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Mega-churches: A Manifestation of the Spirit of the Age (4)

In our last article we noticed how many mega-churches tend to be structured and operated more like businesses than churches. We also observed the casual attitude that these churches have towards membership. We ended with a look at the average mega-church pastor who has his “fingers on the pulse of the culture.”

In this article we will conclude our look at mega-churches by examining their “vision” and “purpose” and how this relates to their outreach and evangelism. One can get a good grasp of the “mission” of mega-churches in general by looking at a sample of their websites. Nearly all mega-church websites contain a “mission statement” or some kind of statement expressing a “vision” or “purpose.” When one takes the time to examine a number of websites, one is struck by the similarities among the sites and how little they differ from church to church. This is also true with the mission statements of various mega-churches. Many of them are merely variations on one general theme.

Let us take a look at a few mission and vision statements taken from various mega-church websites. The website of a South Barrington, Illinois church and trend leader among mega-churches, states that: “The mission of Willow Creek Community Church is to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.”1 A few paragraphs later, we read that they believe the role of the church “is to glorify God and serve those in need.”

The mission of Northwoods Community Church of Peoria, Illinois is “to make fully devoted followers of Christ out of unchurched people in the Peoria, Illinois area.” Next, we read that their vision is “to build a community of contagious Christ-followers out of unchurched people in the Peoria area by attracting them to the life of Christ, introducing them to Christ, and maturing them in Christ.”2 The mission of Kensington Community Church of Troy, Michigan is “To turn people who think God is irrelevant into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ through high-impact churches.”3

A central theme found in many of the mission statements is a desire on the part of mega-churches to “impact” and “make a difference” in their surrounding communities and even the world. This theme can be found in the vision statement of Point of Grace Church of Des Moines, Iowa. It reads:

Equipping people to impact their world, by providing an innovative, grace-filled, people-empowered church, located in the western suburbs of Des Moines, focusing on the real needs of people, introducing them to an authentic growing relationship with Jesus Christ in a casual environment of love and acceptance.4

Calvary (undenominational) Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan states that their mission “is to equip followers of Jesus to impact their world to the delight of God.”5 If a church views its mission as making a difference in the surrounding community then the kind of outreach they conduct will reflect this mission. Mariners Church of Irvine, California makes the connection between their mission and outreach in one paragraph found on their website. Under the heading of “Innovative in our ministry and relevant to our community,” the paragraph reads:

We want to make a difference in our community by being aware of and sensitive to current situations within our neighborhood. In doing so, we challenge ourselves to stretch outside our “comfort zones.” Our goal is to be innovative in the ministries of music, teaching, drama, art, and multimedia, as well as other ways that may capture the attention of those in our community who don’t know Christ.”6

Under the title of “Citywide Ministry,” New Life Church of Colorado Springs, Colorado declares that:

No city in the United States has been measurably impacted by the success of one church. However, cites can be forcefully impacted by the success of networks of churches. At New Life, one of our main functions is to organize and coordinate with the hundreds of churches in our area. Together, we can strategize and utilize each others distinctives to strengthen us all in the goal of reaching and serving more people for Christ.7

Perhaps the mega-church which serves as the best example of how mega-churches view themselves and their mission in the world is NorthRidge Church of Plymouth, Michigan. The first two sentences and a few excerpts of their vision states:

Our vision is most clearly understood when pictured as a spiritual shopping mall. The shopping mall seeks to provide availability and easy access to most everything a person needs or wants in an attractive, convenient and desirable setting….

We see NorthRidge as that kind of place, only for the purpose of meeting spiritual needs. It is our desire to provide availability and easy access to ministries designed for every spiritual need and want a person has at every stage of spiritual development, from unbelieving to mature believer. As well, we want to have something for every kind of person God has placed in our surrounding communities…

We see ourselves as a church that, through diversity, innovation, size, total member involvement, flexibility, understanding of present cultural and community needs, love and acceptance, concern for quality and excellence, and commitment to truth, can meet the spiritual needs of people in all of life’s varying circumstances in an exciting, relevant and enjoyable way.8

In order for us to properly evaluate the various mission and vision statements of these mega-churches, it is necessary for us to know from God’s Word exactly what the church is, who the members of the church are, and the reason for the existence of the church in the world. Rev. Ronald Hanko, deals with the topic of the church in his book Doctrine According To Godliness on pages 219-279. Pages 219 and 220 are very helpful in defining the church and God’s purpose for it in the world.

Rev. Hanko defines the word church as follows.

The Greek word translated church means “called out.” The name church in the highest and best sense refers to those who are saved and to them only. The name reminds us that the true members of the church are those who are “called… out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (I Peter 2:9). It reminds us, too, that their place in the church is of grace. They are not members by their choice or works, but by God’s calling.9

One sees immediately that this definition of the church does not square with the various mission statements which we have just read. No doubt average unchurched, irreligious mega-church attendees would feel very uncomfortable being told that they were a “chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that they should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9). They would feel much more comfortable being told that they were gathered together for the purpose of improving themselves so that they could go out and make a difference in the world. Mega-churches do their best to blur the distinction between the church and the world, between those “called out” and those not. Their very appeal is that they are as close to the world as possible, yet still calling themselves the church.

We must notice also how mega-churches put emphasis upon their own innovation and techniques in “reaching” and “equipping” people “for” Christ. There is much talk about “love and acceptance,” “flexibility,” “innovation,” and “understanding.” Many mega-churches are careful to advertise their “ministries” of music, drama, teaching, and multimedia. Bringing people into the church is seen as nothing more than a human endeavor. It is up to the church to become as creative as possible to draw people through the doors. God is not extolled as the One who powerfully calls His people out of darkness and into the light of His truth through the preaching of the Word.

Also missing in the various mega-church mission statements is the reality of the spiritual separation that exists between the members of the church and the world with all its wickedness. Rev. Hanko points this out as he continues to define what it means to be “called out.” He writes:

That members of the church are called out refers not only to their salvation from sin (they are called out of darkness), but also to their spiritual separation from the world and its wickedness (2 Cor. 6:14-18). Implied in the name church, therefore, is the holiness and obedience of the church’s members. A church whose members are not holy does not deserve the name church.10

Churches which incorporate as much of popular culture into their worship as possible, in order to appeal to those in the community around them, are not living out this spiritual separation. Churches which reject sound doctrine, which overlook sin in the lives of their members, and which have a “come as you are” attitude about attendance, are guilty of violating the command of 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. The “impact” of all of this behavior is that the church becomes more and more like the world. Instead of the church “making a difference” (the vision of many mega-churches) in the world, the world floods into the church, drowning the witness of the church and its members.

That the church and its members live in spiritual separation from the world and in dedication to the service of God is very important. Writes Rev. Hanko,

Holiness is essential to the very existence of the church. Unto holiness the members are called, chosen (Eph. 1:4), and redeemed (Col. 1:21, 22). Church holiness is important because it has to do with God’s purpose in the church. The reason for the church’s existence is the glory of God (Eph. 1:6, 12). It is in the holiness of the church and its members that this purpose is reached. An unholy church, a church whose members are not holy, cannot and does not glorify God. In the holiness of the church, most of all, God’s glory shines out.11

Notice how the glorifying of God is missing from nearly all of the mega-church mission, purpose, and vision statements. They see meeting the “needs” of the community and “impacting” the world as their main reason for existence. The typical mega-church resembles more a social service agency existing for the service of man than a church living in holiness for the glory of God.

Because they see their purpose in this way, their witness in the world is ineffective. Writes Rev. Hanko,

It is to the shame and hurt of the church today that its members do not live as those who are called out. If the church itself is not any different from the world in its teaching, in the conduct of its members, and in its practices, its witness will be ineffective. The church’s glory, and the glory of its witness to this lost world, lies in its being called out, separate, and holy—different from the wicked world.12

Perhaps mega-churches most clearly manifest the spirit of the age in their endeavors of trying to make this world a better place to live. Ultimately, their goal is an earthly kingdom brought about by the efforts of man. This goal brings them into close contact and cooperation with the world. We see this cooperation between apostatizing churches and the world and the attempt to establish an earthly kingdom as one of the signs of the return of our Lord.

May we be those who watch and are aware of the signs of Christ’s coming, not fooled by the false doctrines and practices which surround us. May we also be careful to remain members of a true church (or join it, if necessary) where the marks of the true church are found: the preaching of the pure doctrine of the gospel, the pure administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline.

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8).

Endnotes

1http://www.willowcreek.org/what_we_believe.asp (retrieved 6/11/2005)

2http://www.nwoods.org/?section=76 (retrieved 6/11/2005)

3http://kensingtonchurch.org/aboutus/missionstatement.php (retrieved 6/11/2005)

4http://www.pointofgrace.com/about/purpose/index.php (retrieved 6/11/2005)

5http://calvarychurch.gospelcom.net/purpose.htm (retrieved 6/11/2005)

6http://www.marinerschurch.org/pages/values.html (retrieved 6/11/2005)

7http://www.newlifechurch.org/whatwebelieve/index.cfm?FUSEACTION=citywideMInistry (retrieved 6/11/2005)

8http://www.northridgechurch.com/About/Vision.asp

9Ronald Hanko, Doctrine According To Godliness, (Reformed Free Publishing Association, Grandville, MI, 2004) p. 219.

10Ronald Hanko, p. 219.

11Ronald Hanko, p. 219.

12Ronald Hanko, pp. 219, 220.