Megachurches: An Interview with Three Megachurch Ministers

 

By Kent Fillinger

A SWOT analysis is the classic model for strategic planning. It examines an organization from the standpoint of its internal strengths and weaknesses, as well as the opportunities and threats it faces.

We asked three lead pastors of megachurches to comment on their individual congregations and on megachurches in general using the framework of a SWOT analysis:

Jud Wilhite, 37, has been  senior pastor since 2003 of Central Christian Church (Henderson, Nevada), which has an average weekend worship attendance of 12,822.

Scott Enyon, 47, has been senior pastor since 1994 of Community Christian Church (Fort Lauderdale, Florida), which averages 1,765.

Alan Ahlgrim, 61, has been lead pastor since 1984 of Rocky Mountain Christian Church (Niwot, Colorado), which has an average weekend attendance of 2,258.

 

 

 

STRENGTHS:

What does your church provide that’s unique from other churches around you?

Jud Wilhite: Central offers what I refer to as “uncensored grace.” We allow people to come in just as they are, no matter what they are into in their life. . . . Then we want to help them come to a place where they believe in Jesus so that they can ultimately become what God wants them to be.

Scott Eynon: Our intentional pursuit of diversity, reflected in the fact that we have people from 60 different countries represented here. We’re really like a mosaic with ethnic and racial diversity. . . . South Florida is a very international community, but we’re still very unique.

Alan Ahlgrim: We’re not satisfied with merely big events, but emphasize strong relationships. . . . We are a high-commitment church in a low-commitment culture—and unapologetically so.

What would you say are the strengths of megachurches in general?

JW: The megachurches’ ability to offer help on a larger scale and to make a splash in the community as it responds to need. It also is usually a safe place to bring friends and neighbors who are asking spiritual questions.

SE: Another strength of the megachurches in general has been the collaborative spirit of the senior pastors. I have really appreciated the leader-to-leader network among pastors.

AA: Megachurches have openness to new people built into their DNA, and this allows people to get connected quickly. The assembly of small congregations (groups) speeds connection and there are all kinds of entry points for people.

 

 

 

WEAKNESSES:

What do you perceive are the major challenges for you in leading your church?

JW: One challenge is the size issue. When people walk into Central they are often overwhelmed by the size of the church. For the younger generation the size is an instant hurdle to overcome.

SE: Our challenge has been the same one for the last 15 years—south Florida is a very transient culture; this has created a huge challenge in our volunteer and serving positions. People are constantly moving away, and then we have to start over to recruit new volunteers.

AA: Personally, it is being a good CEO as various situations demand while not losing my grip on my primary calling to be the CSO—chief spiritual officer.

What are your weaknesses or challenges as a church?

JW: I think we can do a better job of evangelism—we are working on plans to take more advantage of this unique season of financial and personal turmoil and be ready to fully reach out to maximize this opportunity.

SE: Because we don’t have people for very long, we’ve focused most of our energy on the front half of the Great Commission—reaching people for Christ. One of the things we’ve done poorly in the past, but we’re doing better in now, is offering more discipleship options for longtime Christ followers.

AA: In trying to systematically disciple people, we realize the process is not linear—you can’t stop the merry-go-round because people are constantly getting on board, so the discipleship process is not as systematic as I would like it to be.

What do you see as the most significant challenges for megachurches in the coming years?

JW: One challenge is the idea of “the show.” Every megachurch in the country has excellent music and great lights—we have children’s areas that look like Chuck E. Cheese—but if people don’t experience Jesus when they come to worship, then we’ve failed miserably.

SE: The challenge of continuing to grow with fewer financial resources.

AA: One challenge is the complexity of a large organization and the staffing and funding it takes for the ministry.

 

 

 

OPPORTUNITIES:

What possibilities do you see for your church in the future?

JW: We’re talking to churches that are considering merging with ours as a regional site. We’re working on a strategy to start new churches on college campuses around the nation by pinpointing a leader and starting with small groups around our online campus, then providing strategic leadership to grow from there.

SE: We’ve been an externally focused church for the last 12 years. Our projects we’ve labeled Community Impact have expanded our community influence and our evangelistic opportunities.

AA: We’ve come to realize that “without difficulty, you have no testimony.” The opportunity we will have in the future is rooted in the difficulties we’ve endured in the past and the present, and these challenges “build our resume.”

What are the most significant opportunities for megachurches in the coming years?

JW: There is a great opportunity for megachurches to stem the tide of declining and closing churches by starting new ones. We have the people and resources to help lead out in the resurgence of new churches and in partnerships with existing churches. There is a great opportunity to reach people for Christ.

SE: I think one of the most significant opportunities is for megachurches to be externally focused.

AA: Megachurches have the capacity to change and be more flexible and have a more fluid capacity than a small or traditional church, especially with multiple venues.

 

 

 

THREATS:

What present or future conditions in your community might reduce your church’s impact if you don’t work to address them?

JW: One threat is becoming too impersonal or corporate. The church can run like a well-oiled machine, but people can get ground up by the machine. We’re not IBM and don’t want to be. We need to be careful about our church culture as we grow.

SE: The financial component is a real challenge. One of our mantras to the staff has been, “It’s not about resources, but resourcefulness.”

AA: We face a fairly resistant culture where less than 10 percent of the population is involved in any kind of church. There is also suspicion of anything large, and people are very intolerant toward any church; there is a strong cultural bias against us because of our Christ-centered message.

What future trends could totally change the way we do church?

JW: One trend is the reality of communication in all its forms—Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, blogs, and what’s coming next. We’re getting ready to unveil some really cool things for the church with some of these communication forms. We are trying to figure out how we can take the church to people in their context, rather than waiting on them to come to us.

SE: Another trend is the greater self-evaluation of churches in leading people in a deepening relationship with Christ. Megachurches do a great job on the front end of the Great Commission, but we need to continue to work on the back end in order to move people beyond just attending the worship service to a genuine desire to be a growing disciple of Jesus Christ.

AA: The emerging influence of women for key leadership positions in various fields. It’ll be more and more obvious that women are enjoying increased roles in the church in various ministries. There is an assumption of younger people that women need to be equal players at the leadership table, and we’re going to have to figure out how we incorporate them.

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For complete responses to each question and to read additional insights from these leaders about multisite ministries, ethnically diverse ministry in the church, online/Internet churches, succession planning, land and legal battles, and other leadership issues, check out the 2008 Megachurch Report: Deluxe Edition, available at www.christianstandard.com.

 

 

 

Kent E. Fillinger is president of 3:STRANDS Consulting (www.3strandsconsulting.com) and outreach minister with Connection Pointe Christian Church of Brownsburg, Indiana.

  

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