I was reading a recent report on church growth. This particular report, by Scott Thumma of Hartford Institute for Religion Research and Warren Bird of Leadership Network, examines the previously understudied phenomenon called “Megachurches.” Their definition of megachurch is “a very large Protestant church of 2,000 or more weekly attenders.” I can see how Cable Church missed out on being a part of that survey, yet there are several such churches in our metro-area. Thus my interest in the report.
Some of the highlights of that report I had already known. For example, young and single adults are more likely to be in megachurches than in smaller churches. (Just look around many of your older, traditional churches and you’ll notice the absence of young and single adults.) Next, nearly two-thirds of attenders have been at these churches 5 years or less. (Because many – I believe – if not most, of those megachurches are themselves newer than five years in existence.) Finally, among many other points, many attenders come from other churches… This is the point I wish to focus on for the remainder of my column.
The report notes a long-standing criticism of megachurches: That they are experiencing growth at the expense of smaller, more traditional churches. The critique being that the net growth of believers remains about the same every year, and the amazing growth experienced in the largest congregations is happening not through new converts to Christ but through church transfers. Overall, this report found that charge against megachurches to be true. “… roughly 6% of [megachurch] attenders said they never attended any church before. The national data on all sizes of churches claimed 5% of attenders were formerly unchurched.”
Another interesting section of that report focused on church attendee loyalties:
“There was a time when church participants were members of only one congregation. Switching, when it occurred, happened serially – a person moved loyalty and participation (and hopefully official membership if church rolls were being well maintained) from one church to the next. This may no longer be true for all congregations’ attenders but it is certainly no longer descriptive of many megachurch attenders.
When megachurch participants were asked if they considered this church their “church home,” just three quarters said this was their only home church. Eleven percent of those in the pews didn’t consider this their home church (yet only 7% said they were visiting). Likewise, 12% claimed the megachurch as “home” but said they also attended other churches as well. Therefore, almost a quarter of those in worship any weekend have divided loyalties to the church they are in. ?These divided loyalties make a considerable difference in how committed the attenders are. If attenders have a church home other than the one they attended for the survey or claim to have multiple homes, they are far less likely to attend, give, volunteer or invite others than do those who say this congregation is their only church home.”
So what does all of that mean to Cable Community Church?
First, and you already know this, we can’t judge a book (or a church) by it’s cover. Those churches with multiple Sunday services and overflowing parking lots may or may not be actually increasing the Kingdom of God. We dare not allow their perceived “success” cause us to shrink back from our calling to minister to the communities and workplaces wherein God has planted each of us.
Secondly, each of us needs to rededicate ourselves to the ministry of the local church. If you’ve been tempted to call one church your “home church” while “shopping” around on Sundays for other ministry experiences at other churches – Don’t! Your church body needs you! We need you to attend, to give and to invite others. We need you to pray about your ministry skills and “plug-in” to the ministry that best fits your skill-set. And if that particular ministry doesn’t exist within our local body, perhaps God is asking you to spear-head the creation of that particular ministry.
As your pastor, when I pray for Cable Church, my desire isn’t necessarily that we might become the megachurch of Mercer County (or even the Quad City area.) I’ve never been focused that way on size and numbers. Instead, my prayer is that each one — EACH ONE — who belongs to Cable Church is growing in Christlikeness. That sort of growth involves maturing in our orthodoxy (right thinking) as well as our orthopraxis (right living.) May we all grow in each of those as we experience God together.
Praying for the church,