First Celebrity Church
Drew Greenway, our worship pastor at Harris Creek, forwarded me an article (see the article here) today that lists the fastest growing churches in America for this year. The article says that most of the fastest growing churches in America are in California, Texas and Florida. But there happens to be one church in Conway, Arkansas that is an exception to the rule. Some would say the reason for growth is purely God’s blessing, while I would say the reason for this churches growth is almost purely based on the power of “celebrity.” The reason I say that is Kris Allen, the former American Idol Winner, just so happens to lead worship there.
As I look at the largest churches in America and some of the most popular ones I know if in our area of the country, the reason for growth can almost always be boiled down to one thing: celebrity status. It is the reason that Baylor drives incoming freshman by David Crowder’s house on their tour of the city during orientation. It is also the reason that the aforementioned article lists the celebrity pastor along side of the church name of the largest churches in America. It is the reason that Joel Osteen’s building has him name on it in letters as large as “Lakewood Church.” It is the reason that you see so many billboards with Pastor So-and-so on them with no mention of Christ at all (which may be a good thing, because I always cringe anytime I see Christian billboards). Our world is obsessed with the idea of “the celebrity,” and sadly the current Western church is no different than the world in that respect.
If you want to say that the only (or even primary) reason these churches with large crowds are so big is because God has blessed them, I would say that you haven’t read John 6 (or John 19 for that matter) in a while. In John 6, the scene is set with Jesus becoming very famous after performing two of his most well-known miracles: the feeding of the 5000 and the account of him walking on water. As you would imagine, his popularity begins to explode and people are buzzing about the prospect of him being the true Messiah because he is now a bona fide “miracle worker.” In our Seeker-sensitive Christian Culture, this would be the point where we remove any barriers to joining the church, take away any form of discipleship, do whatever it takes to keep people coming, and build the biggest building our money can buy. Jesus on the other hand preaches his toughest message yet to this crowd and is left standing alone with his disciples asking them if they, too, are leaving.
If there was ever a person that was a constant recipient of God’s full blessing, it had to be Jesus. Not far behind him would have to be the Apostle Paul. But when looking at these two lives, it is hardly the life of modern day mega-church, rock star. It is actually a life filled with difficulty, people doubting their authenticity, and service to the lowest person on the food chain. It is so easy to slip into a mentality that we are receiving God’s blessing and doing what is right in His eyes if our church is growing. It’s also extremely difficult if you work in ministry to not try to manufacture similar results in our culture today. The constant stress of keeping up with the “Willows” is difficult, but in my opinion we need to begin heralding churches like Citadel of Faith in Detroit, Michigan. This is a church that is planted in the poorest county of the poorest state in America, and is also a church that will probably never be a “mega-church.” But they are challenging their people to live a cruciformed pattern of life, and fruit is springing up all over the place in their city.
Ultimately I believe that some of these large churches in America are in fact receiving God’s blessing, but I believe His blessing is actually found in the fruit that is growing and not the number of people attending. I believe his blessing is found in the lives that are being transformed and the redemption that is reaching dark places of our world. Any church that is built on celebrity status and not the one, true vine is a church that is destined to fail in the end. And if you are a pastor, minister or even a member of a church that doesn’t seem to be receiving God’s “blessing” in nickels and noses, let the words of Christ in John 15 encourage you. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’” (John 15:16–20 NIV)