It’s over: ten mega-churches in ten weeks straight. This time, there was no skipping for H1N1 or bad weather. We stuck it out through entire services, even if they were more than two hours long. Needless to say, I’m feeling a bit over-churched right now.
The last church, Kansas City Baptist Temple, was a good place to end. Not because it was enjoyable or interesting, but because it represented the majorities in all the statistics listed below. If I were to draw conclusions as to what is a mega-church, how does it operate and whom does it attract, I probably could have drawn them all from this church and skipped the first nine.
The Baptist temple is not Baptist, but Non-Denominational. I didn’t ask, mostly because no one seemed welcoming or approachable. The church took pride in its diversity and specifically ministered toward the Spanish-speaking community. Though it was definitely not bilingual, there were headsets to wear so Spanish-speakers could understand. Even with this diversity, there was a definite focus on patriotism, tithing and Evangelism. The goal was not to feed the hungry, house the homeless or cloth the naked, but rather, translate the bible into indigenous languages so people could convert. From a linguistic perspective, this is almost laughable. What if there is no system of reading or writing in place? Will you create one? If there is a system, how can you be sure that all those need-to-be-Christians can read? There certainly doesn’t seem to be a plan to teach them.
And tithing. It’s always about the money. The pastor accused “church squatters” of benefiting from the church while not contributing a dime. “We need money to grow, to evangelize, to get bigger,” he said (basically). It wasn’t, “Please give us a donation because we want to improve your life and the lives of others, both spiritually and physically,” but, “Give us money because I tell you to!”
At the end of the service, I left relieved and annoyed. Part of me feels like for 10 weeks my time has been wasted, whereas another part is concerned that I didn’t spend enough time in each space to give it a fair trial. After all is blogged and read, though, what worries me the most is that this is only ten churches, ten GROWING churches, out of hundreds of thousands in the United States.
Three of the Mega-Churches were visited during Lent. Lent-related language or seasonal liturgy was not used at any of the locations.
We received communion only once, at Mega-Church #1: Church of the Resurrection (United Methodist).
Jesus was rarely mentioned. Eight of the ten churches focused predominately on the Old Testament.
I estimate we heard 60+ songs, though we were only familiar with five or less.
One-half of the churches had some sort of altar call during the service.
All ten churches used a screen to display lyrics, video and scripture.
The phrase, “Turn in your bibles with me…” was used at 9 of the 10 churches.
Two churches had traditional pews while the remainder used theater flip chairs, folding chairs or padded chairs.
Eight churches had a coffee and/or gift shop (where money exchanged hands).
I put my name, email and phone number on 9 visitor cards or attendance registers. I received no emails, four phone calls and nine letters. Similarly, I visited all offered visitor/information centers. I received three coffee mugs, four CDs and two home-visits.
Seven churches had a choir; nine churches had a praise team with a live band.
All ten senior pastors we saw preach were male, Caucasian and above the age of 40.
Nine of the churches offered multiple service times, many of them 2-3 options on Sunday and at least one on Saturday.
All ten churches had at least two complicated-looking video cameras and flawless sound systems.
Eight of the ten churches called their sanctuary an “auditorium.” These auditoriums did not have windows and the lights were kept very low, almost like a movie theater.
I would not revisit these churches, but #1 and #4 could be utilized as a “last resort.”
(If you wish to know any more “statistics,” ask the question and I’ll do the figuring).
I’m sure this isn’t the end of my interaction with the mega-church of America, but for now, I must take my journey even further out of my comfort zone. More explanation to come, but a working title:
10 Churches, 10 Weeks, Volume III: Churchopedia. Denominations I have to look-up when somebody asks me about them. Eastern-Orthodox, Mormon, Quaker, Mennonite…cultural, deep, historical, religious awesomeness.