Thursday, December 29, 2005

Corporate Mega-churches

As noted and much commented upon over at titusonenine, The Economist has a feature article on megachurches that use corporate business models -- “Jesus, CEO”.

This is nothing new to me. Back around 1990, before much attention was given to this phenomenon, I noticed my church at the time, Big Dallas Bible Church (name changed), was run more and more like a corporation. There was even a pyramid chart of the staff in the church directory. I’m not kidding. And that staff was large and growing.

And I saw negative qualities often associated with large corporations. Staff were often overworked with long hours. And I saw negative effects on individual staff members. I saw one staff member transform from a friend who was easy and fun with work with to an arrogant adversary. High up staff were overly concerned with their position and authority to the point of at times seeing threats to their authority that didn’t exist. There were power plays against faithful people.

And I saw that power was focused in the staff away from rank and file church people.

So now corporate churches scare me.

Yet I’m not one of those who see all megachurches as of the devil. (And not all megachurches are corporate churches.) The body of Christ should be diverse. And I think there should be variety in how different churches “do church.” And my ten years at my previous church, which can be said to have attained megachurch status, were very positive.

But I just can’t see that running a church like a corporation is how Jesus would lead his church. Obviously, the larger a church gets, the more organization is necessary. But churches that become religious corporations invite the same diseases as secular corporations – as I saw at Big Dallas Bible. I’m convinced even megachurches should avoid buying into a corporate model based much more on secular business practices than on scripture and tradition.

Also, the idea that megachurches, with their variety of affinity groups and with all their available activities, can better meet people’s needs ain’t necessarily so. My current church is just a bit smaller than I was looking for. And it’s by far the smallest church I’ve been a part of. Yet it’s safe to say it is meeting my needs better than any previous church. Part of that is that my needs (and my perception of them) have changed with the years. But still, the effectiveness of a church has a lot more to do with qualities than quantities.

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