Archive - January, 2011

Learning from the Megachurch

I just finished reading Scott Thumma and Dave Travis’ book Beyond the MegaChurch Myths: What We Can Learn from America’s Largest Churches.  It makes for fascinating reading.  Perhaps the most significant insight is this:  “We argue that the greatest contribution of meagachurches is not about growth or being large so much as it is about learning how to address the contemporary needs of people in the Community.  In many cases, megachurches have figured out how to do this in ways that resonate with their neighbors – an insight that has great value to congregations of all sizes.”  (p. 191)

1. MYTH: “All Megachurches are alike!”
    REALITY: They are not all alike but in fact very diverse.  They do share some common organizational characteristics.

2. MYTH: “That church is just too big!”
     REALITY: “The reason that megachurches are so large is ultimately because many people are getting their needs met in them.” (p. 46) Younger generations are comfortable with and in larger institutions and often find in them small intimate groups for nurture and discipleship formation.

3. MYTH: “Megachurches are cults of personality.”
     REALITY:  Leadership is a critical factor in any size of church.  Megachurch pastors lead teams of people with a clear sense of vision and mission.

4. MYTH: “These churches are only concerned about themselves and the needs of their attendees.”
     REALITY:  Great initial growth tends to focus a church on building facilities and internal structure but as churches mature, they diversify and strengthen their outreach in ministry often far beyond other churches.  Many (if not most) megachurches have great missional outreach to those in need.

5. MYTH: “Megachurches water down the faith.”
     REALITY:  The evidence is just the opposite.  Clarity of mission means that these churches “actually call many believers to higher levels of commitment.” (p. 92)

6.  MYTH: “These churches are bad for other churches.”
      REALITY:  They have resulted in the loss of power and influence from smaller churches but the “benefits these congregations bring to other churches can outweigh the challenging situations they create.” (p. 119)

7. MYTH: “These churches are full of people of the same race, class and political preferences.”
     REALITY:  While this can appear true at a distance, closer examination often reveals greater diversity than in traditional congregations!  Every study done on megachurches shows a considerable mix of economic groups, education, & occupation.

8. MYTH: “Megachurches grow because of the show.”
     REALITY:  Preaching and excellence in worship are a hallmark of megachurches.  As a group, these churches are widely diverse in worship styles and much better at connecting with the “heart language” of new generations.  They speak both to and with the culture.  Quality is a crucial explanation for growth but not the only factor!

9. MYTH: “The megachurch movement is dying – young people hate these churches.”
     REALITY:  Just the opposite is true!  “There are large numbers of young adults in these churches – perhaps in greater percentages than in any other congregational size or form.” (p. 169)

There is much to learn here for all kinds and sizes of churches.  Thumma & Travis’ core insight bears repeating.  “We argue that the greatest contribution of megachurches is not about growth or being large so much as it is about learning how to address the contemporary needs of people in the Community.  In many cases, megachurches have figured out how to do this in ways that resonate with their neighbors – an insight that has great value to congregations of all sizes.”

Missional Faithfulness

Today at Cabinet meeting we went over Conference financial reports for 2010.  There is a part of us that makes a nod and moves on to such reports.  Numbers can be numbing (pun intended).  Yet … often our numbers represent missional faithfulness.

Some data is illuminating.  Gulp, we did not pay our general church apportionments in full for only the second time in the last 12 years. (The last time was 2005.)  Our payout rate was 93.13% to the general church.  I want to express my appreciation for the faithfulness of so many churches and add encouragement to those reaching towards a higher missional faithfulness.

Other missional giving continues at a high degree of faithfulness.  The number one response of missional faithfulness was the giving of $289,295.79 to emergency relief in Haiti.  This is a tremendous response!  So too is the $110,150.41 given to Imagine No Malaria.  In the weeks and months ahead we will move forward as a Conference to engage Imagine No Malaria to an even greater degree.  $26, 965.20 was designated for the Methodist Children’s Home in Waco. $18,550 was given to support the greatly needed Central Conference Pension Initiative. 

Overall, the Central Texas Conference gave a total of $834,018.86 to support Advanced Specials and various other special mission projects.  This is tremendous continuing evidence of Missional Faithfulness.  Well done, thou good and faithful servants!

Streams in the Desert

Dallas Willard in his marvelously illuminating book, The Divine Conspiracy, opens with story of a pilot practicing high-speed maneuvers in a jet fighter.  “She turned the controls for what she thought was a steep ascent – and flew straight into the ground. She was unaware that she had been flying upside down.

[Willard continues,] This is a parable of human existence in our times – not exactly that everyone is crashing, though there is enough of that – but most of us as individuals, and world society as a whole, live at high-speed and often with no clue to whether we are flying upside down or right-side up. Indeed, we are haunted by a strong suspicion that there may be no difference – or at least that it is unknown or irrelevant.” [1]

Willard’s image sticks in my mind.  Often I feel like I’m flying upside down at full-speed.  I have gradually, sometimes grudgingly over the years, become a firm believer in the importance of renewal time and focus time on reconnecting with the Holy Trinity.  A part of my attempt at self-reformation is dedicated time in spiritual retreat.  This week, I am spending three days at a Catholic retreat center.  Just prior to that event I have spent a couple of days speaking at the annual Streams in the Desert Spiritual Life Retreat sponsored by the Ft. Worth District at Glen Lake.  (Going on retreat and being the presenter are very different experiences!)

My wife will accurately tell you that I am an at best semi-reformed workaholic.  I am wrestling now and have so all my life with my own spiritual walk.  Two recent works have been shaping much of my thinking.  The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz and The Great Omission by Dallas Willard.  I desire to pick up their insights and lay them alongside some biblical teaching that I have been wrestling with.  Biblically I’ll use as a primary (but not exclusive) focal point Paul’s letter to the Colossians (following a suggestion from Dallas Willard that it make a marvelous starting point).

I have heard rumors of another world and long for it.  I have heard stories of a greater life and hunger after it.  The voyage of my own Dawn Treader is upon me and I know that to rely on myself is sheer folly.

[1]           Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p. 1

The 85% Problem

Early in December I attended a regular learning group with other bishops that I am a part of – The Episcopal Leadership Forum at Duke Divinity School.  While there, we listened to (among other great presentations – including our own Dr. Ginger Bassford – who was outstanding!) the report of some fascinating research done by the Center for Creative Leadership.

After extensive research (which was later supported by similar research conducted in Europe), they reported the following fascinating information about learning temperaments.

  • Active Learners – 10% of North Americans
    • Strive to take responsibility for their own learning
    • Take a role in how & what they need to know and what to do about it
    • Educational self-management
    • Self-motivation becomes a greater force behind learning
  • Passive Learners – 85% of North Americans
    • Learner is a recipient
    • Expectation is that others will provide occasion for learning
    • Socialized to believe that personal learning needs are identified and provided by others as determined by a given situation or authority
  • Blocked Learners – 5% of North Americans
    • Appear to be incapable of learning from their experiences
    • Variety of causes

Which category are you in?  Be careful!  Clergy are no different in learning temperaments than the rest of the population.  These insights forced me to stop and engage in personal inventory.  It is too easy to assume that I am in the 10% of active learners.  Self deception is common and all of us wrestle with the malady of such self-deception.  I am asking myself: Am I an active learner?  What evidence is there to support such a conclusion?  I invite the reader to do the same.