Al Hsu has posted, Suburbia and the rise and fall of megachurches. It’s interesting, important and confirms much of what I’ve suspected – as the former megachurch guy that I am. He quotes Christine Wicker’s The Fall of the Evangelical Nation:
A large reason megachurches grow is because of where they usually locate–in burgeoning suburbs. Young families, attracted to the suburbs’ less-expensive housing, want religion for their children. They’re energetic, and they have rising incomes. Megachurches have enormous overhead and a huge need for volunteers. Burned-out megachurch staff members sometimes complain that they spend more time “feeding the beast” than feeding the flock. Feeding the beast requires a constant hunt for “good” families. To the dismay of the more idealistic, good families don’t mean those who need God the most but those who are committed, able, energetic, and prosperous. (pp. 105-06)
As I have noted ad nauseum, most many megachurches seem to be nothing more than the equivalent of a big box store – delivering goods and services to the religious consumer – while vacuuming up Christians from the smaller churches in the area. (Quoting A-Rox from this video.)
Let me also add something that an old friend of mine once said. He explained, “The way you win people is how you keep people.” So, I think we need to be careful in how we do ministry. If our ministry is built primarily on attracting people to the show, it is hard to get them to then love God and others on a mission.
Al Hsu asks,
So are the suburban megachurch’s days numbered? Perhaps. One of the dirty little secrets in church growth circles is that many prominent megachurches are plateaued and or declining in attendance. I suspect that the multi-site church movement is one way that traditional megachurches are already retooling themselves to adjust to changing demographic and geographic realities. Instead maintaining bigger facilities with more people commuting in from farther away, out of necessity churches are rediscovering the need to go local. Instead of focusing all of the church’s programming and activities at a central hub, churches need to decentralize and distribute their ministry activity into local communities and neighborhoods.
The reality is that gas prices alone are going to change how folk “do” church. (The Anglican Church we attend in the heart of the city draws people from all over the Greater Toronto Area.) Higher gas prices may actually aid the church in discovering the Missio Dei where they live.
These are interesting times to be alive.