Mega churches ... part 2

Archie Poulos

I thought last week's blog on mega churches in Sydney would start a lively debate, and I am thankful for the insightful and thoughtful comments made in response to my suggestions.

I think its now time to lay a few more of my cards on the table, although most have been played through the comments.

The question I am trying to answer is why don't we have mega churches in Sydney? I know Martin asked about the value of mega churches, and I'll comment on that too, at the end.

It seems to me that there are three possible reasons why mega churches don't exist in Sydney. They are:

The dominant Anglican culture of Sydney
The nature of Sydney
The perceived value of mega churches

The dominant Anglican culture of Sydney

This covers a number of issues, which I'll merely raise and wait for comment.

Anglicanism is the largest Protestant denomination in Sydney and still only has 70000 members. However, there are 250 parishes, largely doing similar things to each other. People have to have reasons for driving past several similar churches to go to a particular one. Generally there are three reasons for so doing.

The first is that the church caters for a specific group (ethnic, cultural or affinity) and so people will travel to that church. By definition, in catering for a specific group it is hard to grow a mega church.

The second reason is relationship. Friends are at that church, I was converted there, it is my home church. National Church Life Survey results have shown that people will travel long distances for relationship until children begin to grow up, and then they tend to move to a church near their home, sport and school.

The third reason is the quality of the congregational life. It may be great preaching, great pastoral support, fantastic training, wonderful meetings. Unfortunately, the creation of exceptional congregational life for large numbers of people is not something Anglicans are good at.

Part of this dominant culture has been hinted at in last week's comments, especially by Andrew. That is, our model is the rector as sole trader. It is the normal practise, the one we observe and the one we learn; and the one that limits the size to which churches can grow. I have often written on the need for our present generation to develop team ministry, as what we do now will be the model for generations to come. This is no easy task, as it depends on the leaders personality, each team member's personality and the processes involved. I was part of the senior staff team at St. Matthias and recall thinking that we were all willing to die for Phillip, because we knew he was willing to die for us- that is a rare quality indeed.

The nature of Sydney

Sydney is a strange city. It is not homogeneous in any way. It comprises many micro cultures, a number of focal hubs and geographical tribes. Social demographers tell us that people usually will not travel along routes not traversed regularly during the week. People will happily travel a similar route as the one to school, work, sport or shopping, but will not take different routes with ease. So despite comments to the contrary, it is unusual for people to travel large distances unless it is to a hub. Sydney also has some natural boundaries that people will not cross. These include water (harbour, rivers,bay), railway lines, and obstacles to car travel routes. Mega churches have this to contend with.

We have to remember the relative non church attendance of Sydneysiders compared to the USA. The Midwest of the USA has on average ten times the percentage of people in church as does Sydney. Even in those cities like Seattle, with church attendance similar to Sydney, there is not a good Bible church on every corner, so good ministries are worth crossing the city for.

Finally, land and building costs, except on the fringes of Sydney are very high, making the option of building a large church building impossible for many churches. Last week I read of the mall mentality in the USA whereby large tracts of inexpensive land are purchased on which to build malls, and provide open air parking for thousands of vehicles. That just doesn't happen in Sydney.

The perceived value of mega churches

Sydney does have the tall poppy syndrome, especially amongst the middle class, although much less so in non tertiary educated suburbs. To grow a mega church this syndrome has to be worked against.

The real question is "does the mega church grow the kingdom of God?", or is it just transferring people from one congregation to another. My answer is that it could grow the Kingdom by allowing the best ministry to be conducted by people in the best roles, so that all members are white hot for Jesus. Is the amount of effort worth the return? I don't know, but my hunch is that in places like the northwest, southwest, Illawarra and Sutherland shire they are more likely to succeed as a number of the hindrances are diminished there.

I know our structures and organisations must change, as we seek to honour the Lord in our day, and mega churches are but one possible change that may be made.