BOOK REVIEW: God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World! (by John Micklethwait & Adrian Woold

July 5, 2009

Some thoughts on the Mega-church model.

Just read a balanced book review of a new and popular work by two Economist journalists/researchers. The book promotes all that is right with religion in America {“the ‘hot religion’ (namely Evangelical Protestantism) of the United States is the future”}; the writers use all the right words and phrases to paint the Mega-Church model (e.g., Willow Creek & Saddleback & Osteen’s Mega-theopolis) as the correct model – unfortunately they are quite wrong.

One section reveals the problem with their take on the growth of the evangelical church via the Mega-church model –

As the authors rightly note, because religion was divorced from the state in America, religious leaders and communities had to fend for themselves, building their own institutions while competing strenuously for believers with other religious groups. This separation of church and state is akin to the rules of the free market, which may explain why religion has flourished in America in contrast to other developed nations where the state has had a much heavier hand in the support of religion. This, in turn, demanded greater innovation and an emphasis on what might be called customer service. .

… Faced with the challenge of marketing faith in a postindustrial society, contemporary American “pastorpreneurs” have turned to sophisticated business models for inspiration and instruction. As God Is Back notes, Willow Creek Community Church, the famed Illinois megachurch, boasts two MBAs on its large administrative staff, and an operation that caters to virtually all the needs of its members, from food courts to addiction counseling. “Willow Creek,” the authors write, “is based on the same principle as all successful businesses: putting the customer first.” It is a principle they see being followed by Evangelical, Pentecostal, and even some Catholic churches around the world.

It seems patently obvious to this believer that any effort which puts “the customer first” has violated the Great Commandment –

One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:35-40

When a church puts the customer first, the second commandment is no longer “like” the first, it supersedes the first.

In another place the Lord reminds us of what “church” is all about –

“… an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” John 4:23

If your church or denomination has grown by this model it is not an increase caused by the Lord [1 Corinthians 3:7], but allowed by the Lord; it is faux growth at best. Beware the imitator and his imitations.