By Knofel Staton
It was exciting to read about megachurches in the April 9 issue of Christian Standard. We know these churches and their ministers, and we’re proud of them. This movement is really on the move not only in the number and size of the emerging megachurches, but also because we’re not exclusively a rural movement anymore. Now we’re also effectively impacting urban areas with the gospel of Christ.
As a member of the sixth-largest megachurch, Crossroads Christian in Corona, California, I have observed firsthand a legion of unchurched become Christians because of what megachurches can offer: multiple services that more easily fit the diverse schedules of people in today’s world; programs offering recovery from various addictions (alcohol, sexual, gambling, chemical dependency, codependency, anger, and so on); programs to help with challenging situations (divorce, violence, abuse, depression, grief, and so on); plus focused ministries for children, teenagers, college age, single adults, women, men, senior adults, family units, the physically and mentally disabled, or the poor.
Jesus was anointed to preach good news (not just by words, but also by deeds of service) to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners (those in prison for crimes and those imprisoned by their addictions), recovery of sight for the blind (those physically blind and those who cannot see how to get out of their problems), and to release the oppressed (those who are often neglected, not wanted, excluded, and not loved). Megachurches have many resources to follow Jesus’ life of service. No wonder multitudes are coming to megachurches as they did to Jesus.
They Started as Minors
However, while reading through the list of megachurches, it occurred to me those megachurches were once minor churches. Most of the senior ministers grew up in minor churches that encouraged them to enter Christian colleges to study for ministry. After that these ministers served minor churches that became megachurches.
Were it not for a minor church of Christ of about 70 people in a small, rural town of Henning, Illinois (population 200), my folks might not have become Christians. Had they not been active in that little church, my twin sister and I would not have grown up in the church from the first Sunday after we were born.
When we were 5, our family moved to Fairfield, Illinois, and immediately started attending the First Christian Church with approximately 200 other people (a megachurch to us). Out of that church came more than 30 young people who graduated from Christian colleges and became ministers or minister’s wives. That church, which now averages more than 400 in attendance, produced three who became Bible college presidents, Charles McNeely, Gary Weedman, and myself.
High school graduates who are members in minor churches may move to urban areas, attend the church in that area, and become part of the reason for emerging megachurches. Surely the growth of megachurches is due not only to baptisms, but also to Christian individuals and families who had been members in minor churches.
Without the minor churches, that list of 112 megachurches would be reduced to zero, because all of those megachurches evolved from being minor churches. The Southeast Christian Church story is a marvelous model of one of them.
We Need Both
We need both megachurches and the minor churches because people live in diverse locations. Many areas could never support a megachurch. However, it is possible some minor churches could merge together to become “mega” (or at least “submegachurches”) with increased resources to meet diverse needs of people in their area. I am thinking of the rural churches born many years ago when building churches five to seven miles apart was a ministry in itself. But today many of those could merge into much larger congregations with enhanced resources for diverse ministries that become entry pathways for the unchurched.
For instance, instead of five congregations each with a full-time minister, there could be one congregation with five ministers, each of whom could focus on a different avenue of ministry meeting needs of people in the region. That might call for church members in those congregations to liberate themselves from the priorities of property and commitments to their individual church histories. Doing so might model Jesus, who gave up so much so others could gain so much.
I am thankful for the megachurch where I am a member. But I am equally thankful for that minor church with no more than 70 members in a rural town of 200. Without it, I might not be a Christian. That minor church started ministering to me, and the megachurch is continuing what that small church started. My guess is many members and ministers of megachurches would stand with me in giving minor churches a standing ovation.
Let’s not forget that from 120 followers of Jesus in Acts 1 came the first megachurch in history—the church of 3,000 in Acts 2.
Some are Acts 1 Christians—in minor churches of 120 or so. Others are Acts 2 Christians—in megachurches of 3,000 or so. But together we are brothers and sisters in Christ with none more or less important than others.
Knofel Staton is professor of biblical studies at Hope International University, Fullerton, California.