I’ve had some people ask me if I’m concerned about it; if I’m concerned about “closer competition”; if I’m worried that we might lose people to the big, bad mega-church.
On a similar note, a popular book on church stewardship came out a few years ago with a new definition of “competition.” The first paragraph of the book tells how the number of non-profits in America doubled in the last ten years. Then it says, “What these numbers show is that in ten years the competition has nearly doubled.” The rest of the book is about how to get people to give your church more money when competition for charitable dollars is so stiff. (My conference actually encouraged all of its pastors to read that book.)
According to those who asked me about the mega-church, the local church’s competition is other churches.
According to that popular book on stewardship, the local church’s competition is all other non-profits — church and non-church alike.
Friends and colleagues, let’s please not miss this:
The church’s competition is sin, injustice, and heresy!
So long as other local churches aren’t teaching heresy or condoning sin, they’re our allies. That mega-church people have asked me about has made some great strides in the battle against injustice, both in Lexington and around the world. Years ago, one of my closest friends began taking his faith seriously as a result of their ministry. They’re allies, not competition.
And the children’s hospital, the blood center, the homeless prevention center… Competition? Really?!? For Christ’s sake! Literally. Surely we see these as great allies!
Scarcity and Abundance
I think those who see the the non-profit charity banquet and the church down the street as competition are operating out of a scarcity mentality: there are only so many Christians with only so much money to go around.
If our concerns are as petty as getting people to our church rather than the one down the road, getting people to give to us rather than the shelter for battered women, is it any wonder that the American church is in decline?
Here’s the truth: there is an abundance of competition out there. There’s no shortage of evil in this world.
And there is an abundance available from God to go out into our world and fight back. If you don’t have enough money to do something worthwhile, it’s not because the blood center took it all.
So mega-church, grace and peace to you. I hope your new campus this weekend has an encouraging start. We need your help. Darkness covers the earth. We need the light you’re providing.
Children’s hospital, homeless prevention center, para-church youth outreach, grace and peace to you. Thank you for identifying some particular places that need a special outreach and witness and giving them your full attention. We need you.
Church — and especially church leaders — how about offering the gospel more and spending less time on these petty issues?
And a small note to the other side
I’m remembering some conversations I’ve had about “the Reformed folk kicking our tails.” There are some secondary “competitions” within the Church, and I think they’re okay and healthy.
So for instance, I believe every church should be celebrating weekly Eucharist — and in a meaningful, not half-baked kind of way. But those who don’t (which, as it turns out, includes that mega-church)? I still consider them friends — just in need of some more persuading — not foes!
I believe in Wesleyan theology. It has been life-changing for me. I believe it’s better and truer, richer and deeper than Reformed (often called “Calvinist”) theology. I wish it would be taught better, proclaimed more boldly, available in more resources. In that, yes, the Reformed folk are kicking our tails. But on the whole, the Reformed, the Pentecostals, the Roman Catholics, the independent evangelicals, yes, even the Dispensationalists, are allies, not competition. If any of them start a new church down the street, I wish for their success.
If I really believe a church or non-profit is doing more harm than good (e.g. the infamous Westboro Baptist), then they’re at best mis-guided allies, or perhaps outright evils that need to be combatted. The best I can wish for them is serious reform, or to go away. But those are the rare exceptions, certainly not the rule.
Right now, the ones that concern me the most are those whose Christianity is so shallow and mis-guided that they wake up each day to do battle against those villainous children’s hospitals and mega-churches.
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