Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why Mega Church is Mega-Irrelevant

Peacebang, Chalice Chick and others have shared some great points related to a my recent mega-church related post. Below our 10 mega-points and my follow up thougths.


But first, why mega-church is mega-irrelevant (and small group ministry too)

For me behind the mega-talk is the point that the world is hurting badly and needs some group to get organized and lead the way. Not convert people, but bring people together. Faith groups have played a huge role in so many revolutions.


The point is changing lives, our culture(s) and saving the planet. On the relevant side, I don't give a hoot about small groups. I care about accomplishing the work and ministry of our congregations more efficiently. Of doing church in a way that doesn't necessarily limit our growth. I think we need to be more outward focused and to do that we need to know how to welcome people. Do you know how to "do church" for 5,000? Others do. We need to figure that out pretty darn quick. The lives of those 4,900 people who aren't in your 100 person church yet rely on it.

I think it is possible to create a UU inspired movement of spiritual progressives to accomplish this. But if you do that, and it is to be successful, you need to house and sustain this mega-scale movement.

Below are some of the great mega-points and my follow up thoughts.


Mega-Point #1: I don't think it's accurate to say that most UU leaders don't know how to lead small groups.

Peter: I see very few leaders who are leading systems of small groups in ways that lead to growth. In the context of small group ministry and growing larger churches, small groups are intended to produce new leaders, to grow, to serve, and much more. The reports I'm getting suggest that UU's are struggling with this. To me this is a leadership problem. Yes, people are successfully leading individual groups, but the skill at leading groups (plural) is weak.

How are things going where you are? If you have a small group ministry email me with a brief "snapshot" of how things are going in your congregation. Please include your congregation's name and location and if it is growing, shrinking or holding steady.

Mega-Point #2: It would be more realistic to admit that there's a large segment of UU leaders who simply don't believe that in small groups lies the salvation of our movement, even as it may have led to some numerical growth in some congregations.

Peter: Oh so true. And personally, I wish these leaders would step aside. My favorite definition of empowerment is to remove those blocks keeping someone from succeeding. I think this attitude shows a lack of trust in lay people, an unhealthy conception of what ministry is, and keeping us minister focused. I personally think we need leaders who are going to help our "members" see themselves as ministers. The books I read - and they are Christian - talk about making ministers out of members and focusing staff time on leadership and minister development. This strikes me as very UU, to have our trained, ordained, called and compensated ministers focus on making new leaders.

TRY THIS - Rev, what's your GQ?
To your staff evaluations add the following. How many leaders have you developed over this past year? And how many of the leaders you've "raised up" have mentored new leaders? As a leader of leaders (and not a doer of everything yourself) how many new leaders and lay ministers have are working to serve our community because of your efforts over the past year? Give us a number.

Let's call this your minister's GQ, her or his growth quotient. If you want our movement to grow, pay attention to your minister's GQ.

If you are a minister, read the following:

Roy Phillip's book Letting Go: Transforming Congregations for Ministry
Andy Stanley's book Creating community and The Next Generation Leader

Mega-Point #3: How do you build a mega-church without a simple, persuasive theological position? I don't think it can be done; not when Unitarian Universalists come with such wildy divergent theological positions that they expect to hear reflected back to them from the pulpit. (Full disclosure: I am a life-long UU and am not implying that our highly critical institutional and individual approach is a bad thing. It does keep us mighty small, however.)

Peter: How do you build a mega-church without a persuasive theological position? You don't. You build it on the absence of one and on something else instead. Is there any vision and purpose big enough to bring humans together in community besides Christianity? I think so.

To start, you can't call it a Unitarian Universalist congregation. That's the kiss of death, or at least a commitment to being a "small" movement. What are we? Many of our congregations are not Christian. They're not Jewish.

To me they look like a beautiful mix of people of spiritual progressives. These churches -- or spiritual progressive communities -- if they identified as a places for people who do not fit in to any single one religion yet still want to be in community with others, lead great lives, help each other, and heal the world together, I think they would grow. Would we do more good if we empowered our congregations which are more "multi-faith" in nature to embrace that identity and drop the UU label that might be holding them back? I think it is a good question. What do you call a heretic in a community of heretics?

Mega-Point #4: There is an inherently fractured quality to UU congregations -- we sign up for that by being open to just about any theological belief under the sun -- and because every single person in the pew feels entitled to have a say, and an influence, in what message gets preached and what theology (or "theology") gets promoted-- that creates a particular kind of congregational leadership among us. And it ain't the kind that leads a mega church.

Peter: You know it! So what do we do? I think we can be explicit about signing people up for something besides ambiguity.

When you come to Wonder Church, America's home for Spiritual Progressives (TM), you will find a thriving community of people who are united in their shared values. A church is a congregation of people joined in common purpose, not a single set of beliefs. Our purpose is crystal clear. We are dedicated to helping all people lead great lives and healing our hurting world. How do we accomplish this? To be continued....

Would you sign up for something like this? I think I just might. In fact, I'm hungry for it...

Mega-Point #5: How do you create a mega-church (or "mega-church-like" --can you explain what you mean by that?)Unitarian Universalism that's all about the power of small groups? What's the compelling, life-saving message there that you really think will bring thousands into a community?

"Come Join a Small Group of People To Explore Spiritual Topics And Your Life Journey With Twice a Month"?
"Make Friends And Drink Great Coffee: Join a UU Church"?
I'm not trying to be snide, I *really* want to know. [emphasis added]

Peter: I'm so glad you want to know! I bet others do as well.

To accomplish the purpose of my UU inspired Wonder Church with its mission/purpose of helping all people lead great lives and healing our hurting world (there may be a better vision but that's where I am) WE MUST realize that we can only do this if we organize people in small groups where the growth, mentoring, accountability, coaching, intimacy, etc... happens at the group level. In fact, it would need to be a congregation OF small groups, not a congregation WITH small groups. Worship is focused on the celebration of what we are accomplishing in our groups and our ministry & mission efforts. Small groups are the cells of the larger community. Worship is uplifting and celebrating the vision.

To me MEGA BOILS DOWN to being big enough to require a cell group structure to survive (and thrive). At that size you need to have a MEGA vision to attract people and a social & ministry architecture that is capable of including bazillions of people.

Mega-Point #6: What no one seems to want to admit is that Mega-churches are CHRISTIAN.

Peter: Mega-churches are Christian until the time a group of us build a community of mega scale that is also a church. I'm a church geek. I love church. I want to us (UUs) to create something of the Saddleback Church, Willlow Creek and Lakewood Church scale. I think we can do it, though I believe you need to start it from scratch, not change an existing church.

If you're in my neighborood (Boston/Providence) and are interested in a talking about how we might desing a community with a mega-vision, let me know. Maybe we can start a "LAB CHURCH" where visionary UU mad-scientists can get together. Note, mega-churches are often started by one single group of leaders with a unified vision.

Mega-Point #7: Therefore, megachurch small groups are centered in prayer practices, common religious language, shared beliefs about how God is working in people's lives, and a common appreciation for a set of values and for the urgent rightness of the preacher's Sunday message.

While I do not doubt that megachurch folks have their own moments of skepticism and criticism, they are members of a Christian movement that operates on the assumption that there is theological unity among them-- they are the Body of Christ-- , and therefore, the person who must constantly interrupt a group process to assert their own individuality, or to question everything is not indulged. They are brought 'round to the "right" understanding.

Unitarian Universalists do not share spiritual practices, beliefs (heck, we don't even agree that there IS a God working in anyone's life), or uncritical acceptance of a preacher who charistmatically leads us according to what he claims is God's will. We want to be able to parse meaning, hold firmly to the nuances of our own position even in the midst of an encounter with another position, and to affirm our right to question the validity of EVERY spiritual practice.

Until Unitarian Universalists set aside their penchant for fine-tooth-comb critical engagement with everything that comes out of each other's mouths and decide together to engage on a different kind of level than we have ever engaged before, I doubt we will ever create a mega-church.

Peter: Bingo! That's the key. Peacebang, you get it. We have to engage on a different level than we have ever engaged before.

Here's a question for you. Why is there a booming life-coaching industry? To me this industry is meeting the life change needs that my Wonder Church should be addressing. Church should be about life change. Does going to a UU church guarantee life change? What if we designed a church you couldn't participate in without people holding you accountable to your dreams.

Mega-Point #8: The success of small group ministries among some Unitarian Universalist groups is heartening. I personally believe, however, that to look to SGMs as the salvific ingredient that will lead the movement to huge growth and a possible UU Megachurch is certainly premature and probably highly unrealistic.

Peter: Yup. Just as unrealistic as curing cancer and building a world with peace, liberty and justice for all. To me creating authentic live saving loving communities dedicated to healing the world is not premature. It is necessary. What's sad is that our vision isn't bigger than most of our congregations.

Think bigger. If we don't love, organize and kick butt on a MEGA scale we are doomed. Doomed to what? To the consequences of global warming. Maybe a world enslaved by the Neo Conservative agenda. Perhaps a planet dominated by the vision of the powerful minority of the religious far far right. Maybe there are technology threats we should watch for too. How about artificial intelligence replacing workers. Why do we exist if we aren't needed for labor? The point is that the tide is taking our world one way and we need to swim upstream, hopefully taking millions with us.

As for the state of the world,
Are you scared yet? Are you on fire?

You should be. If you're not on fire - and by fire I mean a passion to change the world that is consuming your heart - I ask you this, what is your church doing? In Zen Buddhism they sometimes say if you find the Buddha while on the road, kill him! Concepts can be limiting, even the Buddha. In the same spirit, if your UU church isn't setting the hearts and minds of its members on fire, something is very very wrong.

If, while on the path to change the world, you come upon Unitarian Universalism blocking your way, what do you do?

A. Sit on the log and invite as many others to join you as can fit
B. Set it on fire and walk across the coals

Mega-Point #9: P.S. The insulting and arrogant assumption I have always read in the "EVOLVE" Darwin fish is that all Christians must be creationists.
Do we feel entitled to borrow, and mock, the symbols of any other religious tradition? What makes the Christian fish fair game? It belongs to ALL Christians, not just the ones going to court to teach Intelligent Design in the schools.

Peter: You're right. I never thought about the "not all Christians are creationists" before.

My use of the evolve fish was based in the notion that UUism evolved out of Christianity (the fish), but is something different now. What are we now? What is our core, our mission, our purpose? What are we called to be? How do we create an effective church based on that. I think we are called to unite people. To heal the world in a way that is not about converting people.

Mega-Point #10: And when we hunger after the "megachurch" experience, why do we never lust after the huge mosque experience? Or the big huge sangha ? What is it about the Christian megachurches that puts a sparkle into the UU organizer's eye?

My guess is that it is not so much a seeking after a shared experience of religious intensity in and of itself that some UUs long for in looking to the Christian megachurch model, but the political clout and money that comes with having such numbers.

Peter: The Mega in my mind and heart, that UU Mega sparkle in my eye is about teaching the world that we need not think alike to love alike, that we can come together in communities that are not founded on common belief, but common purpose. That is a purpose big enough to unite us.

When you believe in your heart that thousands, if not millions, are suffering because they don't realize communities life ours exist, you become passionate about sharing it with them (I hope). If we want to share our faith, our way of life & community with millions we have to teach that old UU dog some new ways of doing church.

Christians have published volumes of books on how to create build faith communities with MEGA-PURPOSE and MEGA-GROUPS. I don't see the mosque's and sangha's cranking out the resources.

I'm reading all of the resources I can find that I think will help me (and others) to design a new kind of a church, a new UUism, and a movement that is in its design contagious. If you have a non-Christian resource you think I should read please tell me. Send me the title of your mega-relevant resource or, even better, since I've got a limited book budget (I buy too many already) send me a copy.

In faith,

Peter Freedman Bowden
UU PLANET Ministry & Media
855-0037 Office