With the realization that after two decades of outreach their ministry is markedly slowing down, several of the flagship megachurches in America are making major changes in their programs.
The Los Angeles Times (June 7) reports that.pastors of these churches with over 2,000 members are finding growing numbers of dissatisfied members, unhappy neighbors, and an inability to connect with younger congregants. Among the several re-inventions underway are new training programs aimed at bringing Gen-X you into leadership positions, replacing pews with tables and chairs to create more connectedness among worshipers, and reformulating small group ministries to where, observers suggest, they will soon replace the once a week central worship service as the center of the congregation’s program.
The planners are also finding that younger seekers are increasingly turned off by the large churches that have deliberately cut ties with known religious traditions and rituals.
The changes, according to megachurch experts Eddie Gibbs of Fuller Theological Seminary, and Scott Thumma of the Center for Social and Religious Research (CSRR), are more than momentary reactions to unexpected dips in attendance and giving. The reforms are aimed at finding new ways to attract younger seekers and to hold on to older ones who are looking for more than upbeat music, mini-dramas, and experiential teaching.
Such acknowledged megachurch leaders as Saddleback Valley Community Church in Orange County, and the flagship Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago are holding training sessions for congregational leaders from around the country. Observers note that Saddleback, for instance, is attracting religious entrepreneurial innovators using more sophisticated business techniques to create a spiritual products for upscale suburban consumers. Thumma of the CSRR concludes the current post baby boomer generation is searching for more authentic personal experience, one with more visible ties to earlier church ministry, but using the best of electronic technology.
As churches become too large, today’s innovators are planning “daughter churches,” of a quasi-denominational character, much like the nationwide Calvary Chapel network first started in Costa Mesa, Calif. Hands-on research among the new generation, experts agree, points clearly to the need for more attention to small group dynamics occupying a much larger, perhaps central, focus in local congregational worship and outreach.
— By Erling Jorstad, RW contributing editor.