The Market Driven Mega Church and its Mission to Accommodate the Un-Churched
Religion’s influence upon man has always been one of great significance. Even before man could document his own history, religion was a part of his life. As with all religions there are various religious rituals and ceremonies that must be performed in accordance with religious doctrine. Up until the 4th century, Christianity had been practiced through secret meetings in caves and alongside river banks amongst its followers. However, after becoming decriminalized by the Romans and made the official state religion of Rome; Christianity has since flourished throughout the world. On any given Sunday in America, you can find great amounts of people attending church services at their respective places of worship. Many church services of varying denominations are held in a variety of venues, but the mega church is becoming increasingly popular and can be described as more of a phenomenon. Reportedly raking in over $8.5 billion a year, mega churches have become impressive forces not only in religion but in business as well. Nevertheless, with great success comes great compromise. The mega church has become more focused on treating those seeking a closer relationship with God more like consumers than lost souls. The marketability, branding, and celebrity of the mega church and all personalities associated with it have become more significant than the teachings of Jesus.
First, know that a mega church is a church that has a minimum of 2,000 or more participants for a weekly service with some churches topping 50,000 plus. Most churches within the mega church movement are primarily identified as being Protestant, Evangelical, or Pentecostal; but half within the United States are considered non-denominational. Although the Roman Catholic Church has a great abundance of churches with 2,000 to 3,000 parishioners, the Catholic Church is not considered to be a part of the mega church phenomenon. Historians trace the beginnings of the mega church movement in the United States back to the early 1950′s. In 1970, there were considered to be only 50 mega churches. Today there are more than 1,300 mega churches just within the U.S. In 2005, California led the nation with 178 of them, followed by 157 in Texas and 85 in Florida, according to the book Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn From America’s Largest Churches (Bogan, J., 2009).
Also, the methodology of the mega church has also evolved into something starkly different from the traditional church. Often times referred to and known as “seeker churches,” many mega churches focus solely on accommodating primarily to new Christians and religious seekers, rather than to Christians who are already attending services. Convenience and ease of use are generally the key factors in accommodating most church members. Mega church leadership continually seeks to create activities and programs which will attract the masses. It is safe to say that many mega churches are market driven and user friendly because every detail down to which type of songs will be sung and the type of music that will be played is tailored to seeking and retaining new membership. You would be very hard pressed to find any mega church’s choir or current membership singing “I’ll Fly Away” or “Jesus is Real” at any of the many conveniently scheduled services. Many hire and retain the services of professional musicians and songwriting teams to construct generic, easy to digest song catalogs for church use during services. Not only does the consumer get to sing fresh and catchy songs, but also those same songs can be recorded and sold to the public. Being able to offer a seemingly unique experience is a major objective of the mega church.
The target and mission of the mega church is to reach the un-churched and not the unsaved. Its focus is more on the consumer’s mentality than the consumer’s heart and the actual teachings of Jesus. Marketing has become so important to the mega church that anything that can be perceived as inconvenient to the consumer has to be removed. The overall aesthetic of the mega church starting with the entrance of the church to the pastor is all market driven. These churches utilize business marketing principles to “sell” the church program and accompanying related products to the masses. Actual salvation is just an afterthought if it is a thought at all. Just like a corporation, the mega church seeks to provide only a product that will meet the real or perceived needs of the consuming public and Jesus is not the real product. Entertainment is and has become the focal point with the religion trailing third to the pastor.
“If it takes a name-brand preacher to put butts in seats, so be it.”
Eddie Johnson – pastor
Cumberland Church | Nashville, TN.
Although vast armies of unpaid volunteers help in completing the day to day operations, pastors are responsible for the overall management of the mega church same as the traditional church but slightly different. The mega church pastor performs no weddings or funerals, makes no hospital visits, does no pastoral counseling, and does not partake in any outside speaking engagements without payment or as it is referred to in church circles as the “love offering.” Many have been such a success at branded themselves through authoring books, music CD’s, and celebrity mentoring that the pastors themselves have become more recognizable than the actual church he pastors. Numerous pastors name their ministries after themselves for branding purposes. Same as a corporate CEO, the mega church pastor is rarely seen amongst the people because his schedule rarely allows close fellowship with followers. Scores of pastors are full of information but lack practical interaction with those who believe and those who do not believe.
Cashing in on the marketability of the pastor, many mega churches have begun to franchise themselves into video venues. According to the article, “The Chick-fil-A Church” a video venue will have a local staff to produce live elements to its service—greetings, music, offerings—and a “campus pastor” who will occasionally preach. The actually pastor visits the franchised video venue occasionally, but most pastoral duties associated with that region’s congregation is the responsibility of the campus pastor.
In addition, numerous mega churches have been able to parlay its success into various business ventures. For example, World Changers Ministries operates a music studio, publishing house, computer graphic design suite and owns its own record label. The Potter’s House also has a record label as well as a daily talk show, a prison satellite network that broadcasts in 260 prisons and a twice-a-week Webcast. Lakewood Church owns and operates a local secular television station and New Light Christian Center has some type of ambiguous dealing with Light Commerce Credit Union which I suspect is either owned by the church or the actual Hilliard family (current membership is listed at 1,237 with assets of more than $2,028,000 with only three listed employees; no CEO or president).
“Today we’re getting ready to begin our journey toward the promised land of a new campus…”
Dr. Richard Jeffress – pastor
First Baptist Church | Dallas, TX.
Equally important, are those mega churches that choose to extravagantly upgrade facilities opposed to franchising. An illustration of this is First Baptist Church of Dallas. First introduced by Pastor Dr. Richard Jeffress in November of 2009, First Baptist recently broke the record for monies collected by a Protestant church by raising more than $115 million for the development of a brand new campus. According to Dr. Jeffress, before First Baptist’s enormous drive, the most that any Protestant church collected for a building project was $85 million. The church’s very ambitious project has reportedly become the largest church expansion program in modern history. Due to be completed by March 2013, First Baptist will have a 1.5 million-square-foot campus complete with a new 3,000-seat worship center, a six-floor education building, recreation areas, a sky bridge made of glass, a fountain and a parking garage. Initially costing $130 million, First Baptist leadership eventually lowered the cost to $115 million after modifying a few construction details.Do they have the mindset of “If you build it they will come!” or do they see the church building and it’s facilities as a launching pad that God can use to prepare and equip believers to reach their world more effectively with the Gospel of Christ and more effectively join God in the fulfillment of His Great Commission.
Rhetorically speaking, what does a $115 million dollar building do for people other than keep them comfortably air conditioned? What will happen after the construction is completed and the building opened will people suddenly seek the righteousness of Jesus and the salvation he promised because his teachings are taught in a building with a glass sky bridge? I doubt it. However, many of these mega churches subscribe to the “if you build it, they will come” philosophy and wound up struggling to maintain building costs and utilities bills. These buildings are not erected for the community, but are erected because of the churches need to compete with one another.
The Top 10 Largest Mega Churches in the United States
(by weekly attendance averages according to Forbes.com)
- Lakewood Church | Houston, TX.
- Second Baptist Church | Houston, TX.
- North Point Community Church | Atlanta, GA.
- Willow Creek Community Church | Chicago IL.
- LifeChurch.tv | Edmond, Ok.
- West Angeles Church of God in Christ | Los Angeles, Ca.
- Fellowship Church | Grapevine, TX.
- Saddleback Valley Community Church | Lake Forest, Ca.
- Calvary Chapel | Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
- The Potter’s House | Dallas, TX.
In conclusion, I see nothing of substance that any of these churches have to offer to the people, but feel good music, prosperity speeches, and wholesome family entertainment. Most of the pastors pick through the bible as if it were a buffet table only selecting what they want and leaving the rest. Others don’t actual speak biblical word as taught by Jesus himself. Joel Osteen openly admits that he thinks, “…people are not looking for theology” and he “…just wants people to feel good.” I’m not a biblical scholar, but I know enough about Jesus and his teachings to know that Jesus wasn’t a “feel good” teacher to his disciplines or listeners. If the mega church is for you, I say Godspeed on your journey. Just ensure that the home you choose is in fact teaching Jesus and not the paraphrased or diluted one.
America’s Biggest Megachurches
Jesse Bogan, 06.26.09
The Chick-fil-A Church How “video venues” are helping megachurches franchise.
By Andrew Park
Baptist Megachurch Commits $115 million for Massive Campus
Texas Monthly Magazine
“And on the Eighth Day, God Created Joel Osteen”