion of positive
self-esteem has such power to attract people to our churches.
How repulsive to the unchurched would Ezekiels words be today
Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that
were not good, and shall clothe yourselves in your own sight for
your iniquities and for your abominations (Ezek. 32:31)?
As you can see, we are committed to removing anything from the
church that has the potential to injure a sinners self-esteem. Our
beloved brother, Robert Schuller, who served as a keynote speaker
at the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) last year and
who was a pioneer in helping develop our philosophy of ministry,
has represented our position well when he said, I dont think
anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the
banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human
personality and, hence, counterproductive to the evangelism
enterprise than the often crude, uncouth, and unchristian strategy
of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful
condition (Christianity Today, Oct. 5, 1984).
In addition to removing anything offensive, we have added
numerous things to the life of the church that are very attractive to
the carnal mind of the lost. A notable newspaper summarized our
approach with the following:
"Gone are traditional religious dogmas, rituals, and symbols,
replaced by uplifting songs and sermons. Congregants are taught
that through God they are victors, not victims. The
messages are encouraging and easy to swallow, and no one is
called a sinner. Its Jesus meets the power of positive thinking
Theres none of that old-time religion; none of that hell-and-
damnation, fire-and-brimstone preaching
The idea is to be
inclusive and inoffensive
Pastor Joel Osteens sermon [was]
given like a motivational speech
Theres no talk of controversial
subjects, such as abortion or homosexuality
megachurches] have more of a rock concert feel
been replaced by electric guitars, hymns with rock-and-roll tunes.
Nowhere is there a cross or a candle, and the language is
contemporary, with not a thee or a thou
Worked into a frenzy
by the 10 piece [rock] band and 300-member choir, dozens of
slick music videos and, yes, the wave, congregants were
enraptured." (The Christian ScienceMonitor, Dec. 30, 2003)
Compare the above description to accounts of Jonathan Edwards
infamous and shameful sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry
God. We cannot countenance such preaching as this,
"The devils watch them [the unchurched]; they are ever by them at
their right hand; they stand waiting for them, like greedy hungry
lions that see their prey, and expect to have it, but are for the
present kept back. If God should withdraw his hand, by which they
are restrained, they would in one moment fly upon their poor souls.
The old serpent is gaping for them; hell opens its mouth wide to
receive them; and if God should permit it, they would be hastily
swallowed up and lost
The bow of Gods wrath is bent, and the
arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at
your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere
pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or
obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being
made drunk with your blood."
Under Edwards despicable, old-style preaching scores of people
were smitten by a glimpse of their lost and sinful condition to the
point of utter brokenness manifested by much weeping and wailing.
How this must have wrecked the congregants self-esteem, which,
undoubtedly, was already made fragile by his frequent use of
negative language. We are certain that Edwards often spoke of
human depravity, hell, the dangers of sin, the necessity of
repentance, and other such topics that have no place in our
messages. We are also certain that he never would have allowed
his congregants to perform the wave in church. Perhaps this is
one of the reasons his parishioners fired him. He was forced to
move his family to the wilderness village of Stockbridge,
Massachusetts, to pastor a congregation made up mainly of poor
Indians. As you can see, Edwards approach was certainly wrong.
We find that the converse of our chief principle is also true; if it
appears not to work, it must be wrong. Oh, what a triumph God is
working through us over the archaic methods of yesterday!
A striking difference between us and the Apostle Paul is his
seeming indifference to numerical success. He seemed content to
focus his ministry on building a pure bride, even if numerically
small. This evidently required that Paul have the battlefield mindset
of a soldier, which is much different than our own mindset. We
dislike the fact that he was always fighting and contending. A
variety of verbs are used to describe the ministries of Paul and
his associates in the book of Acts. They were ubiquitously found
disputing against, reasoning with, speaking boldly to, preaching to,
persuading, exhorting, declaring, and warning their hearers. We
believe that this kept them from entering into peace and rest such
as we have. We believe that by not fighting with the world, we have
discovered the green pastures and still waters about which the
Lord spoke in the Psalms. It is not surprising to us that Pauls
polemical ministry caused him to spend a great deal of time in
prison. Perhaps God was trying to speak to him there about
changing his methods.
We could write for many more pages about the deficiencies of
those who ministered before AD 1950. Certainly the reformers
such as Tyndale and Luther were wrong in their approach in the
1500s. John Bunyan was obviously off track since his dogmatism
caused him to be locked up in the Bedford jail for over a decade in
the 1600s. We condemn the offensive manner in which the likes of
George Whitefield, John Wesley, and scores of other fanatics
preached repentance in the open air to the unchurched in the
1700s. Perhaps the worst example of such old-style fanaticism
was exhibited by William and Catherine Booth, the founders of the
Salvation Army, in the 1800s. It gives us pangs of nausea when we
contemplate the shameful and embarrassing tactics that those
here listed used in the name of our mild-mannered and gentle Jesus.
By looking at a description of Whitefields preaching. it is plain to
see the unchristian tone of his sermons. Bishop J.C. Ryle said
that Whitefield was perpetually telling you about your sins, your
heart, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, the absolute need of
repentance, faith, holiness
(Christian Leaders of the 18th
Century, by J.C. Ryle, p. 51). Let us look at another example.
Note the profusion of negative language in this excerpt from a John
"Thou ungodly one who hearest these words, thou vile, helpless,
miserable sinner, I charge thee before God, the judge of all, go
straight unto Jesus with all thy ungodliness
Go as altogether
ungodly, guilty, lost, destroyed deserving and dropping into hell
Plead thou singly the blood of the covenant, the ransom paid for
thy proud, stubborn, sinful soul." (Christian Leaders of the 18th
Century, by J.C. Ryle, p. 93)
And what were the effects of these unchristian methods on the
hearers? We could demonstrate our point using numerous
examples from the lives of the men listed above, but let us look at
one account from the journal of George Whitefield:
"Most were drowned in tears. The Word was sharper than a two-
edged sword. The bitter cries and groans were enough to pierce
the hardest heart. Some of the people were as pale as death;
others were wringing their hands; others lying on the ground;
others sinking into the arms of friends; and most lifting up their
eyes to Heaven and crying to God for mercy." (George Whitefield,
Vol. 1 by Arnold Dallimore, p. 487)
The damage done to the hearers, particularly to any unchurched
people that might have been present, can be clearly seen in
Whitefields own account... robbed of their self-esteem.
With such deleterious effects as these, it is no wonder that Luther,
Tyndale, Bunyan, Booth, the early Methodists, and many others
were so bitterly opposed by the more mature and pragmatic
church leaders of their day.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon