Jan 4, 2006

32,000 or 300 The Mega Church Phenomenon!

American ministries, ministers, churches and congregants were consumed with themselves, so much so that they were completely caught off guard when America experienced what has come to be known as '911'. Do you recall what American churches were doing during the decade that preceded the attack on America, I do?

During the previous year and leading up to the attack, I registered my concerns with other pastors and ministers given the types of messages that were going out over American church pulpits, not to mention over the airways. I also expressed concern over the mega-church trend that was sweeping the nation. What concerned me the most I suppose, were the recurring sermons whose themes were mostly of self aggrandizement and elevation of the individual. Members of churches all over the country were being given a healthy dose of the prosperity Gospel, the prayer of Jabazz and soon after just wars.

America had done well under during the years of Clinton Administration. Unemployment was low, incomes were up and the country was at peace. Everyone it seems was doing well, including churches who were experiencing exponential growth and increasing revenues. Ministers were unabashedly encouraging their listeners and members to seek wealth. And why not, churches were making money, ministers were making money and their churches were growing? Why stop a good thing? The American capitalist church was off and running. But wasn't this somehow different from what Jesus had taught while on earth?

Greedy ministers who once derided ministers like Reverend Ike, were now putting Reverend Ike to shame as they pursued wealth Remember him, the flamboyant minister of the 60's who bragged about his prosperity and personal wealth? Many ministers who before dismissed him as a caricature and a buffoon, now suddenly saw the light themselves. Now these ministers were doing the same thing that he did and preaching a new prosperity gospel. Suddenly it was okay to be greedy, and to pursue wealth, a far cry from what was taught in the past.

Churches were now openly begging and soliciting money. In addition to tithes and offerings, I witnessed ministers begging for an additional things like 'seed offerings. For example if someone really wanted God to hear them and to answer their prayers, they needed to plant a financial seed. Other schemes began to pop up around American churches, all with the goal of raising more money. I even witnessed a prayer line myself, where each person was to bring a one-hundred dollar seed offering in order to be prayed for, that prayer line stretched to the rear of the church's auditorium.

Suddenly congregants were being trained during church business seminars, how they could acquire more wealth. Members were encouraged to open their own businesses, then they could give more to the church. The members bought into it and new converts came into the church in droves so that they could take advantage of the church-sanctioned get rich schemes. At one conference that I attended in Washington DC, a well known Bishop and his staff taught the attendees that the church, "was a business". He must behave been right given all the selling that was going on in the lobby that day, not to mention the registration fee to get in to the conference. This Bishop was openly encouraging capitalism.

I visited churches where the pastors on a regular basis would talk about their increase in revenue and the size of their memberships. It reminded me of David's numbering of the people. Some pastors were openly boasting about the number of members in their congregations. Some ministers boasted that I have 2,000, some 5,000, some 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 and so on. I met a young man at a house gathering who heard that I was a pastor, the first word that came out of his mouth was, how many members do you have? Yet another minister who I met, who had never attended my church, asked to meet with me to show me his program on how to grow my congregation.

And finally a dear friend of mine, a pastor and former NFL all pro football player was traveling all around the country and visiting various seminars so that he could learn how to grow his church. He wanted to know from me, why I did not want to grow my church?

Next the prayer of Jabazz caught on. Folks were buying books and tapes and following carefully programmed instructions on how to enlarge their territories and, as the kids of the hip-hop generation would say, 'blow up!. And why not, their pastors were sporting expensive suits, their wives were dressed to the nines and sporting thousand dollar harirdos. Along with their expensive accoutrement, pastors were driving the finest luxury automobiles, Cadillac, Lexus, Mercedes and Rolls Royce. Some even bragged about the number of airplanes that they owned. Well I cannot blame the members for getting in on the action. Why shouldn't they cash in, since they were the reason that their pastors were doing so well exploiting 501C3 tax-exempt status?

Many pastors and evangelists were no longer driving to locations to preach, they were now flying in their own Corsair and Lear Jets. One pastor boasted of having more than one jet to help get him around the country to minister the word of God. This pastor was speaking at a church in California and during the service he had everyone hold whatever currency they could find in their hands. The audience was instructed to waive their arms with money in their hands, to repeat after the minister, "the money is coming". Does anyone ever recall a Jesus meeting, for example the sermon on the mount, where he taught the people to yell, "the money is coming".

I must be jealous, correct? No, I am concerned. What was the state of church and the new breed of member who was being taken into these churches. Unlike the olden days when one came to church to be saved, the new group was coming to the church for different reasons, some to reap the benefits, to attend seminars, to be trendy, for now going to a rather large church was a cool thing to do. And why wouldn't it be trendy, given the new music in the church and the new style of worship. People were dressing down. The pastors who use to tell the church to say amen, were now telling the people to, "turn and tell three people...slap somebody...give somebody a high five".

The music department was composed of musicians who were capable of and played all kinds of trendy if not worldly music. Jazz, hip-hop and other music forms became a regular part of worship. Even the new praise and worship songs bordered on being worldly. And now hip-hop artists even came to church and danced in the pulpit. A young pastor from Columbia Maryland relocated to New Jersey and started a Hip Hop Church.

I visited a church service and guess who was sitting in the pulpit, Smokey Robinson. He also provided the evening sermon. He made it clear that he was not saying that he was a minister. At another church, Evander Holyfield, sat in the pulpit and provided the sermon for the day. Sadly, in Evander's case, the next week a report came out about yet another woman that he has just knocked up; his poor wife. No wonder when the pastor asked Evander to down from the rostrum and to lay hands on and pray for people during the altar service,did he decline.

The church changed during that period. Man the church was swinging. The music was loud. White pastors were even dancing in the pulpit. The congregations were expanding, new buildings were built, larger and larger and pastors were getting rich. The church staff was swelling and many churches boasted of having 80 or more ministries. But then I began to meet some of the people in these churches and after talking with some of them, I began to wonder, if Paul were to show up and ask, Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed, what would these say?

I wondered what their pastors would say if they were asked the say question? Would their reply be, we have not so much as heard whether their be any Holy Ghost? The members certainly were not being taught anything about the Holy Ghost at these churches. In fact, most of these churches did not believe in a 'second grace'. In other words the Holy Ghost was not required any longer in order to be saved. You simply came down to the altar, repeated after the preacher (sometimes the Apostle's Creed). Then you were led off in mass and provided with documents to complete and you were in like Flint.

If God were to tell these ministers their mega congregation down to the water so that he could test them as he told Gideon to do, what would they outcome be I wondered? Would they admit that they never believed anyway or were actually fearful? Or would the leaders find out that the majority of their congregants were not approved by God, although the ministers were exactly enamored with the great work that they were doing.

Building a large organization is one thing. Building for God is another, for the scripture teaches us that except the Lord build the house they labor in vain that build it. The scripture also teaches us that no man can move to the father except he draw them. When Jesus began his public ministry, many joined in and followed him. Some followed out of curiosity, some looking for a miracle and others to get fed. However, when confronted with what it would take to become a genuine disciple and true follower of God, many turned and went away.

In the same manner, Gideon discovered many in his massive army of 32,000, were not genuine. Gideon discovered that truly, only 300 who were fit for service in God's plan. I suspect that many of these mega-capitalist churches may have less than 300 that truly know God. Including Noah, only 8 souls were saved by water.

Remember the words of Jesus who cautioned, "Enter in at the straight gate for broad is the gate and wide is the way that leads to destruction, and many there be that go that way; but straight is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth to life and few there be that find it". I wonder how many is these large congregations have found the way to true life in Christ?

And how about you, are you a member of the 32,000, or are you one of the 300? As I explained to my pastor friend who I mentioned above, I am not interested in increasing numbers simply for the sake of increasing numbers. God promised that he would add to the church such as should be saved. The word also taught that except the Lord build the house, our labor was in vain. Another scripture that came to mind was, "Not by power or might but by my Spirit saith the Lord". I would prefer to have 300 people in the church who there for the right reason, than to have 2,000 to 32,000 who are there for some other reason.

Peace & Grace