The Mega-Church Mess
"Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?"
-Dr. R. Albert Mohler, President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Problems at Andy Stanley's North Point (Mega) Church

The Modern Megachurch and the Wisdom of J.C Ryle (by Paul Thompson)


August 29, 2012 by Guest Blogger, SBC Voices: Southern Baptist News and Opinion


    Paul Thompson blogs at “The Bridge” and is a pastor between here and Japan somewhere!  He was our second place blogger in the Blue Collar Blog Madness tournament this year.


Last night I read two interesting pieces. One from Medical News Today, the other from J.C. Ryle Quotes.


Medical News Today: Like A Drug: The Rise Of American Megachurches


This article was about recent research by University of Washington about the rise of the American Megachurch. I found the article interesting… I think the observations by researcher, James Wellman could be spoken of more than just the megachurch. The article begins with the following statement…


    “American megachurches use stagecraft, sensory pageantry, charismatic leadership and an upbeat, unchallenging vision of Christianity to provide their congregants with a powerful emotional religious experience,


J.C. Ryle wrote a book entitled “Warnings to the Churches”, in it he warns…


    The church’s doctrine and practice are in constant danger of being corrupted from their original divinely-given character. Seeing this, Ryle felt compelled to utter a warning, however controversial this might prove. As he observes, ‘There are times when controversy is…a benefit. Give me the mighty thunderstorm rather than the pestilential malaria. The one walks in darkness and poisons us in silence…The other frightens and alarms us for a little season. But it is soon over, and it clears the air’ (p. 111).


Here are some quick quotes from the article “Like A Drug: The Rise Of The American Megachurch” compared with some of Ryle’s warnings to the church from over a hundred years ago.


Like A Drug: “Megachurch services feature a come-as-you-are atmosphere, rock music, and what Wellman calls a “multisensory mélange” of visuals and other elements to stimulate the senses, as well as small-group participation and a shared focus on the message from a charismatic pastor.

Ryle’s Warnings: “There is a great appearance of learning and theological knowledge: many fancy that such clever and intellectual men must surely be safe guides.”


Like A Drug: “Many participants used the word “contagious” to describe the feeling of a megachurch service where members arrive hungry for emotional experiences and leave energized. One church member said, “(T)he Holy Spirit goes through the crowd like a football team doing the wave. …Never seen it in any other church.””

Ryle’s Warnings: “There is a quantity of half-truth taught by the modern false teachers: they are incessantly using Scriptural terms and phrases in an unscriptural sense. There is a morbid craving in the public mind for a more sensuous, ceremonial, sensational, showy worship: men are impatient of inward, invisible heart-work.”


Like A Drug: “Megachurches also encourage their members, such as by saying, “Things can get better, you can be happy,” he added. This comforting message also is a key to megachurches’ success, Wellman said. “How are you going to dominate the market? You give them a generic form of Christianity that’s upbeat, exciting, and uplifting.””

Ryle’s Warnings: “There is a silly readiness in every direction to believe everybody who talks cleverly, lovingly and earnestly, and a determination to forget that Satan often masquerades himself “as an angel of light”


Like A Drug: “Wellman said, “This isn’t just same-old, same-old. This is not like evangelical revivalism. It’s a new, hybrid form of Christianity that’s mutating and separate from all the traditional institutions with which we usually affiliate Christianity.” Megachurches, which rarely refer to heaven or hell, are worlds away from the sober, judgmental puritan meetinghouses of long ago, Wellman said.”

Ryle’s Warnings: “There is a wide-spread “gullibility” among professing Christians: every heretic who tells his story plausibly is sure to be believed, and everybody who doubts him is called a persecutor and a narrow-minded man.”


It was fascinating to examine both documents together. I found Wellman’s, mostly secular, examination of the condition of the western church spot on. Where his research is mostly about megachurches, I think it can be said of many churches, regardless of size. I found Ryle’s warning to be prophetically spot on. He was observing his day and the trends impacting the church as though he just walked out of the average church in America.


Rise up church and be the church!



All 8 Symptoms of False Doctrine by J.C. Ryle:

Many things combine to make the present inroad of false doctrine peculiarly dangerous.


1. There is an undeniable zeal in some of the teachers of error: their “earnestness” makes many think they must be right.


2. There is a great appearance of learning and theological knowledge: many fancy that such clever and intellectual men must surely be safe guides.


3. There is a general tendency to free thought and free inquiry in these latter days: many like to prove their independence of judgment, by believing novelties.


4. There is a wide-spread desire to appear charitable and liberal-minded: many seem half ashamed of saying that anybody can be in the wrong.


5. There is a quantity of half-truth taught by the modern false teachers: they are incessantly using Scriptural terms and phrases in an unscriptural sense.


6. There is a morbid craving in the public mind for a more sensuous, ceremonial, sensational, showy worship: men are impatient of inward, invisible heart-work.


7. There is a silly readiness in every direction to believe everybody who talks cleverly, lovingly and earnestly, and a determination to forget that Satan often masquerades himself “as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).


8. There is a wide-spread “gullibility” among professing Christians: every heretic who tells his story plausibly is sure to be believed, and everybody who doubts him is called a persecutor and a narrow-minded man.


All these things are peculiar symptoms of our times. I defy any observing person to deny them. They tend to make the assaults of false doctrine in our day peculiarly dangerous. They make it more than ever needful to cry aloud, “Do not be carried away!”


~ J.C. Ryle

How to Start Your Own Successful Mega-Church

The People’s Church, Willow Creek (where the "Seeker Sensitive" movement started), and the

Church Growth Movement

"How a Megachurch Melts Down"
(from an article by Ruth Graham, in "The Atlantic")



By Rev. Ken Silva, Southern Baptist pastor-teacher, Oct 20, 2010

TRANSCRIPT OF ABOVE FILM OF CINDY TRIMM:  I’m gonna move to the right. The anointing is gonna shift economics in here. Your finances are gonna have a divine visitation from God. I’m talking about the hand of God getting ready to touch everybody.

I’m gonna move to the right; and a wave of the anointing is gonna hit everybody in here. The hand of God is gonna touch ya. How many of you believe that? How many of you receive that? Cuz a lot of people believe, they don’t wanna receive. Put your hands down, don’t grasp anybody.

You are gonna receive a double portion, you’re gonna receive what God has for you, and you’re gonna pick up your neighbor’s anointing. And I’m gonna prove it; Father, in the Name of Jesus now, Your people have given, they have given willingly. The portals of Heaven have been locked up and closed and constricted, for year after year over every individual’s life.

But I decree and declare now, that they are open, I open them prophetically right now, in the Name of Jesus. Now Father, whatever Heaven has been locked up, because of ignorance, because of withdrawing–Hallelujah–withholding, I decree and declare that the spicket is open. Now Father, like a tsunami, I decree and declare, that You are going to begin to move from my right and left.

I decree and declare, Father, that You would move from the front to the back. Father, as I move across the stage, I decree everyone–Hallelujah–that sees me as I move, will be slain; and you will birth, and you will birth–Father, they will pick up mantles in the realm of the Spirit. I decree and declare, right now, that as I move across the stage–Hallelujah–economics are gonna be shifted, finances are gonna be shifted.

I decree and declare, that the wealth of the wicked is no longer laid up for you; but the wealth of the wicked, is being released. I decree and declare, that winds of the Spirit are beginning to blow; and they’re blowing into your home. I decree and declare, that your sons and daughters–by virtue of the pack of your praise–you are going to birth them into the Kingdom.

You and your sons and daughter are gonna be birthed into the Kingdom, while they’re in prison, they’re gonna be birthed into prison, while they’re in crack houses. Your husbands are gonna come back, your ministries are gonna turn around! I decree and declare, supernatural anointing sweep; [shouting] Father, from my right, to my left! After I move, everybody open your eyes! Hear it is!

[praying in “tongues”] Now Father, in the Name of Jesus, we thank You that here is a shifting, a shifting that is going on in the Kingdom. We thank you that the spirit of Esther is upon each individual; every woman, that You are now transforming. [gradually becoming louder until shouting] You are posturing them, for the next move of God! I decree and declare, from the earth, mantles that have been dropped, they are being picked up! I decree and declare, double portions of the Elijah anointing is being birthed! Every prophet, that is assigned to this time–and this generation–I stir up, stir up, stir up; stir it up! I quicken! I quicken callings! I quicken ministries! I quicken churches! I quicken visions!

Everything that died, because of doubt, because of unbelief! I call you from the grave! I decree and declare–Hallelujah–[unintelligible] are being extended! I decree, the spirit of Jabez, falls upon the women! I decree and declare, that Your hand, is working in them; both to will, and to do, of Your good pleasure! I release, angels on assignment! I assign them, to your ministries, to your houses!

Everything, that this season should bring to you, I decree, every invisible barrier is now destroyed! I decree, you a trailblazer; a prophetic trailblazer, an apostolic trailblazer, a didactic trailblazer, an evangelistic trailblazer, a teaching trailblazer, a natural trailblazer, in the Name of Jesus!

I decree, new territories; new territories–glory–I decree, that the Kingdom, of Heaven, comes! It comes, with force; it comes, with a supernatural anointing! Supernatural God; activate, prophetic destinies, in the Name of Jesus! I close off, the gates, and the doors, to your soul! Eye gate, shut down, to the world; open up, and see the Kingdom! Ear gate, close yourself, and open up, to hear the frequency, of the Spirit! Nose gate, open up! Mouth gate, oh taste and see, the Lord is good!

I anoint, you from the crown, of your head, to the souls of your feet! I decree, channels open; doors open; gates open; in the Name of Jesus! He makes a way, for you! I decree, a shifting; in the Name of Jesus! [pauses, then begins praying in “tongues”] Somebody tell Him, “Yes!” I mean, yes from your heart.

"Megachurch Madness"

By Steve McCranie,  Jul 23, 2014

The early church had a problem.  Peter had just preached a scathing sermon that was sure to rile the ranks of those who rejected the message of personal responsibility for the death of Christ.  His climactic statement is found in Acts 2:36:

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know (and that includes you) that God has made this Jesus, (here it comes) whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

Now the crowd was split.  There were some who rejected Peter’s message as vehemently as they had rejected Jesus some 2 months earlier.  But the Scriptures don’t tell us much about this crowd.  Then there was the other group, the ones who were “cut to the heart” in guilt and conviction and cried out in desperation, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).

The message to them was simple and direct. “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).  And they did— 3,000 of them in one day!  They had grown from the faithful 120 (Acts 1:15) to what we would now call a mega-church after one sermon.

So what was the church to do now?

I know, they would probably do what all large churches do today.  They would form a committee and try to determine the best way to keep the crowds coming.  They would:

•  Immediately move into a building plan for new facilities.  After all, “you can’t have a church without a church building.”

•  They would segregate their congregation by age and then hire paid professionals to take care of their needs.  They would employ young youth pastors, with tight fitting shirts, fledging facial hair and NY Yankees flat bill ball caps, to take care of the teenagers.  They would need children’s pastors, with exaggerated expressions and over-the-top mannerisms, to babysit the children while their parents worshiped in “big church” on Sunday.  Oh, and they also had to be pretty good at puppets.  Music?  Well, that’s a category all by itself.

•  They would send out questionnaires to determine what kind of secular music the congregation was listening to before they came to Christ and, instead of trying to direct them to music that glorified the Lord and edified each of them, they would just mimic the world’s music but change a few of the lyrics so they could sleep well at night and still call it Christian.  You know, go with the rock band theme: long hair, skinny jeans, pulsating lights, loud music designed to elicit an emotional or physical response and then try to pass it off as something spiritual.  “Wow.  Sure felt the spirit today. Our worship band rocks!”  Ahem.

•  They would come up with a Mission Statement.  All organizations need a Mission statement, right?  I mean, that’s what they taught us in “Marketing Class.”  Exactly.  Marketing Class.  Ahem, again.  And the Mission Statement needs to be broad in order to cast a large net, broad to press all the hot buttons of those believers they want to attract, and broad so as not to exclude anyone.  The Mission Statement is their sales pitch, it tells their prospective clients, their new members, what they want to hear about the church, whether they actually live by their statement or not.  It tends to be the statement that helps them perform their mission:  which is to get you to come and stay loyal to their church… uh, er… I mean Christ, in order to help them grow.

•  They would develop a Statement of Faith.  And this, for the most part, needs to be simple.  The statement of faith in a megachurch has a tendency to drive people away rather than draw them in.  So, let’s keep it simple, something that no one can disagree with.

Our Statement of Faith:  We Love Jesus, and We Love You.  Aw, how sweet.

•  They would then need to come up with a logo and a brand and a website.  They would have to hire professionals who would design the best color schematics for their church brand.  And then they would need to take their logo and brand and build identity and loyalty to the church…again, uh… I mean loyalty to Christ.  They would print their logo and website on their t-shirts, bumper stickers, pins, flash drives, hats, tote bags, chip clips, key rings, refrigerator magnets and on and on ad nauseum.  Why?  “Because we want our people to feel a part of something bigger than themselves, to recognize who we are, to market our church to their friends, you know, to become repeat customers.  We want our church to have brand recognition like Starbucks.”

•  Also, they would need to promote their pastor as a celebrity.  It’s his picture and his blog and his books that they prominently display on their website.  They need him to become bigger than life so the crowds would continue to come, week after week, to hear him speak, to dress like he dresses, to drink the coffee he drinks, to think and look and act just like him.  After all, they are a personally driven church and it’s the pastor’s personality, and not Jesus, that “keeps ’em coming” each Sunday.

•  Finally, because no one can do it better than their celebrity pastor, they would need to franchise their church, their brand, their pastor, out to other locations.  They would set up satellite campuses all over the city and park their people in front of a HD, 1080p image of their celebrity pastor “doing his thing” on a flat, two dimensional video screen.  And they proudly call that community, fellowship, koinonia.  But in reality, it’s not about the people who will never meet the pastor let alone actually talk with him when they have a problem in their life.  No, it’s about the church, the institution, the brand and the budget, and how they can grow their business bigger.  It’s spiritual entrepreneurialism at its worst.

That’s how we do it today.  But the early church did things different, completely different.

Listen to what they devoted themselves to (and it’s not the church or the brand):

And they continued steadfast in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:42).

In addition, they sold their possessions so they could take care of others.  There was no sermon on tithing “because we are short on the budget this year.”  Acts 2:44-45 states:

Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

Sounds like us today, doesn’t it?

They also didn’t just show up for the Sunday service once a week and feel like they had done their duty to God.  No, they met together daily in the temple for worship and they took their meals together in each others’ homes (Acts 2:46).  They simply loved being with each other.  In other words, church was not something they did, but something they were.  They wanted to look each other in the eye, they wanted to share each others’ burdens (Gal. 6:2), they wanted to get their hands dirty together in ministry for their Lord.  And they wanted to do that together.  Fact is, you can’t do any of this sitting in an auditorium watching a well-rehearsed 60 minute show on Sunday morning.  Especially when you view that show on a video screen sitting cheek-to-cheek with people you have never met before nor will probably ever see again.

So what appeals to you?  The early church or the megachurch?

I guess that all depends on what you’re looking for in church.  If you crave the show, the feel-good messages, celebrity pastors, Madison Avenue branding, and the like— I think you’d better check the megachurch box on your church preference form.  But if you’re looking for true intimacy, a church family, a pastor that you can invite over to your home for a meal (and he will actually come), life-long friends you worship with each Sunday and hang out with the rest of the week— then you’d better check the box for the church that only has as many members as you can personally know. 

And if the church you attend grows to the point that you can’t possibly know all the people, well, it’s probably time for a church strategic split and the birth of a new church with a new pastor.

I think it’s called growth by getting smaller.

Something to consider.  It’s the Acts 2 way.


SHOCKING: SBC Megachurch Pastor (at Dr. R.G. Lee's former church, Bellevue Baptist, Memphis, TN),



Texas Mega-Church Says “Come To Church This Easter – Win Fabulous Prizes!”