This morning I came across the new list of Southern Baptist Mega Churches provided by Thom Rainer on his blogsite. You can find the list by clicking here.
Rainer’s report reveals that the SBC now boasts 177 mega churches, which are churches that cite an average weekly attendance of 2,000 or more. As I looked at the list, a few observations came to mind. First, the multi-site movement has made a profound impact. Many of the churches on the list have espoused this strategy, providing multiple locations under the umbrella of one local body. Some of these locations are video venues, some have itinerant pastors who travel from location to location, some use a team teaching approach, while others have established pastors who routinely speak. The big benefit is that the church is able to grow larger by growing smaller, given that each venue can create a more intimate feel than trying to place thousands in one geographical location. The other feature that is compelling is the sheer economics. We live in a day when church construction averages in excess of $155 per square foot. By utilizing established facilities, such as public schools and movie theaters, these churches are financially unfettered to grow.
My second observation concerns the struggle of the historic, pulpit driven, larger than life personality churches of yester year. As I college student and a young pastor I looked up to churches like First Dallas and Bellevue in Memphis, dreaming of the day that I might grace one of those significant pulpits. As time passed and leaders passed, these historic churches, and others like them, have struggled to find their identity beyond their gifted leaders.
Finally, there are some churches that are absent from the list. Rainer passes this off as a failure to report, however it points to a deeper issue, which is the reluctance of many of these churches to publicly identify with the SBC. Some churches on the list are familiar to those who read bestsellers or attend conferences. But who knew those pastors and their churches were Southern Baptist? In some instances, their own publications and websites don’t even mention the affiliation. While I celebrate the kingdom success of those who made the list, it seems clear that the SBC has an identity crisis. Or at least a public relations problem.