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In the United States of America the Walmart effect is known in small towns. In Latin America we already know it! Where Walmart arrives, bankrupt small businesses. It has also happened with the small churches that have been absorbed, as family businesses forced to close. The megachurches offer better products: ample parking, good music, excellent sound, a variety of ministries, and personalities with messages of easy application. While the old denominations not only struggle to survive, but also convince their followers to remain faithful to their tribal doctrine, but their inherited structure no longer responds to the challenges of the world as it did a few decades ago.
But panic should not prevail! One of the total models of megachurches is now in decline and looking to reinvest. Hill Hybel, pastor of the famous church Willow Creek North America, came to admit in a leadership conference that "we have spent millions of dollars thinking if it would really help our people". But the thing does not hit! But there are more mistakes that have happened in megachurches in Latin America, and I want to number them. Allow me to mention some of the main reasons for the decline of the megachurch model, so that our megachurches put their beards in soaking.
First, in Latin America the emphasis on sensitive seekers lost its focus over time, as they began to attract more wounded and disappointed converts from other churches. They lost such an approach when they ceased to inculcate in their membership the model of attraction evangelism (inviting people to church). Well, when they were invited, no one showed them interest, follow-up, or pastorally talking about them. Over time the number of visitors decreased, and the congregation became more exclusive than inclusive.
Second, lack of pastoral care became scarce. Some megachurches did not develop a ministry focused on small groups. How can pastoral care be given to thousands of people? At least in small groups care can be given. But, as more attention was paid to mass activities than to small groups, these churches began to decline more rapidly. They forgot that a large church grows small. While I wonder: Who will close the back door? Other churches have adapted abusive models such as the 12, G12, G8, or vision model. They ask for total loyalty, commitment, and delivery that comes to sacrifice the family, employment, and health of the people. In some of these churches it is requested that everything and everyone that is part of the process, sign a "contract of the celestial corporation", where the person submits to a total obedience and spiritual alliance to the pastor-apostle. And what about Christ? Spiritual and power abuses are committed with these models, all because of the growth of the church, but not of the Kingdom.
Third, pastors are hired to take charge of programs and not to provide care to people. Terrible mistake! The church is about people, not about programs. On the one hand, we must be clear: the pastorate is a spiritual gift, not a title: Pastors provide pastoral care. On the other hand, the recharged volunteers faced exhaustion. They did not have a pastor to show them care or coavailability. They had to wait for up to two months to meet with one of their pastors. On the other hand the militar pastors (i.e., celebrities, charismatics, CEOs) found that people followed them, but not Christ. Who preaches this Sunday? By reducing the appearance of personalities that handled the show, decreased attendance at the services.
Fourth, the long messages or lectures (for the word sermon is no longer used) has been that of the mega-church's strong dish, and soon began to find its limitations. Such messages are of a psychological nature (popular psychology) and came to sacrifice the biblical text. That is to say, such lecturers spent more time reading books of popular psychology, than practicing a good exegesis of the biblical text. This emphasis came to impact over time on the poor biblical training of their membership. Furthermore, in some of the megachurches the biblical reading disappeared from suliturgia. People came to know more about poor applied psychology than about biblical principles for their Christian life.
Fifth, its broad positivo estate came to kill them financially. Some of these megachurches did not require membership because many never committed to their tithes and offerings. Perhaps 20% of the assistants served in ministries and supported the finances of the church. The others seemed to be recurring visitors without any commitment. They are like nomads that every Sunday rotate from megachurch to megachurch. New believers: Who would commit to a church where nobody cares that I exist? Large buildings and facilities became difficult to maintain. They fell into a vicious circle! No more pastors can be hired to attend to the unattended (80% of the attendees) because the facilities, and the high salaries of celebrities, and other staff swallowed what 20% of their assistants donated. That is why the church began to be managed as a company instead of being an instrument for the Kingdom. Each time the structure began to perpetuate itself, and to give less missional focus as in evangelism and discipleship.
Sixth, since the megachurch lacked a particular Protestant doctrine, all were welcome to believe what they would like to believe. Therefore, no one knew what was believed, or what should be believed, and among these the shepherds themselves. This was exacerbated in those churches where their pastors lacked solid theological training. And when these churches attracted people from other churches, they began to generate differences that tolerance was not enough to maintain. It became imperative to consolidate a doctrine, and those churches that did have to say yes to certain criteria and not to others. When this doctrinal consolidation happened his membership decreased due to irreconcilable differences. For this reason, popular psychology is the simplest dish to prepare in its preaching.
Seventh, marketing became the most important tool to design your model. By asking middle-class people about the type of church, programs and activities they would like, the megachurch was created. In this way, it is worth asserting that the megachurch is the product of marketing, never of God's mission. The church responded to the concerns of the market, and in order to satisfy that market sacrificed the transforming identity of the gospel. What about the mission of God? The church is the agent of the Kingdom in the world, not the theater of chosen doctrines so as not to offend anyone. By valuing the expectations of the seekers above biblical ethics, the community becomes a mass stadium of individuals who demand a good religious show, but without the slightest interest to grow and serve in a broken world that needs Christ ( that's how they learned the meaning of the Christian life).
Eighth, the militar pastors of the megachurches like to talk about teamwork. But when the pastor and his wife are the militar pastors, decisions are made in the bedroom and not with the other pastors. Even worse, their teams are made up of their clones. Leaders who have domesticated themselves, and who were hired for trust and not for their CV and professional ability. None of these hired leaders has the courage to contradict the militar pastor, as it is a hierarchical, and not democratic, team. Is that team work? Who hires and dismisses pastors in megachurches? Teamwork requires a flat, never hierarchical organization.
Ninth, despite being churches with a certain passion for affecting society with the gospel, their support for cross-cultural missions or ministries is minimal. His focus is not there, but here. All the energy is focused on the show on Sunday. The budget speaks for itself. It is amazing to note the operating budget of these churches, compared to the budget they provide to missionaries, and social programs. Being fat does not mean we are healthy.
Tenth and last aspect is that strong theological emphasis on prosperity in some of the megachurches, especially neo-Pentecostals. The theology of these churches is prosperity! If one prospers, it is a sign of fidelity to and blessing of God. They promise everyone to receive prosperity if they sow in faith. However, it is interesting that some of these churches explain (not very openly) that those who receive such promise of prosperity need certain spiritual and decente requirements close to the ethical-spiritual description of St. Francis of Assisi. In other words, I can sow all I can, but if I do not prosper it is because of some peccadillo in my life (sin even of omission that the same person can ignore). The thing is that there is no way to lose or win in this business of arguments in regards to planting and harvesting!
Please, do not misunderstand me! I have nothing personal against the megachurches. Very good things have come from them. But are their pastors willing to listen and want to correct these deficiencies to strengthen their church at the service of the Kingdom?
Osías Segura Th.M. Seminar ESEPA
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