The Orthodox Mega-Church?

I believe in the mega-church. 

Over the last 30 years, American Christianity has seen the rise of the mega-church.  

According to sociologists, the mega-church is defined by having 2000+ members. 

In my backyard, exists the fifth largest church in the US, Southeast Christian Church, with a membership of 30k and average weekly attendance of 20k. 

No doubt this type of church can only exist in the numbers it does today, due to our mobile environment.  You can live 10 – 15 miles from the church, and still be an active participant due to quick and easy transportation.  Historically, you went to church where you lived, and usually within walking distance, and a church could only grow to such numbers in a densely populated area. 

Because of the size of these churches, certain advantages began to happen.  First is that growth generates more growth.  One trend-observer said: “You hit a certain size and you can become self-generating. You attract people by your sheer size. People know that you are on TV and that this is that big place...There is a sense of something going on here...and size itself begets more growth.”

To perpetuate this size, the leadership must demonstrate dynamic communication skills and organizational shrewdness that typically has only been found in high-level business environments.  Dynamism must be present to attract and retain members as well as a variety of organized and well-designed programs executed and produced with excellence. 

The sheer numbers of people attending contribute to a crowdsourcing phenomenon.  Crowdsourcing allows problems to be broadcast to an unknown group of solvers in the form of an open call for solutions.  In a church environment, the open call to develop & innovate ministry within and without a congregation allows a greater variety of programs to develop. 

The newest development among mega churches is the multi-site church.  Rather than continuing to grow larger and larger, these churches have decided to replicate themselves at other geographical locations. 

In 1990, there were 10 multi-site churches.  In ’98, there were about 100, and by 2008, over 2000 multi-site churches existed throughout the US. 

This is different from the church plant of old, where a team of members would leave to start a new autonomous church.  In this model, the new church is planted but remains under the authority of the “mother church”.  The head pastor in effect becomes the leader or overseer of the multiple churches.  In another time or place, he would be called a “bishop”.

This is the model of the Orthodox Church. 

The light bulb came on while listening to an interview with Fr. John Braun.  His biggest challenge to North American Orthodox is more to create more parishes, and I think he right. 

I believe it is one way we can compete in the religious marketplace within North America.  

I work in marketing, and we constantly talk about increasing distribution points to increase market share.  We can have slick ads and robust products with competitive prices, but if people can’t get to the product then we never sell anything.  One way we can be successful is create more places to distribute our goods. 

The parish is the distribution point of Orthodoxy. 

In America, the vast majority of people that regularly attend church go to congregations of 100-500 people.  Once a parish hits 300-500 people, it should begin praying about and developing a team of people to start of new parish. 

Sure, there will be fear.  Fear that the starting church will lose too many members.  Fear that the new mission will not succeed.  Unless we try, we will never know.

Money will be a fear, but practically, 10 tithing families should be able to support a priest at their average salary.  That does not seem too daunting. 

Multiple parishes can come together for the Sunday of Orthodoxy, festivals, youth and children’s activities. 

The more parishes we have the smaller dioceses can become, and will give bishops greater contact with their flocks. 

Bishops of North America, prod us to start new missions, equip us with the tools and strategies.  Push us to do more and reach more people! 

Theron Mathis

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