Why many are leaving the mega church – it might not be a bad thing

mega church

Some of you seeing this title may already be up in arms, because you looooove your church. You love your pastor, your small groups, the kid’s ministry and the community you have built.

I get it. And I love that you love it.

Let me clarify that I am not devaluing your church encounters or the spiritual growth you may have experienced. All of that is valid and matters to your story.

This post isn’t directed towards a particular church or denomination – rather, it’s addressing an overall picture that many are choosing to walk away from.

(Please note: there are some really great mega churches that are thriving. Not all reflect the picture we are discussing. However, many churches are dropping in numbers which is what I’m diving into here)

I, too, have spent most of my life inside this model of what church is “supposed to be”. And, as a leader and former pastor, I often struggled with the discrepancy between what I saw in scripture versus what I experienced on Sunday morning.

Let me explain:

When you remove what many believe church is “supposed” to be, what Jesus supposedly looked like (thank you Easter movies), what sermons are supposed to sound like and how Christians are supposed to behave in our culture – when you remove all of that and read Jesus’ story in the gospels – the picture of the mega church quickly becomes a very foreign concept.

As I studied the gospels, the time in which they were written, the friends Jesus had, the things he said and didn’t say – I quickly compiled 6 major differences between Jesus’s gospel and the gospel of many Western American churches.

These stark differences, I believe, are many of the reasons why Jesus’ ministry flourished and why many modern day churches tend to hit an expiration date with their attendees.

Now, I will warn you, this list may ruffle your feathers. This may totally screw with your belief of what church, pastors, sermons, etc are supposed to be like. If you’re okay with that, read on 🙂

Major Differences:

  1. Self-gain, self-promotion vs. the betterment of others. Remember when Jesus went into the temple and turned over tables? I especially remember the unsettling pictures in Sunday school that depicted Jesus with a scowling face as he violently threw tables and sent money flying into the air. NO ONE wanted to do whatever it was that those people did. As kids, we walked away with this understanding: money in church. bad idea. got it. But, as I grew to understand the character of God, I developed a better understanding of what happened that day: the money changers made “church” a place of personal gain and self-promotion. Jesus was the opposite of that. He was focused on the betterment of others – even those who were not inside his core group and often at his own expense.

Sadly, many church goers (and leaders) feel a tremendous amount of pressure to climb the top of the spiritual ladder, be the next big deal, produce the next greatest worship album – all under the guise of “following my calling” or “this is our vision”. They become threatened by anyone who appears to be more “anointed” or poses as a potential threat to their goal. Too often, their goal leaves many crushed in the aftermath of their next “big thing”. This cycle is so incorporated into the Western church culture that those hurt by it often go without much attention or thought.

  1. Including not excluding. Jesus, by far, is the single most equal opportunity includer listed in scripture. He included anyone and everyone. It’s one of the most baffling parts about his life because that was not the cultural norm. Our culture today is WAY more inclined to blend social groups than that culture, which is what makes this such a big deal.

He included the poor, the rich, the single, the married, the religious, the non-religious, the moral, the immoral, the liar, the thief, the cheat. He was mocked, accused and be-littled because of who he shared meals with. His table was open to anyone and everyone – not just people who agreed with him. And, his inclusion was with the sole purpose of loving, giving and meeting needs.

Sadly, many evangelicals have taken a “them vs. us” mentality. Where we only hang out with, talk with, partner with, socialize with, defend and protect those who agree with us theologically. We do not offer a listening ear to the other side of many arguments. And we certainly don’t invite the other side over for dinner (unless of course it is with an agenda to witness). We posture ourselves defensively with closed fists, instead of open arms. And the moment one of our own does something we disagree with (because we believe we stand for God and no one else can or does), they are swiftly excluded from our core group and placed on the next gossip – eh prayer – train.

  1. Covering not exposing. Jesus covered people’s weak areas – he did not expose them. A beautiful example is the woman caught in adultery. The religious were exposing her “sin” so she could face her consequences. Jesus did the opposite. Instead, he covered her. He did his best to remove any/all shame associated with her perceived mistakes, by bringing the stone throwers to an even playing ground.

We see this example again with the woman at the well. Another perfect opportunity to heap on shame and/or expose but, he didn’t do either. He spoke to her with respect, dignity and kept her story safe.

Many church cultures are built on shame – we hide our weaknesses based on shame (for fear of being exposed), we point fingers based on our own shame (knowing if someone else is exposed, we might not be), we post on social media to cover and hide our own shame (making sure we have the right image so anything that could be used to shame us is hidden).

There is a tremendous amount of pressure in many Christian circles to expose our weaknesses, bring them “into the light” and confess them to eachother. This is only healthy when we are exposing to people who will carry our stories safely. Often, our stories are not carried well. They are exposed, exploited and swiftly met with a team ready to fix – eh, heal – you, deliver you, etc. These experiences often leave people with more shame than what they started with.

  1. Mercy instead of judgement. The resounding theme in my first three points can be summed up in this one statement: Jesus extended mercy instead of judgement. Over and over again, when he had the option to judge, he chose not to.

When Jesus was asked OUT OF EVERY RULE OF GOD which was the most important, he replied: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. No one wants to be judged, shamed or condemned.

I love it that he said first to love God. This was a genius set up to the love-your-neighbor part, because to love God is to admit that you are not God. To love God is to posture yourself humbly; admitting you don’t know everything and don’t have all the answers. Loving your neighbor as yourself comes fairly easy once you let go of playing God. You are then free to act like Jesus did towards everyone – even those whose choices and beliefs you disagree with and those who you don’t understand. One could say, this is the simple gospel of Jesus.

  1. Not many fear speeches. When you read the gospels, Jesus doesn’t talk all that much about hell. He doesn’t close every ministry moment with a you-better-get-your-life-right-with-me-now-or-you’re-gonna-burn clause. He doesn’t lead people through salvation prayers, instructing his followers to “invite” him into their hearts – it just wasn’t a thing.

Today, there is a high fear in many churches of not “saving” enough people. It’s so normal that we don’t even think twice about this practice, yet Jesus didn’t seem to be led by a fear of hell.

In the majority of his interactions with “the lost” healing, feeding, giving, protecting, defending and loving were his primary focus.

  1. Small and safe instead of big. Jesus created a small, tight group of friends who he could connect with, talk with, debate with and teach. This is the model of pastoring he used and it worked brilliantly. Those in his group felt safe, included, heard, loved and ultimately felt a sense of belonging not only to God, but to eachother.

When you view Jesus’ behavior, you can see why this group was not only eclectic and diverse but grew spiritually deep. People thrive when they are loved, included and have permission to be free thinking.

Churches today try to re-create this by encouraging small groups. And, for many, this is where real church (if it is found) happens and where real pastoring, conversation, growth and connection blooms. Yet, even in these settings, many find that their vulnerability with Christians is met with judgement and their free thinking thoughts are not welcome unless they are being corrected.

Jesus lived (and loved) a very different gospel from what we often see modeled. This is why many are leaving – because they crave Jesus’ gospel, not man’s.

This brings me a tremendous amount of hope.

For many, their faith journey began inside the walls of church, but has since outgrown those walls. They have developed their own experiences and understandings of God and scripture; they are not leaving church because they are walking away from the faith, but because they actually have incredibly deep faith. They now hunger for a space where they are free to continue expanding their own personal journey with God.

For many, their journey has evolved into something like this:

I am free to have private space with God where he and I are in communion outside of other’s opinions of what that should look like and what they believe God would or wouldn’t say to me.

I am free to love others without being afraid I’m not doing a good enough job in “changing” or converting them. I am free to defend those in need, even if we share different beliefs.

I am free to embrace other cultures and ideas and not be threatened by them. I am free to encourage someone else’s personal gains because I’m not trying to promote my own. I am free to be happy for others and free to not worry about the choices of others.

I am free to love, embrace, protect, defend and care for whoever is in front me – no matter our differences. I am free to give and extend healing to those who are in need with no strings attached. I am free to hold other’s stories safe and keep them covered. I am free to follow where God leads me without needing the approval of others.

I look forward to the day when this perspective is welcomed inside our churches. But for now, I hope that this stirs the waters for some much needed change. #changeisgood  #allarewelcome #thegospelisstillgoodnews

Hugs,

Anna

26 thoughts on “Why many are leaving the mega church – it might not be a bad thing

  1. Yes! This is me. I was already becoming very disillusioned with my large church and craving a small, New Testament church model when they announced that we are packing up and moving out of our community and building a ba-jillion dollar new church out on “church row” where everyone else has built their new big building. I know I can’t stay. My heart isn’t in it, but I am on the worship team and we teach Sunday School. I am biding my time there until God shows me where to go and what to do next. I 100% feel you.

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  2. Quite correct Anna. It is nice to come together and see everyone and enjoy the big group and feel part of it but I feel that it is not really what church meeting is at it’s core. Church is a family thing and the small group is an extended family of people who are, or should be, closer than blood. The big meeting is to encourage us that we are not small and insignificant and to form wider contacts and partnerships in Christ. But the business of love is done at the small/home group level.

    We see Jesus having the 70 and the 12 and then Peter James and John as a special close group. This is not elitism but to show how mentoring should work and because humans can not handle too many intense relationships of reliance or they will burn out. Jesus maybe could have but he was teaching us to pyramid our efforts so we would survive disciplining people.

    The Spiritual achievement ladder. I think in the early part of a Christians walk it is very usual for a person to look for spiritual gifts or leadership for many selfish reasons. Including reassurance of your own salvation. But that big church experience can really amplify that worship leader, prophecy giver etc thing. In a small group you will hopefully learn to seek the gift giver rather than the gifts. Then you will receive the spiritual gifts as a consequence of desire to help his people rather than as a stepping stone on a spiritual achievement ladder.

    Your wisdom in this is very sound and is Spirit inspired.

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    • I appreciate your thoughtful reply. Thank you for sharing with us! Like you, I love finding community in small, intimate groups. Finding a safe space where one is free and safe to be vulnerable, is a powerful thing.

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  3. Maybe Jesus did not emphasize hell, because it is a cultural myth heavily re-invented during the middle ages? (I know this may set off a fire storm, but once you read various Bible scholars you can’t unsee the heavily mythological elements of scripture and realize that our modern / American literal interpretations often miss the point. My greatest answer at present is: I don’t know. But I’m considering all kinds of things.)

    We left the church for many reasons — for one, we could not stand the constant emphasis on the End Times / preparation for the Tribulation that has infected many congregations (we came out of the mindset that Jesus was referring to the Fall of Jerusalem, which lined up with the truth that most prophecies came to pass in the current generation; and that Revelation was a symbolic book written in code for the period it was in, since a lot of it lines up with Roman customs of the time, right down to the mark of the beast and the pagan sacrifices that were required to do business in Rome); and two, we noticed how un-Christ-like the teachings were.

    So we’ve spent our Sundays as a family reading many different books from various theologians, apologists, and pastors, watching videos from different theologians, pastors, psychologists, etc., and the amazing spiritual development / shift to deeper kindness that we’ve seen is incredible. The “small group” that takes it upon itself to learn really does work wonders!

    Nice post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi there! No fire storm here sister.
      I love where you and your family have grown and the journey you are on. It is beautiful and honest and I just love every part of that.
      Raw, real faith is built in those deconstructing moments – and that is what you have embraced. Keep blazing your own trail.

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  4. I am so thankful for God working through you to confirm what I prayed about just yesterday. I have not read your blog in awhile, but God’s Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see this needed to be read. My prayer yesterday was about the true desires of our hearts. As I read a devotional yesterday it just brought me to such sadness to know that many of the desires are taken to a selfish desire by preachers and teachers. Many of the mega churches and many of the smaller churches are not looking at the desires of God’s gain for His Kingdom, they’re looking at it for their personal gain. Their personal life styles show that their desires are more in earthly material possessions instead of spiritually God’s possessions and that being lost souls. Many are taking advantage of using gods word to manipulate for their own self-worth. Where is the true hearts desire? How are hearts to all and God knows a true heart. Psalms 37 is one of my favorite because David knew what his heart needed most. To trust, to do good, to feed on God’s faithfulness. To delight in God, to commit his Waze to God. To rest in God and wait patiently for Him to do a great work in Him and through him. Our desires are not to be in the things of this world, but the desires of God’s promises and what He wants when we are trusting, delighting, committing, and resting in Him and His truth. I personally thank you for writing from your heart and sharing what many won’t.

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  5. I agree whole-heartedly with all six points. I would add, though, that not everyone leaving the mega-churches is flourishing in an unchurched relationship with the Lord. Outside the church, the faith of a good number of drop-outs withers and dies. But some of them are leaving the mega-churches to find a place in the traditional, Biblical, liturgical churches. Often these old-fashioned congregations have everything that you listed. J.

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  6. Adding a “like” to this does it no justice. I am sharing this to a friend’s fb page, as he and I have had many discussions on what you have shared, here.
    I wish I knew back when I was your age, what I have been given understanding about now.
    Well…grace.
    This article speaks volumes of what more of us…the Church at large…need to consider. We place too much value in things that are not about Jesus or His Gospel. Somehow, these things have become the norm, have become law and a culture unto themselves.
    We need to get back to Jesus and walk in His love.

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  7. Great post – first, thank you not telling everybody to “suck it up” if they don’t like what the church is doing. We should all be willing to accept constructive criticism that is given in love, rather than deflecting ownership of our own issues.

    One item I would challenge you on… the issues you shared are not just a mega church issue.s. The things you’ve pointed out have NOTHING to do with the size of the church. They are matters of false pride in us (we are the church remember?). Unfortunately I the Institutional church reinforces the behaviors you’ve noted.

    Sadly, the only “fix” that I can find is to remove the log from my eye, and pray for His Spirit of love to flood overwhelm me daily, so I can die to self and love as Christ. As I partner with outer like minded people along the way, we’ll see change. After all, the world will know is by our love for one another, right?

    I enjoy your insightful perspective on things. Keep ringing the bell for all to hear.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you: these issues can arise in congregations both large and small. I feel that that there are other issues unique to smaller churches, but I’ll reserve that for another post 😉 However, I fully agree that the resounding theme in both is pride; that and a perpetual “them vs. us” mentality where groups unite based on same fears.
      Thank you for your thoughts and encouraging words!

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  8. That article was BEAUTIFUL!! I have just changed churches for the exact reasons you’ve mentioned. A larger church, where I had my friends but no one really knew me – to a smaller tighter knit church – we after signing up for a small group – I was looked for, and met the new people I was reaching out to share life with! God has the plan – and I think He pointed me right where he wants me!!

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