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I know a number of people who attend these kinds of churches. I think one of the things that makes them successful is that many of them have a lot of small "home church" groups of 20-30 people that meet for bible study, Sunday School and other small group activities. Just as Sunday worship is only one part of the Mormon experience, so it is with the megachurches.

My brother and his wife mostly stopped going to their megachurch not because it was so big and impersonal, but because they got so sick of the constant harping on sin. They didn't expect to be patted on the back all the time, but they were looking for some Good News (He is Risen!), and all they got was bad news (You're Going to Hell!). I think the change was hard on my SIL, though, because she had a weekly women's Bible study she attended with about 15 other women and it was a really good experience for her. She didn't feel she could do one without the other, though.

Slate had a series some years back about mega-churches (the buildings) and I'm pretty sure had a picture of the LDS Conference center as an example. Am I misremembering something?

Whoops. Missed the "weekly" bit. Although our wardhouse probably has close to 1200 when you include all the wards that meet there.

The small study groups in mega-churches really seem to fit well with basic organizational dynamics. The closest thing we have is home teaching, but in practice it doesn't support emergent organizing. Of course the supporting emergent structures is really hard to balance with tight organizational structures. The early church could do it because of the new tensions into which it was expanding.

On the mega-church side focusing the encouraged emergence of a 2000+ group is quite a challenge. You really need a strong brand identity or equivalently distinct vision/mission. Also, you have to figure out how to handle the natural tendencies to prevent "free-loaders". Once you get a strong group dynamic going, people's natural progression is to distinguish the truly committed from those that just enjoy the scene.

A recent book I just finished "The Big Sort" discusses the history of the Megachurch - as part of its discussion regarding the polarization of American society in the last few decades. A very interesting read, with lots of juicy statistics but a good narrative. Highly Recommended.

The book laid out the following history
* in 1920s India Protestant Missionary mcGavran notices that most successful efforts are not to create a separate society of Christians, but to go to a tightly knit community, convert one and have him go back to his family/friends.
* PM comes back to the US and shares ideas. Published book in 1955"The Bridges of God." Is thoroughly reviled.
* After a long slog, PM is given a post at Fuller theological seminary in Pasadena as professor of church growth - somemtime in the 1970s.
* Meanwhile - traditional churches - methodist, presbyterian etc declining.
* Nobody really pays attention until the late seventies - early 80s - Crystal Catherdral and Saddleback church formed. They can go to church with people LIKE them - not just neighbors. (notice this is in so cal - particularly Orange County - which in the 1970s and 1980s is a polarizing and is very conservative.
*

Thanks for the comment, Jay. I've heard a lot about The Big Sort on the radio -- it's getting everybody's attention.

Willow Creek is in my ward boundaries. It's an interesting place. I've been to services there, and it's a lot like a taping of the Tonight Show, which I don't mean as a knock. It really is an enjoyable experience to attend. As I understand it, they did all sorts of market research to figure out what people wanted in a church, and then set about to create that church.

They are also very anti-Mormon, which I can't figure out, since Mormons are no threat to them whatsoever.

Even though they have five-figure attendance every weekend, they have like 90 different ministries appealing to every possible interest. Like working on cars? There's a ministry for that.

I once went to a gig the local missionaries worked out where we talked about the Church to a sort of adult early morning seminary group, that met from 6-8 a.m. every Wednesday morning. The elder who worked this out gave a very good hour-long presentation on the AoF, and then I took questions for an hour. It was a lot of fun. And the Associate Pastor gave me a very nice compliment: he told me I was by far the most knowledgeable Mormon he had ever encountered. (Or maybe that was a dig at Mormons in general--I'm not sure.)

I think part of the popularity is because they meet the WANTS of the congregation, not the NEEDS. Some are just one entertainment, one step removed from a rock show.. with the added bonus that you can feel good about yourself for attending Church that week.

My personal opinion, based on one near my home.

A reading of the first couple of chapters of Acts will show that the early church was indeed a mega-church as it grew by the thousands every week. It would have continued to grow even larger as one body if it had not been for persecution

I don't at all think that mega-churches are the only way to have church, I also don't think they are all bad. I've actually experienced the greatest and healthiest amount of Christian community in my life since joining a small group at a mega church (small group 14, church 6,000).

It should be noted that there are all kinds of mega churches just as there are all kinds of small churches. There are ego-driven pastors in mega churches and there are ego-driven pastors in small churches. Also some of the largest mega churches are a part of denominations. Saddleback Church for instance is Southern Baptist. The largest church in the world is a Presbyterian Korean church (don't tell me the Presbyterians don't have institutional structure).

Christopher over at the JI had a post awhile back looking at similarities between Mormon architecture and megachurches. Worth checking out, and there's some good stuff in the comments too.

I joined Saddleback Church before I re-joined the Mormon Church. It was a wonderful setting for Christian worship. Rumors are that 20,000 attend per weekend.

Pastor Rick Warren started the church but lives off of royalties from his book sales. He says he reverse tithes, that is lives on 10% of the income from his books and tithes 90% and btw, he has paid back every cent he was ever paid by the church!

The large setting can be impersonal so they created “small groups” with a variety of different focuses for you to become involved in and to do Bible study. One and a half hour feel good worship service per week, your choice of meeting days & times, your choice of music venues. What’s not to like?

Kevin addressed wants vs. needs. From a marketing standpoint they have done their homework with respect to wants. I think they are to be congratulated for that because they get people to church that otherwise would not go.

With regard to needs, they offer more practical nuts every day life advice than I typically encounter during a Mormon service and they offer Christianity but not exaltation.

Mormons of course, church by geography. Bishops and SPs receive inspiration and revelation for the people within their geographic boundaries. Wards create communities like small towns used to be and members look out for each other’s kids.

I don’t think it is likely to change but Stake sized meetings could be improved by studying what the mega churches have done with respect to music, screen projected lyrics and being able to see and hear from any seat in the house.

Thanks for the details about Saddleback, Howard. And it's nice to have you back.

In response to David G. statement:

"I don’t think it is likely to change but Stake sized meetings could be improved by studying what the mega churches have done with respect to music, screen projected lyrics and being able to see and hear from any seat in the house."

I have to say, one of the (relatively few) things I miss about living in Provo is having Stake Conference in the Provo Tabernacle. With seating for about 2500, it's never over-crowded for Stake Conference, no-one is more than about 50-60 feet away from the speaker, no-one has to sit on a hard metal chair under a basketball hoop, and everyone can participate in singing (i.e. everyone can hear the organ and each other - in my local Stake Center, you can't hear the organ past the 4th or 5th row of the cultural hall - the people who get stuck in the back don't/can't participate). The building is sort-of megachurch-ish, but still feels like a "church." You don't need to project lyrics if everyone has a copy in hand, although, interestingly enough, they project the hymn lyrics in the Conference Center for General Conference. My point is, even a large Mormon meeting really is improved by holding it in a large church where everyone is in close proximity to the rostrum area. (Just using a large space doesn't necessarily improve things: we sometimes have Stake Conference in strange places like a basketball arena or an indoor football stadium - everyone can fit and see the speaker, but it's just not "church.")

Don't even get me started on the marketing, seeker-sensitive, mega-church mentality . . .

Where is the passion for holiness and exaltation?

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