Seven Positive Trends for Megachurches
By Brian Mavis
I asked nine authors, academics, megachurch pastors, and missional church planters “What’s next for megachurches?” The nine shared enough opinions and insights for several articles, and I will develop those in upcoming issues.
1. Deeper Discipleship
Megachurches are growing less content with measuring attendance alone. David Faust, president of Cincinnati Christian University, said at a megachurch leaders conference he was . . .
encouraged to hear a number of megachurch leaders talking about how their plans for the future focus on the increased need for serious discipleship. They’re trying to figure out how to turn a crowd into a congregation—how to pull casual church-shoppers toward a deeper walk with the Lord. One megachurch leader told me, “Keeping up with cultural trends is the easy part; the harder and more important job is fighting for the hearts of disciples who are looking to us for leadership.”
Deeper discipleship isn’t defined by more knowledge, but better obedience. Of course, in order to more faithfully obey God, it helps to better understand his biblically revealed will, which leads us to the next trend.
2. Partner with Seminaries
Many megachurches have not hired staff with theological educations, opting instead for people who have demonstrated “get ‘er done” skills. Megachurches are now feeling the need and are looking for ways to biblically and theologically educate their staff. As a result, megachurches and seminaries are beginning to reach out to each other to consider partnerships.
Eddie Gibbs of Fuller Theological Seminary says, “In regard to the equipping of the next generation of leaders, they (megachurches) will partner increasingly with seminaries and significant missional thinkers and strategists in order to equip leaders in their current ministry rather than for potential ministry.” The benefits of this partnership will also spill into motivated disciples in the congregation and into other churches in the community.
3. Community Development
Megachurches are realizing that building bigger churches will not, in and of itself, create better communities. “I think the next chapter,” says Reggie McNeal, “is more about community development. The future of America is at stake and it is a battle that will be waged at the city level. The megachurch that can use its considerable social leverage and positioning to deal with a city’s biggest problems is going to be the church that the next chroniclers of church life will pay attention to.”
In order to become more externally focused, megachurches will need to shift much of their mission, money, and metrics to support community transformation. This leads to the next trend.
4. New Metrics
What matters and, therefore, what is being measured are changing. Ben Cachiaras says,
The win is being redefined. More megachurches are thinking about more than ABC’s in terms of what matters; Attendance, Buildings, and Cash are still worth counting, but now you hear churches getting excited about the changes they feel called to make in their community, as neighborhoods and cities are transformed by the gospel. I don’t think megachurches have typically been known for things like caring for the poor and investing in under-resourced neighborhoods. These are new metrics, and I think they are very important and exciting.
Megachurches will continue to measure the ABC’s, but they will also start paying attention to ABCD—“Asset Based Community Development.”
5. Embracing Both/And
When it comes to the “attractional church” versus “missional/incarnational church” debate, megachurches are not taking the “either/or” approach. They believe the church is best when it is both.
Missional thought-leader Alan Hirsch explains, “The answer is not in either/or but rather a both/and. This must mean using the existing success as platform to launch movements of the people of God into every sphere and domain of society, engage in multiplication church planting, radical discipleship, and reorganizing as a decentralized network.” Megachurches are striving to be the church gathered and scattered, not one or the other.
6. More Multicultural
An axiom among church leaders is that Sunday is the most segregated day of the week. Many megachurches want to change that. They are giving more energy and focus to becoming multicultural, multiracial, and socioeconomically diverse. Diversity will be reflected not only in the congregation, but also in the leadership of the megachurches.
Dudley Rutherford has made this a primary value at Shepherd of the Hills Church. Some megachurches like Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, Maryland, are already more racially diverse than their county. The motivation is not political correctness, but recognition that God is not only reconciling us to himself, he is also reconciling us to one another. Unity, not uniformity, is what God has called us to, and many megachurches are answering this call.
7. Multisites Multiply
It may be argued that multisites are “what’s now,” not “what’s next.” True enough, but the trend will likely grow. Some may not believe this is a positive trend. But I believe there are positives both megachurch and missional church leaders can agree on.
Megachurches will build fewer big-box church buildings as their strategy for growth; rather, they will move into already existing and unused (or underused) buildings in their communities. One of the motivations for this change is that these churches can put more of their resources toward relational and community development.
Ben Cachiaras pointed out that RiverTree, where Greg Nettle serves, has made a commitment to continue to grow “through multisites and adding services so more of their resources can be placed into mission for the lost and for children.”
No doubt there are challenges ahead for megachurches, and megachurches aren’t for everyone. But megachurches have grown because they listen to their critics and take their concerns to heart.
Do you have a concern for them? Go ahead and share it; they’re listening.
Brian Mavis is executive director of the Externally Focused Network. He also serves as the community transformation minister at LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, Colorado.
The People Surveyed
The nine authors, academics, megachurch pastors, and missional church planters I surveyed included:
• Alan Hirsch, a leading voice in the missional movement and author of eight books
• Ben Cachiaras, senior pastor with Mountain Christian Church, Joppa, Maryland
• David Faust, president of Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian University
• Eddie Gibbs, senior professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, and the author of 13 books
• Hugh Halter, director of Missio and the author of three books
• John Derry, president of Hope International University, Fullerton, California
• Jon Ferguson, author, leader at New Thing Network, and pastor at Community Christian Church in Naperville, Illinois
• Reggie McNeal, missional leadership specialist for the Leadership Network and the author of six books
• Scott Nickell, teaching pastor at Flatirons Church, Lafayette, Colorado.