Walmart Church Devours Small Churches

I was reading an article on a rural tiny church that now reaches 2000 people in a multi-site context...when a commentor struck a chord in my brain. 

I am all for the church growing through evangelism, but it sounds to me like [Brave New Church] is drawing less from the unchurched and more from people leaving another church to be a part of it. Of course, if they are getting saved through the ministry of BNC, that's great (and also a sad indication of the weakness of other congregations in terms of real evangelism). However, I wonder about whether there is a kind of "Wal-Mart effect" in small communities of having one large church with whom the smaller churches simply cannot compare programatically, etc.
Huh.  That's an interesting way to put it.  I have images of an Imperial Wal-Mart church coming in and offering a slick, packaged experience that sucks in all the fence-sitters in the town's churches. 

It has to be true: we see the phenomenon as mom-and-pop stores lose out to big-box stores, and local bookstores (ran by Meg Ryan, of course) lose out to Fox Books Borders.  In a consumeristic culture such as ours, is there any wonder that it could definitely be a part of the Church?

Of course, just because the Wal-Mart Church is happening doesn't answer the question if it is right.

In an interview with Ed Young back in 2006, he is asked this very thing: "Is there a danger of "Wal-Marting" nearby competing churches into oblivion"and Ed replies that "That mentality is like ants fighting over which one is going to eat the elephant."  But a contemporary at the time had much more to say:
Our country is full of consumeristic expectations which drives our “customer is always right,” “get it in a half an hour,” “have it your way” mentality...If you are inclined to see the church as a place to get your felt-needs met, then this model might work well for you since you can get the programs you want, in the amount of time you desire, with a well choreographed staff. Parking ministry, singles ministry, college-age, high-school, and youth groups galore might be exactly what you’re looking for.  
Hey, there's enough fish in the sea, right?  We should celebrate one church's success and be thankful that people are getting filled, right?  On one level, yes.  But on another level, like small stores that slowly are ran outta business no matter how amazing they are, churches could try to match Wal-Mart Churches toe to toe and end up getting burned and losing their mission and identity:
I say all of this because I am concerned that those churches which are trying to go deep with the gospel and see emotional/racial/social/and economic wounds healed, may feel the need to keep up with a monster like [the Wal-Mart Church] moving into their neighborhood.

Setting aside whether multi-site churches are too uniform and homogenous to truly get at the deep issues, what do you think about this concept of well-funded and method tried-and-true churches becoming multi-site and radically transforming rural communities?
  • Is this awesome in that it brings in new people and turns stagnant communities into viable places for ministry, churning out new or renewed followers of Christ in their communities?
  • Is this bogus in that it sucks away marginal members of small congregations who still fund or support the church and thus make it harder for them to remain in ministry in their particular niches, which the multi-site congregation may not pay attention to?
Thoughts?  Welcome to our visitors and we welcome all comments!

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8 comments:

Rich Birch February 6, 2009 at 1:28 PM  

In 1950 the vast majority (90+%) of hotels/motels were independent organizations. By 2000 the stat was completely inverse . . . with the only a small percentage left as independent operations. I think the same thing is about to happen with the multi-site church movement. Within our life time there will be a handful of "national brand" churches that will have hundreds of locations.

Our culture is there is every other arena. Why not the church arena?

Rich Birch

carolynsinger February 8, 2009 at 12:00 AM  

Just two days ago my mother and I were having this same conversation. She's a Methodist deacon in a Methodist church in my hometown in rural Ohio.

The thought I have about this situation is the theological atmosphere in the communities in question. In the case of CUMC, they are losing out to megachurches- three in a town with a population of 22,000! The other Methodist churches in the area imitate the megachurches theologically and culturally.

Where does that leave CUMC? Dying. And what's worse, that church is one of the very few voices of Christian liberalism in the area. If my home church folds, the only voices left are isolated in large conservative congregations. Without CUMC, there is very little theological diversity in the area, and that's a cultural issue. When the church is seen as anti-drinking, anti-dancing, anti-gay, and deeply suspicious of anything that smacks of "the occult," the already deep rift between Christians and the unchurched widens.

Where are the Christians who will build cultural bridges? Who will present an alternative perspective? Unfortunately, they're passing on to heaven one by one and leaving our pews empty.

Anonymous,  February 10, 2009 at 8:44 AM  

Jeremy,

I am glad somebody took the time to think more about my comment; the blog author on which I left the original comment did not respond in great depth - thanks for picking up the question and running with it - loved the post - continues to be a big question for me!

- Larry

Anonymous,  February 11, 2009 at 9:30 AM  

The two questions at the end of your post really get to the heart of the matter. Part of me wants to be able to somehow answer "yes" to both questions - it is somehow awesome and bogus at the same time . . . however, that obviously makes no sense. In the original post from Tim Stevens' blog (leadingsmart.com), the particular congregation (now called Brand New Church) in question had orginated as a small/dying congregation in rural Arkansas that allowed themselves to change and subsequently have grown massive. To me, that is a very different scenario than Megachurch A from the nearest big town coming in and launching a satelite campus. . . sommething about that feels kind of predatory / Wal-Martish. In the case of Brand New Church, while I have very mixed feeling about who they may be really reaching, I do give them credit for being willing to make difficult changes in terms of their preferences, etc. in order to try and reach more people.

-Larry

Anonymous,  April 27, 2009 at 1:20 AM  

Yes the Brand New Church is growing, yes people are some of God's Word. I have attended the main campus in Bergman, Arkansas, and I did not feel God present there. 1. the Pastor spoke on giving (money) to the church, and I attend more than one time. 2. The pastor is preaching on money,sex,marriage,porno. I have watched his messages on the internet and I never see or hear the Pastor preach on salvation, healing, having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I'm I wrong to believe that without teaching salvation and faith, how is it possible for them to learn how much God loves them.

Anonymous,  May 14, 2009 at 12:18 PM  

I had the unfortunate experience of attending BRAND NEW CHURCH in Bergman, Arkansas on Easter Sunday, 2009. My sister has somehow become a member, and coming from a Catholic family, I am VERY CONFUSED!!!!!!

Anyways, lets get to the good stuff, my review of BRAND NEW CHURCH!!!!!

I knew right away that stuff was going to be strange. When we drove up in the parking lot, there were people standing in the rain waiving at everybody, you know, doing the fake "C'mon in!!!" thing. I knew right away that this people were out where the buses don't run. I then made my way inside of the building where the service was to be held. The first thing that I noticed was that a lot of the people at this event looked like people that were on probation or something. CREEPY..... Anyways, I made my way into the main room with my other sister and my 11 year old niece, who could not stop laughing at the strange people surrounding here (Hebrew's...a coffee shop called Hebrew's...CHEESY!!!!!!). I was then treated to a darkened theater where BIZARRE hip hop beats played and some people were up on the stage BREAKDANCING!!!!!!!!!.....

My family and I then took our seats, and the real fun began....
The lights dimmed and a band appeared that looked like the Jonas Brothers..(I am not kidding..)..This group then preceeded to produce some of the most WUSSED OUT sounds that I have EVER HEARD IN MY LIFE!!!!!....A real church has a choir and a REALLY GOOD ORGAN PLAYER...At Brand New church you get a really BAD 4-piece Christian Rock band....BOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

Then......just when you think that it could not get any worse, the so called minister came out (If this guy is a minister, then I am a Clingon that wants to hang out with Captain Kirk!!!)...What a phony man!!!!!!...Think a born again guy that looks like a rally FAT Bill Clinton!!!!!...This guy is a disgrace to any REAL minister...He would say stuff like "Awesome!!!" and would EVEN DANCE WHEN THE AWFUL BAND WOULD PLAY!!!!!

I was SO GLAD TO GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE WHEN IT WAS OVER!!!!!!!!!

Elliott May 19, 2009 at 12:20 PM  

Look, if these churches are teaching sound doctrine, are spiritually alive, are engaging the population more than some of the churches that are fizzling out with average age of attendees over 55 yrs old, they have worship music that is authentic and gifted teaching pastors there is nothing wrong with the church growing. I see it as God blessing a church that is effective in sharing the gospel and i pray that may continue to reach more and more people with the message of Jesus Christ, not so that they are big churches, but so that more of the lost can hear the good news. In that our good is designed and God gets the glory - I see nothing inherently wrong with these churches growing.

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