Why Do People HATE Megachurches?

October 13, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

You know what I hate?  Tomatoes.  Sure, if you process them enough and add plenty of salt, you can turn it into ketchup (I prefer the more phonetical spelling as opposed to the “I wonder it this comes from cats-up”) or pizza sauce.  However, even in pizza sauce, if you drop a tomato chunk in there, my response will be, shall we say, unpleasant.  I really do hate tomatoes (-es both times. Take that Dan Quayle.  Boom! Dated reference.  Yes I know it was potatoes.  Good grief).

Even though I hate them, it doesn’t really bother me that you don’t.  It doesn’t bother me that you love them.  The only thing that might bother me would be if I saw you bite into one as if it were an apple.  It would be both disgusting and dishonoring to apples.  But, as always, I digress.  My hatred for tomatoes does not move me to speak of the general evilness of them.  In fact, hate is way too strong of a word.  Hyperbole aside, I don’t like the taste of tomatoes.  It is a personal preference. (sudden transition)

People HATE megachurches, and I am going to have to confess that I don’t get it. I understand, “I don’t like the feel of a big church” and “I prefer smaller churches.”  When that extends to a general hatred and/or actively campaigning against them, I don’t get that.   I’ve worked for a megachurch and a small church and a medium sized church for that matter.  They all have strengths and weaknesses.

However, there is a sense in which it seems that a large church is by definition bad.  I felt that in seminary.  Churches with large congregations were sell-outs of some kind.  Small churches by definition were godly.  There was an inverse correlation between churches growing and whether or not those churches were pleasing to God.  Mind you, I’m not suggesting the opposite.  If I’m suggesting anything it is go to a small, medium, large, or extra-large church.  Makes no difference to me.

Is the church teaching God’s word?  Is it healthy?  Obviously, you can ask more questions than that, but most if not all boil down to those two.

So here’s the question.  Why the strong anger and disdain?  I know some reasons.  I read stuff and heard a lot of profs talk about it.  But I want you to go first.  What have you experienced?  Are you distrustful of megachurches? Do you think they are too _______? If so, I want to hear from you and get a good discussion going.  So, go!


13 Responses to “Why Do People HATE Megachurches?”
  1. Kevin says:

    This was something Julie and I have struggled with in our search for church homes. It is the reason we didn’t want to attend Geyer Springs Baptist in LR. It was too big and impersonal.

    When we moved to New Jersey, it was part of our criteria, no bigger than 2-300 people. We both were members of smaller churches growing up and thought that was the only way to have any type of community within the church. Anything bigger had to be more of a social club or full of people just wanting to be seen.

    While searching for a church in the OKC area, we happened on LifeChurch.TV. The size of each campus is more than any one of the churches we ever attended. The OKC or Edmond campuses alone are probably the size of Geyer Springs. We love LifeChurch.

    Three things changed our minds and made us realize just how much of a consumeristic mindset we had about church:
    * We are not called to GO to church but to BE the church. The size of the community doesn’t matter when you see things that way. You are not in it for what the church does for you but how you can join in and serve others.
    * We had better hope that our small church wasn’t winning people for Christ. Why? Because the size of the church might grow to a point where it wasn’t a small church anymore. So, what would we do then? Leave because it was too big? The apostles saw their number increased by 3000 in a single day. Do you think they were worried about being too big?
    * We also realized that the MegaChurch is a label to be rejected. The largest churches in North America pale in comparison to the count of the unsaved in our country and in the world. How can something be a mega-anything when it is such a small percentage of the total?

    Once we got beyond our own selfish interests and needs to be noticed and known rather than Christ known through us, the shackles fell, and we truly began to serve. It took a “megachurch” to help us see that. So, consider me a reformed “hater.”

  2. Aaron Reddin says:

    Fine. I’ll go first.

    I’m glad you were talking about real “hate”. Otherwise I would have felt this aimed at me like a bullet.

    Since I don’t really “hate” megachurches, I feel free to comment. :)

    I think it’s mostly about stewardship. Are we all perfect stewards? Nope.

    But we are, as a people, morphing (however slowly) into a people that actually care about other people. The more important that becomes, the more we realize what it takes. The more we realize what it takes, the more we pay attention to what everyone is doing with “what it takes”.

    I’ll just say it…..

    We can’t wrap our minds around spending 58 million bucks on a freakin’ building. Especially when all that space is used, what, 1-2 times a week? And elaborate offices, while all those super cool pastors aren’t using them because Panera is much more conducive to productivity. We just…don’t…get it. And how about that pastoral payroll? Oh, that’s right. That’s taboo.

    Does ANY of this justify the way that some of us sometimes lash out at the megachurches? Nope.

    Is it ok to crack jokes about them? I sure hope so! ;)

  3. Larry says:

    I’ve had bad experiences in small, medium, large and ginormous churches. I’ve also had good experiences in all of those as well. Personally, I don’t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with a mega church, but there isn’t anything automatically right with it either.

    In my experience this all boils down to mentality. So many mega churches are dealing more in celebrity worship, often building themselves up around the personality of a dynamic pastor or the marketing concept of being the “it” place to be. People come to see the pastor and be part of the “experience” – it becomes celebrity (idol?) worship more than God worship. Also, the mega church has become more of a Christian shopping mall, with every feature imaginable so that people aren’t inconvenienced during the 1 hour a week they are at church. The question has to be asked, “what are we really doing?”

    The church (small ‘c’) is supposed to be a local community of believers who join together for corporate worship and teaching. The church facility should be the central hub around which the members are “living life in Christ together.” Unlike the old days where church, and the people in it, were the focus of daily life, with not only Sunday morning and evening services, but Wednesday services, prayer meetings, revivals, Bible studies, meals, quilting groups, music groups, etc. etc. going on all week, nearly every day of the week, now many mega churches are focused on one day a week only. So many large churches are open for a couple of 1 hour Sunday morning services, and maybe a Saturday night service. Other than the church office, most everything else is closed the rest of the week. So, while the church is big, and the membership is large in terms of numbers, the life of the believers does not revolve around the church family and living in communion with other church members. To me, it seems that we have lost focus and somehow have bought into the worldly belief that bigger is better, and somehow God only frequents the ‘cool’ places with the ‘cool’ people.

    It just seems like in larger churches, people don’t know each other, they don’t live life together, and it is more about the show than the go. “Fellowship” is restricted to small groups, which in my humble experience are forced and simply don’t work. So, while I wouldn’t say that mega churches are intrinsically bad, I would also say that any church of that size can actually get in the way of people living for Christ unless they are very, very careful. Plus, the bigger the building and the facility, the bigger the “business” aspect of the church has to be to run all of that – it can be a drain on the life of the believers in the church and can detract from the teaching and fellowship of the believers if you are not careful.

  4. cloften says:

    There is a lot to chew on here and stuff that I think about a lot, what with being a pastor of a church for about ten years now. I will focus on 2 just to keep the ball rolling. I believe they are two of the biggest.

    1) Celebrity Pastor–Let’s say that I agree with this concern, because, well, I do. However, this is a church-wide problem, not limited to big churches. Is the church of 50 with the pastor with the fire breathing sermons who is a control freak any less a victim of the culture of the Pastor Celebrity culture than the cool-shirted, hip glasses pastor sitting at the glass table on stage? I would suggest no. One is just better at it. Maybe more effective is better. Maybe just draws bigger crowds. The senior pastor as center of the church-iverse is an issue regardless of size. It manifests itself in different ways at different sizes, but it’s there. I don’t believe that smaller churches is the answer. Team ministry and pastoral humility at all sizes are the answers.

    2) Stewardship and Large Buildings–Serious questions here. I don’t mean them as rhetorical even if they seem it. If a church of 6000 has a building campaign for 60 million (note the use of numbers that easily divide), is that worse stewardship than 60 churches of 100 having building campaigns of 1 million? It costs a lot of money for any church to have facilities. What if a church of 6000 can do it for 30 million, but it still costs the 60 churches of 100 a million, then what?

    Often it can also be about giving to the poor/needy/missions. If a church with $100,000 budget gives $1000, that’s one percent, but is only “selfish” with $99k. A church with $1 million gives $100k, that’s 10% but uses 900k internally, more than the hypothetical church but better by percentage. Then the megachurch with the 9 million budget gives 3 million away, that’s 1 in 3, but 6 million dollars spent on operations. Which one of those churches is more faithful? Is it number given? percentage given? smallest amount used internally? Some churches brag about being lean in their budget but don’t give. Some churches give a lot of money away but have what seem to be excessive budgets.

    BTW, I would deal with the question of pastoral salary, but that may be it’s own blog post. It’s very complicated. What “market forces” determine a pastor salary? Cost of living of the area? Size of family? Demographic of church? Experience? Education? Merit? Skill required? If those forces all submit to some scriptural principle so we cap the salary, shouldn’t all people in that church be subject to the same cap? Shouldn’t all people have to live on whatever that cap is and give the rest away? Hmm, I guess I did deal with it some. Imagine a 3) there.

  5. cloften says:

    From a friend Chad:

    Here’s a few thoughts Charlie. I hardly consider myself a “hater” of the megas, but I would grant that I have my skepticism. Either way, I think there are a few reasons why many people are troubled by the megas. By ‘mega’ I mean something specific. I think small is under 200, medium under 600, large under 1,000, and mega over that. This is in keeping with church growth peeps distinctions :) .

    Any hoo, I think (1) the size complain is not truly the core issue, although I think there’s something to this. Megas don’t seem to do personal well. It’s hard to connect, relate, meet people, know the leadership, etc. But there’s bigger problems according to critics. Perhaps the biggy is this:

    (2) Philosophy of ministry. Most megas run off a pragmatic ministry philosophy. This says “if it works, then it’s good”. Here ‘working’ means “getting lots of bodies in the building, in our programs, and having lots O’ cash as a result. This strikes many as overly business-oriented. The church is treated like a corporation and not a ministry. Leaders are mere ‘facilitators’ of programs and dispensers of goods. So they find out what people ‘want’ and provide it. If they want it and will bite on it, then it’s good, because it “works”.

    There are many problems that critics cite for this approach, but here’s a few. One is that it misses the NT model for church ministry which seems to be more about being community of love where the problems of life are dealt with, the power of sin broken, and the needs of the world met through God’s children.

    Another is that pastors and people seem to exist for mutual gratification. “I’ll give you what you want if you reciprocate”. Many find this hard to reconcile with the NT. What about servant leadership? What about not caring about the things that secular businessmen worry about in order for personal career advancement like “being number one”, being the biggest, etc.?

    Another related one is how they end up treating staff. One mega in our state (who shall remain nameless), hired and fired two people I know within a year or two, because “they weren’t working out”. The joke around there was “who will be fired this week”, because someone was being “let go” nearly every week. This strikes many as sad and hardly a distinctly Christian model of running a church. Staff are treated as dispensible goods not as dignified ends who’s good the church pursues. The Gospels seems to smack against this handling of persons in the church. I realize this is not unique to megas, because small churches mistreat staff too. The point is that the corporate business model contributes to this style, because if you aren’t growing big, then you aren’t “successful”.

    (3) Finally, megas seem to contribute to nominal Christianity. People consume church in virtue of church being a good to “like” or “dislike”. So why grow? When growth is judged by how many show up on the weekend or at various programs, it seems that we aren’t weighing their character. This ties in with the previous points, but it’s a real problem. Must this happen? No, but there seems to be a tendency according to some.

  6. Russ says:


    There is no “hate” from me, but I have seen the tendency for mega-churches to allow their members to withdraw from the world. For instance, at many of these fine institutions, you will find 1st class exercise rooms, full size basketball courts, etc. It makes sure that the members don’t have to exercise with all those “sinners” you find at the local gym. You will also find Christian yellowpages to make sure that you don’t have to deal with any heathens from the business world.

    Now, church league softball/basketball/etc. provides this as well (and I don’t like that either), but I don’t see this same tendency in smaller churches. I remember that one of your first messages was about the fact that the church’s chief purpose should be helping the body grow in our knowledge and relationship with God, so we could actually go into that big bad world and changes lives for Him (See it’s not just the entertainment value for me). I feel this is missing from the megas that isolate members from that world.

    That’s my 2 cents.

  7. Peter Freund says:

    I actually go the opposite way: I tend to dislike small churches, emphasis on the word ‘tend’. This statement should be heavily qualified, but if a church is healthy and winsome, then it is going to continue to attract people, all things being equal (and they aren’t always). God’s truth and Christian community, properly lived, are attractive. If a church grows, then it follows it is going to get quite big at some point.

    This isn’t just abstract, I saw it happen at the mega-church I grew up in. It had it all, and it really wasn’t seeker sensitive (assuming that means “selling out”). The church was Elmbrook Church (http://www.elmbrook.org), and the pastor at that time was Stuart Briscoe. (http://www.tellingthetruth.org/about/Bios/Stuart.aspx)

    As far as ‘like’ or ‘dislike’, I suppose I could come up with a list of reasons why I ‘tend’ to dislike small churches, but I think it would be ad hoc. It really just comes down to familiarity. I could imagine someone at a mega-church coming away with a bad experience and then frowning on all mega-churches. It goes both ways.

    In the end, every church should be evaluated for health, regardless of size.

  8. tad delay says:

    I’ve been a part of 3 megachurches, and while I’ve never heard or felt “hate” for any (disdain for Tge social phenomena would be a more appropriate term), I’ve definitely seen the resistance to it. But I’ve personally never felt (nor heard from anyone) that smaller churches are simply better because they are small. What I do hear is sadness at the type of community irrelevance that often comes with the broader social aspects of drawing a crowd.

    In each of those churches, the messages often could be called self help, and I honestly can’t ever remember hearing the version of the gospel as Jesus defined it (”the kingdom of god is among you”). Instead, the gospel was usually one of personal salvation, kindof going along with the personalized theme. Further, none of the larger churches I’ve been a part of where big players in the community week to week, and I personally saw this position draw the ire of the churches and nonprofits doing that good work among the poor. I’ve loved all my churches, but there’s a lot of work to be done

    It’s hard to build a kingdom and give it yourself away at the same time. I think that’s part of the sociological phenomenon I mentioned. But I certainly don’t think megachurches are bound to be this way- they can do really good things when they want to. I certainly don’t mean any of that to sound negative, but as a member of megachurches, small churches, nonprofit connections, and now seminary, that’s the vibe I get on why people are suspicious

  9. cloften says:

    Here is random thought, that will in Cloften fashion, be phrased in the form of a question.

    What if every individual local church doesn’t have to do everything as well or better than every other church? What if some churches are better at intimate community and another is good at drawing unbelievers to Christ? What if one church is better at social activism and another at prayer?

    Should all churches be doing all of these things? Yes. But is it ok that certain styles of churches do one thing better than another while the other does something different better?

    What if we are all on the same team? What if your church being better at something than mine isn’t threatening to me but uplifting for all of us?

    We are all on the same team and I appreciate the differences. More than that I love them. They free me as a pastor to be the leader that God has called me to be and do what I do well. Then I see another church that is great in something that I am not. I celebrate that, learn from them, and try to adapt. I adapt not because I am in competition with them but because we are learning together as teammates.

    Wait, never mind, that’s crazy talk.

  10. Scott Sutton says:

    I appreciate your most recent point, and it touches on my response. First of all, I think we need to move away from the distinction “mega” — it is way too fast-food and way too late-80s video game hero…plus, I think it is more of an emotional word than a descriptive one (which is probably why it is so frequently associated with fast-food and video games…also, professional fighting and car dealerships).

    I think it is important instead simply to think of church and a church community’s “self-image”. If a church community regards itself with hubris, self-righteousness, superiority, or exclusivity, something is wrong whether the congregation is 50, 500, or 5000. And something is also wrong when, regardless of congregation size, there is an inordinate amount of focus on the “institution” of the church itself.

    By “institution” I am referring to everything that is removed from the organic community of the congregation. Every Christian community should exist out of love for God and to express His love to others. And each community’s expression of their love for Him will look different (you outlined some of them in your most recent post). If 5000 people who love God and one another collectively express their love through (per your example) social activism, then they are a healthy community. Even if the “institution” of their church ceased to exist, these people would still be doing life together and it would probably look exactly the way it does now.

    But what would happen if that same church decided that they ought to implement X, Y, and Z ministries because they figure that’s what you ought to do when you’re a “megachurch” — even though most of the congregation may not really be passionate about X, Y, or Z. And let’s say they decide that there should be committees and professionals to coordinate all of the things that they used to do together naturally. Maybe they even begin a “Social Activism Ministry” (which everyone would refer to as SAM because we love acronyms so much). Suddenly, there is a lot of artificial stuff in the mix of what they once did organically. And in creating all of these new ministries, maybe 5000 new people start showing up who really don’t care about social activism but nonetheless appreciate that their church has a SAM. Now you have 10000 people doing church together who really have no other collective identity besides “Megachurch”. And if the institution of their church ceased to exist, they probably wouldn’t continue to do life together as a group of 10000. The same goes for a church of 100 that is too focused on the “institution” of church.

    So to wrap my novel up, I think the larger a community grows, it can (but doesn’t necessarily have to) become harder for them to organically express their love together. And you only have to visit a church a couple of times to get a feel for how “organic” or “artificial” its community is. Which is why a lot of people have big issues with big churches that feel artificial. But a small church can be just as prone to this, too.

  11. SS says:

    Here’s the laundry list from an ex-Christian and ex-mega.

    1) Money is all they want from you.
    2) They only want more butts in the seats (see #1)
    3) Pastors make a ridiculous wage
    4) Capitalism and the “blessings/prosperity” bit. Sorry, no, you are not allowed to use the Bible as an excuse to be greedy and money-grubbing.
    5) The “shiny” factor. All fluff, no substance.
    6) “Seeker” friendly (see #5)
    7) Starbucks or other corporate affiliations. Jesus is not a for-profit venture. (see 5/6)’
    8) It’s a glorified social club. Put your sticker on your car, think you’re “exclusive” If anything’s the mark of the beast, it’s those church stickers.
    9) Promotion of Jesus as a brand for marketing and financial gain (ie Not of This World brands, etc)
    10) No one cares who you are or what you are as long as you’re sitting down, doing exactly what that church culture (not the Bible, not God or Jesus) tells you and you pay your money. The insular culture where the church rules your whole life (again, not God or Jesus) is a problem.

    I left the mega at 11 years old because my Sunday School teacher said my Jewish friends were all going to hell. Thanks Calvary Community Church of Phoenix, AZ for that one. After that I went to a Lutheran church where I found the liturgy refreshing and delightful but still had difficulty swallowing a God I couldn’t see or prove.

  12. cloften says:

    Hey Man,

    Thanks for commenting. I try to respond to comments faster than this, but didn’t. Don’t know if you would ever come back and look at this or not, but I have a couple of questions.

    What in your experience made you think that money was the primary motivator? All churches and non-profits need money. The best ones can bring it up as a need and essential, but not communicating that it is the primary motivation. What was it in your experience that made you think money was #1?

    Also, if #2 represents a desire to help people, is that a good motivator? If #2 only is because it brings more money, then you are right. However if people matter, wouldn’t more people be good? If not, how have you seen it played out in a bad way?

    I agree with most of the rest of your critique. However, I don’t think large churches have cornered the market on that. At some point I may write about pastor salaries, like how much is too much, how little is too little, who should decide and why. However, that would be indulgent, and my motives could be easily questioned, since I am one.

    Finally, what made you make the final leap from Lutheran to non-Christian/skeptic/agnostic? I’m very interested in what is causing people to “lose faith.” If you get a chance I’d love to hear from you.


  13. Lisa says:

    I attend a megachurch. It feels more like I’m going to a show or a movie. And I rarely see people I know.

    When I serve, if I’m not known by the staff, I’m ignored. My requests are not considered. Sometimes it seems the group I’m sharing with is treated with less honor than other groups.

    The pastors are there, but there is no way possible they know how the congregation is doing. Overall, I don’t feel needed, wanted or valued. I feel misunderstood.

    If someone leaves no one seems to care. When the right, loving thing would be to call, meet up, find out if they are ok.

    At small churches, 20-60 adults, it’s difficult, because the churches are mainly young families. I’m single. The women are sometimes, it seems, threatened by me. No one asks me to lunch. People make assumptions about my motives, when I have none. I don’t force my way into serving in more public positions. Because of low energy and not being an extrovert, I often say, “pray about it” or “how’s about I share once and we’ll see how it goes?”

    Another issue with megachurches is they keep widening the door and lowering the standards, accountability and church discipline is non-existent. Ok, fine, welcome everyone, but people in immorality should not be teaching Sunday school, etc. Those in ministry are given a great deal of honor. The congregation believes that person is honoring God with their life. They are trusting their children to that person’s presence, leadership and shaping. It’s pathetic. The church is protecting those who serve (who are in sin) and therefore hurting the flock. Demoralizing those who are daily crucifying their flesh.

    I believe the pastor has honorable intentions. I believe he gives his all. But, it’s like the big tree with all kinds of birds, that Jesus mentioned. I think the church should be a place of safety. As persecution ramps up, the church will be purged. Those pretending to be living for Jesus will flee to save their hides. And Lord willing I’ll be in the number of those who endure to the end.

    To pastors who have large churches, do you really think this was God’s intention for the church? Are you dishonoring God’s children, because you don’t want to hurt or offend someone in blatant sin? How are you helping the person in sin, by not addressing it? Are you leaving women vulnerable by opening the doors to anyone and everyone?

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