Mega Churches Steal Sheep: My Ongoing Debate With Ed Stetzer

how-people-join-megachurchesLast week Ed Stetzer, whom I love, executed an all out assault on the Megachurch “sheep stealing critique.” This critique argues that the mega church congregations of our day are made up of largely Christians moving from one church (usually smaller) to another. It says that a mega church, with its array of programs, worship production and the charismatic personality as the teacher/preacher, draws people largely due to people coming from other churches that don’t have these things. The “success” of these mega congregations is not due to mission, engaging those outside the faith, with the gospel. It is nothing more than musical chairs among Christians within a large geographical area. As a result, it creates competition among churches for the remaining Christians and a consumer mentality among Christians. This works to undermine Mission not advance it. I admit, I’ve been one of the people saying this. Ed and I have been at this one before.

Ed debunks this argument in a post titled Debunking Megachurch Myths: Especially the One About Sheep Swapping. Using an impressive display of statistics, Ed shows that mega churches are not doing sheep-stealing near to the extent they are accused of. Indeed they are doing it at about the same rate as small churches. The sheep-stealing accusation therefore is not special to mega churches, it is characteristic of churches in general. It is what churches do.

In response, I have three comments:

1.) Ed’s Statistics are Suspect. I suggest there’s a lot to question in these statistics.  For example, Ed’s numbers could be interpreted to show that the mega churches’ congregations are at least 90% transfer growth (not 44%).  I add up distant church transfers plus local church transfers plus dechurched transfers (people have left another church, it’s just been a while) and it comes to 90% of people who are coming to this church from another church in some way. Organic growth could also be transfer growth, people coming from another church that were just invited through relationships. I admit I don’t know the specifics of these categories, but there is at least reason to suspect these numbers, as some people take note in the comments. More information is required.

 2.) Ed is Right, Mega Churches Are Not Going Away. But He Ignores the Macro-Picture and what this says about mission. The real proof that mega churches are merely playing in a game of Christian musical chairs is the fact that on a macro basis, the percentage of Christians attending a church over the whole country is still on a slow decline. Despite the success of mega churches, the number of practicing Christians is not growing overall. By default, this means, again, mega churches are playing in the wider game of Christian musical chairs. So when Ed says that mega-churcheas are not going away, I suggest he is right. But what this means is that overall we are closing more and more small community churches and the Christian population as a whole is being consolidated into larger and larger churches. I have seen statistics within my denomination and other evangelical denominations that illustrate this. We are closing small churches faster and faster, and our mega churches are growing but we have much less of them. What is going on is consolidation, not mission. And the result is more and more consumerist kind of Christians as a result.

3.) Ed is Right, All Churches Are Doing It. Ed correctly observes that both small churches sheep steal as much as mega churches. Perhaps, to some extent, this is a good thing because stale dead churches need to be revived, renewed and engaged and new churches is one way to do this, including some of our better mega churches. But often what happens in the sheep stealing is that leaders organize and build their churches to “attract” as many sheep from other places as possible. We begin to craft an appealing worship experience, a full array of religious goods and services to attract that Christian looking to “fit in” some Christianity into their daily lives. We even build a justice center where you can “fit in” 2 hours a month for some justice project and feel better about yourself.  And before you know it, Christianity has become about offering a little painless surplus enjoyment to make you feel as if you’re being a good Christian. I contend this kind of consumerist church organization undermines the formation of God’s people into His Mission. So what concerns me is not that small churches do sheep-stealing as much as mega churches. What concerns me is that mega churches DO SHEEP STEALING BETTER THAN SMALL CHURCHES.  In the process they exacerbate the bad formation that has become American evangelical church musical chairs. And in so doing, they are taking the malformation of the church for Christian discipleship/God’s Mission to a new level.

In my upcoming book with Geoff Holsclaw coming in March, we talk about a different vision for Christianity in North America for reaching post Christendom parts of North America. The book is suggesting we take the church we have now and begin to shapes it/lead it out of this consolidating attractional pattern. It calls all churches – small, big, mega, smega, into a discusssion to learn from each other how to change these patterns so as to shape a vision that engages neighborhoods, crosses boundaries, brings the presence of Christ, the good news of His reign into an increasingly post-Christendom culture. To do this, we have to change the sheep-stealing dynamic FOR EVERYBODY, including small churches! So my buddy Ed, would you like a copy? Review it maybe?  Peace bro, You know I love ya!

What do you think of Ed’s post? How do you analyze the statistics? What conclusions do you draw?

Posted in Ecclesiology, Missional Ecclesiology, Post-Attractional
41 comments on “Mega Churches Steal Sheep: My Ongoing Debate With Ed Stetzer
  1. Ed Stetzer says:

    Good and fair response.

    My thought is that the evidence we have now does not show they steal at a higher level from LOCAL churches.

    I am hypothesizing that they also get more from distant movers.

    Either way, it’s too much transfer. On that we agree.

    So, I think we should be against transfers and for conversions, but also be fair with megachurches.

    Appreciate you, friend.

    Ed

  2. Glen says:

    Having been a part of what is considered a mega-church for nearly 8 years, I have been blessed to see hundreds to thousands of people come to Christ. Personally, I get annoyed with those who create this false dichotomy of which model works best. There are facets to which every church model cannot support or do well.

    Recently, I learned that Korea has one of the best educational systems in the world. They have far fewer schools than the States and their classrooms are a lot larger in number. They believe this assures the student is being taught at the highest level, from the best teachers, within a system that supports excellence. In America we have a tendency to specialize things to the point of lowering the standard of excellence just so it can be more tailored to our liking.

    Many churches, more often than not, those that are non-mega operate at such a low level of excellence, (which has nothing do with their vision of the church being less beautiful than those of mega-churches) because they don’t have the capacities or resources to truly communicate the wonderful vision they have.

    Christian communities, regardless of size, should be the most vibrant and brilliant – kind of like a city on a hill. That should be the aim of every church.

    • Marcus says:

      Glen,

      Are you claiming that there’s a difference in the quality of the programming between mega churches and small churches or a difference in the quality of the lives Christians are living? I think this is an important distinction.

      As far as I’m concerned, and I hope you agree, all that really matters is the way Christians live not how “great” the programs are. Lives are more important witnesses than programs.

      • Glen says:

        Marcus, good distinction! Its difficult to paint large brush strokes and make sweeping statements about either mega or non-mega churches. I apologize if that is how I sounded.

        In my experience, the quality of life has greatly influenced the quality of programs a church offers, and the quality of programs has been a great compliment to forming the quality of life in the people who participate in “church.”

        One of the “successes” our church has experienced stems from focusing on a very few things and doing them with the highest of standards. God does not ask us to be stewards of what we do not have or “offer” as churches, but does call us to be excellent stewards with what we do have. I think the temptation exists for some churches to offer more than we are resourced for, and, as a result, we offer sub-par programs.

        Lastly, I believe one of the greatest expressions of how Christians live out the Gospel is revealed in how we live out community.

        • Marcus says:

          Glen, I think you make a good point. Quality programs can lead to changed lives and vice versa. Some times I do think programming gets overvalued, but it also can be devalued too. It does have a necessary place in the church

  3. Jonathan says:

    I read Andy Stanley’s “Deep and Wide” recently. There were a number of things which rubbed me the wrong way, starting with the subtitle. But here’s another one:

    He talks about creating “irresistible” children’s ministry. In explaining this, he says: “Our family ministry environments are so magnetic, I warn people in our community not to bring their kids to our church until they’re sure they want to attend on a regular basis. When they ask why, I tell them that once their kids “come and see” the environments we’ve created for them, they’ll never be satisfied anywhere else.”

    I’ll take him at his word that already churched people are not his target, but I don’t think he’s troubled by the fact that they can devote enormous resources and create something so attractive that other churches can’t “compete”.

    • janet carter says:

      Whereas I am a huge fan of Andy Stanley, I have been to his church and seen his Children’s Ministry. It is without question phenomenal – like a Christian Disneyland – but I came away wondering if it was the reality we want for kids? I’m sure the message is Biblical, but it bordered, in my opinion, on Biblical merchandising. Seemed dangerously close to what the world offers. I would love to see the statistics as to how many of these kids stay with Christ.
      I used to direct a Children’s Ministry for a local church and I was confident of its production quality, but I became convicted one morning as I saw kids run in and out – am I changing lives, or just providing them with a really good Sunday program.
      There is no such thing as Children’s ministry that I can see in the Bible, beyond Jesus’ words, “suffer the children to come unto me, and forbid them not.” I still believe that family is the vehicle God created for passing on faith. Is it possible that the American church, large or small, is providing one more program for separating parents from children on Sunday morning? Kids need to see parents at worship, but most churches separate kids from parents while at church, until the teen years when they most likely will not sit with their parents in church. Is that what we are after? I don’t know, but my gut tells me that the system may be more cultural than Christian. I have a hard time reconciling these issues, and no longer am involved with children’s ministries. These are tough questions,

      • David says:

        I think Janet has hit on an important theme. How many of the children would follow without the Disneyland? What is it exactly they are following? What is faith going to look like when they are adults and maybe have to find a church without Northpoint’s resources?

  4. Dan Jr. says:

    David,
    I think you larger point is not grappling over the semantics of who steals more sheep. You contention is with the whole delivery system, small or big, and what it’s perpetuating “this kind of consumerism undermines the formation of God’s people and exacerbates the bad formation that has become American evangelical church”.

    I hate to be the guy that calls “conversions” into question and I say this humbly — I’m seeing that in many ways conversions are being emptied of meaning in popular Evangelicalism. As a pastor I’ve been a part of numerous Mega Churches with seriously high conversions and baptisms every year (that preach a strong, full Gospel, not an anemic one) but have very little movement with those conversions translating into actual disciples on mission, living into community. I’m observing that because many come to church through the door of “consuming” it is exceptionally hard to disciple and preach them out of that posture.

    So I say subvert the whole system. Don’t even offer a buffet that people can consume. .

  5. John says:

    Dan Jr above says it like it is. Mega churches are “american christian culture consuming corporations” with all the trappings of the excellence of a broadway theatrical performance or an Apple computer product – it’s amazing to see God’s creativity in people. I love theatre and apple products. I agree with Ed that we don’t want to be unfair to mega churches because they do add tremendous value to communities. However, an honest critique or evaluation helps us ask: is this Jesus’ vision for The Church?

  6. Bill Kinnon says:

    Just to note that it is WordPress’ fault that my blog post (where I comment on the phrase “sheep stealing”) appears above. I do reference Dave and Ed’s posts, however. :)

  7. At the end of the day does the “sheep stealing” thing really matter that much? Why even focus on that. If all Churches focused on reaching those without Christ we can let the sheep choose which local church they can help in the task of advancing the mission the most. In Luke 15 Jesus seemed more concerned with the 1 lost sheep than the 99 found ones.

  8. Brian Burchett says:

    Let me state up front that I’m not in favor of mega-churches. I’m not an apologist for Ed Stetzer, but I felt like I had to respond to this post.

    It seems to me that there is a bit of a straw man argument going on here. For example, when the first rejoinder is “Ed’s Statistics are Suspect” I expected more than quibbling with how the data is displayed in a pie chart. It may be possible that “dechurched” transfers should be lumped together with local church transfers, but we can talk endlessly about what may be possible with regard to the data. Imagining ways in which the data could have been tagged differently is not really an adequate basis for challenging the underlying methodology. If you really think the study is flawed, then you need to find another one. Or go back and examine this study’s methodology and bring forth actual, substantive methodological challenges. Otherwise this risks being a kinder, gentler form of cynicism about numbers and statistics. (“You can make them say anything you want.”) And that kind of cynicism is not helpful.

    Secondly, the rejoinder uses the categories of church-goer and Christian interchangeably. I can understand some of the reasons why one might do that, but if we’re actually seeking to understand behavior then we need to recognize that it can’t be sheep stealing if they were goats when they left their old church.

    Thirdly, there seems to be an argument that mega churches contribute to, or exacerbate consumerism in the church. This is the argument that I find most compelling in this blog post. However, we are swimming in a consumerist culture. Yes, mega churches appeal to our consumerist bent better than small churches. And many small churches seem compelled to chase after those marketing trends. I cringe when I visit small country churches that don’t have the resources to have a rock-n-roll worship team, but still try it anyway. They’d be far better off sticking with what they can do well. (Upright piano and hymns, or soothing acoustic music.)

    However, let me say that as someone who is unfamiliar with the missional movement (but is trying to learn more about it) it is most puzzling to me to see in the missional sub-culture this critique of consumerism while hipster missional pastors churn out blog posts on their iPads and iPhones. Even more ironic is a critique of consumerism that embeds a link to an online marketplace so it’s really convenient for me to buy another book.

    Tell me more about consumerism and how you’re witnessing to your favorite Starbucks barrista while wearing your new Jack Purcells after stepping out of your Toyota Prius on the way back from the health club where you finished an intense Zumba class.

    Think of all the prerequisite ideas and worldview concepts that have to change in a person before they understand what the problem is with consumerism. Yes, I want to get to that conversation with people someday, but until they share a lot more of my other principles with regard to what a person is, and what a person is meant to be I’m speaking gibberish to them.

    • John says:

      Good points, Brian. I think that it might be helpful if we are honest about the definition of a sheep in the context. A sheep is a consumer or a customer. Ed’s stats, in my opinion, is about institutional church customers. In a business stealing customers is not stealing, it’s part of competitive business, it’s what brings financial wealth – it’s what makes America great but it’s not what makes The Church great. The love of Christ makes The Church wealthy not money nor the love of it.

  9. janet carter says:

    I am a parent coach and work in schools from a broad spectrum – from the wealthiest to the poorest. The circumstances vary, but the overall problem is the same, regardless of how deep the pockets. Generally speaking, and yes, I know there are exceptions, but generally, inside the church, outside the church, rich and poor, today’s kids have little respect for parents, adults, authority or even their peers. They have grown up in a disposable world, they expect rewards for everything they do, and the general attitude is “what are you going to do for me?” I see it all day, every day. Consequently I question a children’s ministry that is high on production, low on parental involvement, and prides itself for being the place every kid will want to be. Again, I LOVE Andy Stanley, and maybe we have to be cultural to pull them in, maybe that is the only way they will hear the message, but I wonder if they are really hearing the message or just being entertained by it.

    Sometimes it felt as if Children’s Ministry was a tool to draw the parents in. Maybe that is as it should be, I’m not sure. When I was involved, I was very involved and believed we had to be the best. There is nothing wrong with doing a good job, but again, when I left, something told me that possibly it was not Christ drawing them in, but just that I was the best show in town. And, people came to the church for the children’s ministry, but I eventually realized that I was not necessarily bringing people who would not hear the gospel any other way. I was bringing families who were going to take their kids to church and they were looking for the best in show. Again, is that wrong? I don’t know. I do know that it took the wind out of my sails. I almost felt like more of the problem than the solution. And, if we are going to call it ministry to children, then is the program really ministering to them or their parents? I always thought that if we really wanted to minister to children, we would pack up the mothers and fathers and their kids and take them somewhere to serve those with real needs. Eventually that idea felt more like ministry than what I was doing.

    Ultimately I learned a lot in my 8 years and I am very grateful for my time and experience there, but by the end, and interestingly after my visit to Northpoint, I walked away feeling like I had lost my heart for church. I sat in the parking lot and cried after I visited Northpoint and I have a hard time articulating why, I only know that something about it seemed far from the heart of Christ. Again, I love Andy and support what he has done and who he is, but I must admit I enjoy him more by tv, than by attendance. If I lived near the church, I doubt that I would attend. And yet I am in front of my tv screen every Sunday morning to hear what he has to teach.

    As I said before, tough questions.

  10. Glen says:

    I went to a Christian college because I got recruited to play sports. I also went there because I was interested in a girl. I wasn’t a Christian when I entered college, but before graduating I accepted salvation through Christ and surrendered my life to him.

    Is it more important how we are drawn or how we leave the church?

    We seem to be hung up on the children’s/student ministry component of mega. It would be awesome to hear what they have to say instead of us speculating and criticizing from the balcony!

    It is frustrating to hear people say that this cant be Christ heart for the church! A very bold statement. Neither mega nor missional expresses the fullness of Christ’s vision for the church. It’s not an either/or definitely a both and I dont think Stetzer and Fitch are arguing that!

    • davidfitch says:

      Glen,
      Thanks for the contribution. and I say Amen, and how much I think we all on this blog celebrate every conversion and life changed in a megachurch. Nonetheless, the formation question is huge and the statistics are stunning and undeniable. Discipleship, the drawing of people into life with God and His Mission, is on the whole incredibly miniscule in large megachurches. And yet it is becoming the aspired to model of the church. Is this good? Should we discern the answer to this question instead of let assumptions go unspoken? I think these discussions are important. So I think Janet Carter’s questions are enormously important if indeed the church is to have a faithful witness. So these debates are no meant to undercut any body’s ministry or salvation. It’s serious work for discerning the Future of the Gospel.

  11. janet carter says:

    I am sorry. I did not mean anything as criticism. Only my own personal struggles. But I wasn’t speaking from the balcony. I was in a mega and I was speaking from the trenches. And as a parent coach, I work with families and see the effect of the culture on their children – Christian and non-Christian, rich and poor – and so I am left wondering if the church is influencing the culture or vice versa. My statement may have seemed bold, but it was not said boldly. It was a question, full of my own doubts. And a little disillusionment.

    • Glen says:

      Janet, I am okay with what you said. I believe the questions and questioning is very healthy and needed by us all. How careful we need to be as people can interpret our words so differently than how we meant. (I am sorry for doing so.)

      I am in seminary right now and I am just hoping to make it out of here alive because, at times, the contrast between what I am learning about Christianity/Church and what I am experiencing is so sharp that it is painful to process.

      If we can’t agree about this topic, perhaps we can agree it is hard to have healthy dialogue via online social platforms! :)

  12. John says:

    @janet
    If you are speaking from the balcony then I am in the choir listening and singing Amen!

    @glen
    I am glad that you found Christ however you did. Dissent and criticism is healthy. We all came through the Catholic Church but it does not make Catholicism the Church.

    @david
    Look what you stirred up. Keep stirring!

  13. janet carter says:

    I certainly didn’t mean to stir up anything!

    I don’t know if it is good or bad or right or wrong, I only know that the older I get (I am 56) and the more that I seek Christ, the better He gets and the less involved/compelled I am by organized church. I have been in church all my life, grew up in church, and have loved church, but of late, I just don’t want to go. I still love Him and His people, but the experiences I mentioned above were so disheartening, and I left “ministry” so worn out, that I haven’t been able to go back!

    No worries Glen. Seminary, ironically, is a pretty tough place (I have heard) to follow Christ! And I more than agree, this medium is a tough one for dialogue, and yet, I certainly would not be having this conversation with all of you apart from it!

  14. Dan says:

    Always love the things you raise up!

    I do agree that if a megachurch (or a small church) treats what they do with children as a Disneyland for entertainment, it may not help the spiritual formation process of children. I wonder however, if small churches can be guilty of the the same thing in different ways. If a small church with a low budget may not do the big production or show, but instead they do crafts or games which may have the same end result. My question isn’t whether a church uses a big production or low budget crafts, but what is happening in the family itself?

    The Sunday meeting is simply one small part of the family life and I believe can have basic childcare in small churches which can be just as guilty of what you are saying as big production things in big churches. My question is the church helping the family develop ownership of the children’s spiritual formation throughout the week, not just what happens on Sundays.

    With megachurches and conversions and young people, I likely would have agreed with you ten years ago. I went through somewhat of a disillusionment with some of the megachurch trappings and pumping out converts vs. disciples. However, I believe many, many of them have learned lessons. And we now are actually seeing so many people trusting in Jesus and putting faith in Him in megachurches. I am specifically looking into local cities as I travel and asking what is happening locally. And hearing over 200 being baptized and mainly younger at one church. And this church is serious about disciple-making. Another church I just talked to having 90 baptisms. It is thrilling to hear these stories and even talking to some of the people who are becoming Christians in these churches. The more I interview younger people in their 20′s too, the more I am finding that they are not put off to megachurches either. Some megachurches they are, depending on the teaching approach or what the church does, but that is the same for small churches too. I don’t think it is the size but what is actually happening in these churches whether big or small which is the factor now. But from actually asking and listening to stories and exploring what is happening in many cities, I agree with Ed with what I am experiencing. Again, there is beauty in all size churches and I think the issue isn’t the size as you can find the same things you mention negatively in small churches and big churches although they may look different in form. Thanks for you blog and what you write here, always love reading it!

  15. Terry Reed says:

    Personally I dismiss the entire concept of “sheep stealing.” People go to church where they want–some want the programs of the larger congregations, some prefer the atmosphere at a smaller church. I have pastored small churches most of my life and blog about small church issues. Although it is disappointing for someone to leave my church because “the big church has more to offer my kids,” God always has someone else to take their place. I think church leaders need to realize that people have different needs in different times in their lives and may change churches accordingly. This is not stealing…it is people being people.
    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools

  16. Matt Rosine says:

    A few weeks ago I visited Fellowship Church in Grapevine, TX. I had attended there a few times about ten years ago when I was in seminary.

    I couldn’t believe how it had changed in ten years. It was louder, faster-paced, more amped-up and caffeinated than I remembered. A DJ in the lobby. A larger bookstore (with 75% of the real estate devoted to Ed’s books). Teleprompter-driven worship. Premium coffee for visitors who gave up their email addresses. A half-dozen “live via satellite” campuses across the globe.

    I feel brokenhearted that this is the rat race we’ve created of the church. Like it or not, we have created expectations for a consumer church environment. Megachurch “teaching conferences” train pastors that you have to outdo yourself week after week in order to “reach the lost.” We are pumping pastors’ egos so big that moral failure is now anticipated behavior from most clergy.

    Paul’s words are more relevant than ever: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.” (Rom 12)

  17. janet carter says:

    I think “inside church” seems more like “outside church” and “outside” now seems more like “inside.” And maybe that is the way it is supposed to work. Mega or small, church is all about conversion and salvation, with some discipleship. But real personal one-on-one Jesus faith and relationship is purposefully outside of church. “As you go, make disciples.” Know Jesus more, love Jesus more. Love Jesus more, change lives more. It is only in the living with Him that I have known the deeper connection, and I wonder if “inside church”, whatever its size and format, can eventually stymie faith? The “stuff” that brought you in – maybe that stuff isn’t bad, but not sustaining. Maybe the stuff becomes the crutch, and the crutch might be holding you back. Maybe knowing Him eventually will lead you to “outside church,” because He wants us all to eventually be outside, members of the greater church, with but one story, “I once was blind, now I see. I am free.”

    I don’t know – these are hard questions and I suspect there is no one definitive answer.

  18. Air Potter says:

    I use to be an atheist. A very committed one. My whole family is to this day. I watched Christians A LOT, and I still do.

    I’ve been saved 5 years now and I still don’t get why Christians argue so much. Honestly, mega church vs. small church really doesn’t help people who are far from God in any sort of way…it just makes Christians look like they don’t understand that the coach makes the calls not the guys on the line, and if everyone is making their own calls, the whole team looks stupid and noneffective.

    Just so you are completely aware-people are watching and this makes our “team” look bad. Let’s not look stupid on the field, huh?

  19. janet carter says:

    I am so very sorry if this makes anyone look bad – I did not intend to argue, just discuss. And I never think it hurts to ask what are we doing and why are we doing it. Big or small, either way – I say go team. And no doubt, we are all watched. So again, I’m not sure it hurts to question what people are seeing. But no offense intended.

  20. janet carter says:

    In fact, I will go so far as to say that I have enjoyed getting to know this little subset of the team – a subset I would never have known apart from the discussion. I appreciate the assumed friendships and freedom to discuss.

  21. John says:

    Air,

    I am glad that you found Christ.

    I hope people are watching and seeing authentic people who don’t need to make Jesus look good – He is good. I like the fact that you and I can speak our sameness and our difference here. We don’t need to conceal sin because He has already covered it. Peace, brother!

  22. Christian Baxter says:

    Preface: 1. This is kind of stream of consciousness. 2 I am a musician not a grammar teacher, so please forgive me. 3 Please read in a half-way questioning, half-way thoughtful tone, rather than a condescending or critical one. : ) I hope there is some semblance of sense below.

    This is really good stuff… I am a 28 year old postmodern/millennial/husband/father/worship pastor.
    I jump back and forth on the fence of mega church love hate all the time. One minute I think something one is doing is incredible, the next I am their greatest sceptic. I have been apart of para church ministries traveling the US and also serving in part and full-time capacities in the local church over the last 12 years (yes I led worship part-time in high school for a housechurch plant my last two years of high school. What were they thinking!) I have grown up with the emergence of modern worship and the modern reformation of evangelicalism/Calvinism.
    During highschool, at a church camp, I was immensely impacted by modern worship (done very well by the likes of Charlie Hall in his early days) and also responded to the saving grace of the gospel. This happened at a place with relatively good production and, with lack of a better term, it really engaged me as a budding musician. I also studied theology and music in college. And all of these things are what have shaped my christian faith. That is my context.

    My culture is a small town in Arkansas with 10,000 people where I grew up and have now settled. There are 3 of what I would label as contemporary/modern/pick your poison, churches in our town. The Baptist church plant one, the mild charismatic one, the really charismatic one, and the evangelical/non-denom church plant one (which I serve at). Needless to say no mega churches happening anytime soon, but still the same issues come up: sheep swapping, production based programing vs traditional, reaching younger demographics, the whole nine.

    My thoughts are these.
    Many of these conversations lump mega churches into one big camp and I think you can hardly compare Fellowship Grapevine to The Village or either of them to Gateway; and they are all in the the Dallas metroplex and each are mega. They probably all three have excellent programing but their philosophies on why are probably all very different, yet they are all reaching thousands. And in those three they represent 3 totally different streams of theology. On another note you could hardly compare what Mars Hill Seattle is doing with North Point ATL does, and again both reaching thousands.

    Yet just like in my town, though I don’t know the exact ratios if you compare 10,000 to the dallas metroplex, of the churches I mentioned, if the numbers I have heard from other staffs, three of the churches i mentioned from my town collectively minister to 1,250 people each week, which is 1.2 % of our city’s population (though quite a few come from the county as a whole. You have to think in a rural context) We might be reaching more per capita than the aforementioned churches. Don’t check me on that I could be way off and there are tons of large churches in the DFW area.
    What I see is the same thing happening in my small town as in large cities. People swapping, getting re-churched, being saved, and moving in are, are not just looking for something to consume but are looking for something to be apart of, which is indicative of such movements as the Passion Conferences or Hillsong Worship ect. Both having major impacts on church planting in the last 10 years. as an almost 30 worship leader I know it has impacted me! I lead songs from both and many churches model worship after both.

    Churches, I’m learning, become mega for different reasons.. Think about it, North point probably has excellent rock worship but is not known for it like Hillsong, Gateway or Bethel are. And Those churches aren’t known for their preaching like The Village, Mars Hill or North Point are. And even in those last three mentioned the styles are so very vastly different in their approach and culture. Granted these churches are probably masters of assimilation and that might be part of it, so might also extreme gifting and talent (not as related to my main points). This brings me to another point.

    Are these city churches mentioned maybe just really good at identifying and reaching their culture rather than just trying to “satiate the consumer”, though we all know some churches are extremely consumer driven. However, I don’t really need stats and figures to see that though the numbers might look similar at mega churches, they don’t account for the different “type” of people each church is reaching.
    I will honestly say that in my community the Baptist church plant is reaching a diverse range, my church is reaching an academic/professional/transplanted range, the mild charismatic is reaching a lower SEC range. Though we all have each person type in our church, we all have different strengths.

    Then the thought has to come up of “what about the church in Asia or Africa or S. America, etc.?” We can’t forget that mega church is mainly a Euro/American thing that doesn’t translate completely to 3rd world countries. So to wonder if “this” is Christ’s vision for “the church” is really asking is this Christ’s vision for “the American church” in a manner of speaking. Surely it is part of it, because we have all been effected by them in some ways.

    I could go one with questions about this but i will stope. Hopefully I don’t come across as trying to answer anything, just as some one pondering a lot…

    Other topics, are these pastors called to do what they are doing, and if so can we fault that vision?
    Does being a mega church just have to do with reaching a certain size or could it just be a ratio to a certain location? a church of 300 seen as mega in a town of 2,000?
    Could megachuch vs small town church be like comparing large universities to small Liberal arts colleges? Recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of each?

  23. John says:

    Excellent points, Christian. The definition of church can get very confusing when our definition of is confined to a building with a pastors, parking lot and music. You can’t steal sheep from the Good Shepherd. I liked this post: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/ashamed

  24. Jennie says:

    I’m not an American (I live in NZ), but I believe this phenomenon is fairly widespread in “Western” countries. My family originates from Nigeria and on my last visit there, I noticed the beginnings of such patterns: Masses of mega churches springing up and mainline (Anglican, Catholic etc) feeling like they have to emulate the mega churches to retain interest of the youth….

    But I digress…

    I think the key point of the blog is that OVERALL the number of Christians is declining (I can testify that this is the case in New Zealand). So when we jump up and down and congratulate ourselves about how wonderful our churches are doing (particularly mega churches); STATISTICALLY speaking we are moving deck chairs.

    Obviously, I can’t judge someone’s conversion experience or their walk with God. If they say they didn’t know Jesus before and now they do – then glory be to God. However, if the number of UN-CHURCHED people (i.e. those with no church background) is increasing (definitely the case in NZ) and the number of new Christians is not, then perhaps our evangelistic efforts are not so great.

  25. trisha says:

    Personally I find a number of these comments annoying and arrogant. First of all I am not a sheep. I am a walking talking THINKING human being who desires after a deep walk with God. I have been in a small church and a mega church but I was there by MY choice-period. I am not easily swayed or easily fooled, I am not “sucked in” by consumer like church programs. I look for a church with solid biblical teaching, good community, honest leaders, a full complement of lay leaders and elders, freedom for women, and it doesn’t matter big or small. That is why we have only attended 3 churches in 26 years and one change was due to a move across the country. Sorry-pastors-your opinions about yourselves are a little on the arrogant side.

  26. janet carter says:

    I am grateful for your successful church experience and and your clear, level headed approach to church choice. I used to feel and operate exactly the same way. Unfortunately, my experiences were not as successful, which has caused me to question – not just church, be it large or small – but my own arrogant certainty about a very fallen world. I am sorry if this has offended, but in all honesty I have appreciated the opportunity to think through my own doubts.

  27. Richard says:

    Listen to us! Arguing about church size when we should be cooperating together to accomplish God’s call to spread the Good News. Not spinning our wheels about who does it best.

  28. Adam Borsay says:

    What I am interested in knowing regarding the “sheep shuffling” issue is the percentage of sheep shuffling that is taking place away from “bad” churches to “good” churches. For example, A number of mainstream denominations have backed away from very important biblical issues in the last few decades(homosexuality, exclusivity of Christ, etc). In my home town we have a “mega” church that has exploded in the last decade. Their internal polls show a large percentage of their new members are formerly unchurched, but they also have a large group of transfers from denominations that have walked away from orthodox Christianity.

    With that being said, how do we evaluate those issues in ascertaining whether church transfers are bad or good. In the most simple of terms. If there are 6 churches in my town that are all teaching some form of universalism and many of their members leave because of that and join the exciting and growing biblically sound church in town…..is that a bad thing???

  29. jamie says:

    I have something i would like to share. There are pastors elders and leaders of churhes that are good and produce fruits of the spirit. We are not supposed to descern spirits until we have heard leaders and pastors speak. I do however feel called to share what i feel about mega churches. First off where does it say in the bible that we are supposed to obtain earthy riches.. the bible says gold silver etc will rust. Build your house with the word of god and jesus. Second we are supposed to feed water and clothe those who are in need and poor.why are gods people that have been blessed with abundance not trying to help more. I have seen an inside of a mega church. There was a huge statue of a half angel with wings could that wealth not have been given to those in need… what about loving those who have nothing when do you see homeless ppl and people that have addictions or mental health or compromised lifestyles in these churches. God loves these people. It is in bible scriptures. It is the living word of god. He puts a love in your heart for these people not oneself. People are drawn to a church that is filled with gods love not a church that is filled with wordly riches and idols. Goats and sheep. God knows look to him and ask him what you are in his eyes he speaks to your heart.

6 Pings/Trackbacks for "Mega Churches Steal Sheep: My Ongoing Debate With Ed Stetzer"
  1. [...] buddy, Dave Fitch responded to another friend, Ed Stetzer on Ed’s “assault” on the “mega church sheep stealing [...]

  2. [...] Reclaiming the Mission engages with Ed Stetzer on mega church phenomena. Where do they draw people from and what do the stats really mean? [...]

  3. [...] week David Fitch engaged Ed Stetzer on his data about megachurches and sheep stealing.  It seems that the only [...]

  4. [...] at the Reclaiming the Mission blog, I’ve thrown in my two cents in an debate between David Fitch & Ed Stetzer. This disagreement is over Ed’s data about megachurches and sheep stealing. [...]

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David Fitch
Betty R. Lindner Professor of Theology
Northern Seminary
DMin in Missional Leadership
Prodigal Christianity
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