The era of megachurches is now upon us. A megachurch is generally defined as any church with over 2000 members. Most megachurches describe their style as seeker-sensitive, a term popularized by the Willow Creek megachurch near Chicago. It is estimated that more than half of churchgoers now attend the largest ten % of churches. We should ask, then, what impact they have had on the state of American Christianity. The answer, I believe, is that they are playing a key role in our current condition of what I shall call shallow Christianity. Megachurches employ some very specific strategies to attain and maintain their phenomenal growth. Chief among the strategies is the messaging from the pulpit, which is designed to be positive and upbeat. It’s been described as a generic form of Christianity that’s “upbeat, exciting, and uplifting.” Churchgoers describe attendance at their megachurch as an emotional experience, and indeed it is designed to be so. Using polished production values, lighting, and video, loud and rock-style music, the venue provokes an emotional response in the churchgoer, and they begin to crave the experience. The lead pastors of megachurches become celebrities, and they are looked upon with awe and reverence. Because the megachurch tends to be built around the charismatic leader, he often exists and functions with full autonomy and little to no accountability. The average churchgoer will never have personal contact with the pastor of their megachurch. Heaven, hell, and repentance from sin are rarely if ever preached from a megachurch pulpit. Megachurches, in fact, are intentional about reflecting closely the values and norms the surrounding society.
Megachurches generally do not have effective discipling programs. There is not a focus on mentoring new and existing members or teaching them how to effectively learn and practice spiritual disciplines, including Bible study, prayer, and Biblical meditation. As a result the members often do not learn or understand the behavioral and belief changes that should occur in a believer’s life as a result of establishing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That is why there appears to be little to no observable difference in the lives of many American Christians and the society around them.
Unfortunately, the end result of these factors produces Christians who look a lot like the surrounding society. Doctrine and Biblical theology are not emphasized, instead members talk about the emotional high and feel-good sermons they experience. Megachurches, it would seem, have created a business model that very successfully leads to a Christian environment that is a mile wide and an inch deep.
Preaching styles in general have also evolved during the past century or so. Nowhere is this more evident than in the pulpits of the megachurches, so here we will examine the preaching styles and themes of megachurch pastors, who preach to more than half of all American churchgoers.
a. The most common theme revolves around happiness and self-improvement. In these presentations, God wants us to be happy and fulfilled. Sermon messages are designed to be positive, upbeat, and encouraging. This is, of course, only a portion of the Gospel. God is concerned about our holiness first and foremost, and joy comes from living a life in accordance with God’s word.
b. Themes like sin and repentance are rarely if ever preached from the pulpit.
c. Bible stories are often wrongly told or twisted on the way to a conclusion or end point that is clearly not what the Bible writer meant.
d. Individual verses are often taken out of context and applied in a way that the original context does not support.