Monday, December 03, 2012

Mega-Church Buildings And the Future of Evangelical Christianity

Church history is often cyclical, particularly since the Reformation. From small groups meeting in secret locations to escape persecution, to worshipers entering massive European cathedrals built with state money, modern Christianity goes back and forth between an emphasis on loose organizational structure and wide ministry to an emphasis on large brick-and-morter structures and more narrow ministry. Beginning in the 1970's, evangelical churches swung toward the latter. For the past forty years, "successful" churches built massive structures, sometimes borrowing millions of dollars, to have the largest auditoriums, best recreational centers, and in some cases, the finest restaurants, cafes and coffee shops in the area. From Prestonwood in Dallas, to Bellevue in Memphis, to Fellowship in Grapevine, and to the now defunct Crystal Cathedral in California, mega-churches from coast to coast have spent millions and millions of dollars on plush facilities. Evanglical leaders have deemed it best to have the largest and best buildings in the community. The penultimate example of this era of evangelicalism was the decision of FBC Dallas to build a $130-$150 million downtown worship center for a church with an average attendance of less than 3,000. I believe future generations of evangelicals may look back at this event and consider it the event that ended an era.

The definition of a mega-church is 2,000 or more people in average weekly attendance. I would argue there is nothing morally wrong with mega-churches constructing massive and/or plush facilties, particularly if the church refuses to take upon herself unreasonable and unservicable debt. There are plenty of other churches for Christians to attend if they disagree with their church's decision to build larger and plusher buildings.

There is, however, a need for evangelical pastors and leaders of large churches (numerically) to take a step back and evaluate a desire to enter into a massive building program. The pendulum is swinging back toward churches creating loose organizational structures in order to faciliate a wider array of ministries. For the next few decades, those evangelical churches that will continue to grow in numbers and Kingdom influence are those churches that spend less on facilities, learn how to worship in mulitiple venues and at various times, and focus more on building a network of effective small groups that collectively do missions both locally and globally. The climate and culture of the evangelical church has changed. Any church that focuses on large in-house productions, massive buildings, and ministries more conducive to "come and recieve" instead of "go and give" is in for a surprise.

Let's call it the Evangelical Fiscal Cliff.

Churches that have borrowed to build massive facilities are behind the proverbial eight ball. They must continue to focus on sustaining and maintaining the organization (utilities, repairs, staffing, and publicity to bring people into the high dollar facilities for "special events"), instead of empowering people to do the work of the ministry away from the buildings. The new evangelical culture is about going and doing. The new wave of Christianity is about serving, not receiving. Churches who are trapped into maintaining buildings built for "come and see" special events are going to struggle.

Because the world is flat, young Christians can pull up on You Tube and watch something ten times better than anything they will see performed on their local church platform. What next generation Christians are interested in is CONNECTING. Those churches that focus on discipleship through expanding small groups and involving their members in local and global missions are the churches that have healthy futures.

Things may eventually swing back to the other direction, but I don't think it will be in my lifetime.


Anonymous said...

Get over it - your green with envy because you're stuck in Enid, OK in a dismal situation ...

"what is that to you .."

Bob Cleveland said...

Anonymous .. that's HILARIOUS! Or it would be if it wasn't pathetic.

Tom Rich said...

Wade - I wrote a few articles about the FBC Dallas project over the past few years. I would challenge you a bit that this project or others like it are not immoral. The buildings are not immoral, nor would the desire to have a beautiful building be inherently immoral. What I think IS immoral about these projects are the fund-raising tactics, such as when the pastor twists people's arms to give money to it, by saying the building will glorify Jesus, that in fact building a $100 million campus is God's will!

Jeffress said in a sermon in 2010 :

"Do you think God has a plan, continued for First Baptist Church Dallas? I think He does. I don't think it's God's plan for this church to fall into decay and obscurity and irrelevancy in the city of Dallas. I think God's plan for this church to continue to be a lighthouse for His truth, to lift up the name of Christ in this city and in this world. And let's say that that really is God's plan, and part of that plan means creating this new campus, so that future generations can enjoy what we've enjoyed in these present generations."

He then twisted his church member's arms by telling them that the surest path to getting close to God is to give a large gift to the project:

"...the greatest thing you can do for your spiritual health, would be to take a large chunk of your assets, and give them to this campaign. Just slice off a big hunk of 'em and give them to this campaign."

Those tactics ARE immoral, in my view, and they are typical of mega church pastors these days who seek to build their own kingdoms here on earth, not God's kingdom in heaven.

jack said...

And all the while, SB msnaries around the world are told to cut every corner, trim every budget, get health care in your host country(a baby died last week after having been born in country), find less expensive and smaller flats, meet for fellowship and renewal less, salary adjustments will be postponed, and this list goes on, and on, and on...

Anon 9:42...I'll go one further than Mr. Cleveland, YOU are pathetic!

Anonymous said...

At Rehoboth Baptist in Tucker GA the then Pastor encourage everyone to give “Above and Beyond” for new facilities. Many did and the process moved along fine until one day he said he felt we should start an additional campus north of the city. After the new campus was established using the money given for the Rehoboth facilities he resigned to Pastor the new Church leaving Rehoboth with no Pastor and lots of debt.

Anonymous said...

@ jack

I wouldn't say move to more inexpensive and smaller housing is what the imb is saying....

on the contrary, we're seeing that if an apartment isn't within the 1600 sq foot limit you can't have it....even if it's just slightly larger than the limit..even if a slightly larger place (than 1600 sq ft) is CHEAPER than a smaller can't have it....
that's legalism at it's finest....
so much for trying to save the imb money....

BUT, I do have to say that they are increasing base pay this next year.... your statement about salary adjustments being postponed isn't accurate

imb m

Paul Burleson said...


I'm writing a blog post that will come out in January about people who assign motives to the "why" other people do or say what they do or say.

In other words, when you see or hear someone write or say...."Get over it -[you've said what you just said because] your green with envy because you're stuck in Enid, OK in a dismal situation." see a perfect example of what my post will be about.

The crux of my post will be that from my research and counseling experience, I've found that people who assign motives to someone else for something they say or do, assign what they ASSUME [no one but God knows] based on...."what they would do if they were in the same situation. "

If what I found in my research is true, and I found it true in my own life unfortunately when I was honest about my own habit of doing this, assigning a motive to someone only says something about the assigner, not the one to whom it is assigned.

We Human beings are the funniest people in the world aren't we!! LOL

Paul Burleson said...

I might add that another sad thing is they [those who assign motives] are usually totally INCORRECT in their assessment of the thing which is the basis of their assigned motive.

This is certainly true of any judgment that what God is doing in Enid is a "dismal situation." Oh that God would give us a baptism of "dismal situations" such as Enid Oklahoma and Emmanuel Baptist Fellowship are experiencing. But I digress...sorry. ;)

Wade Burleson said...


I understand your viewpoint and respect it.

I am always hesitant to make those issues that are not clearly defined by Scripture positions of morality. However, you make a pretty darn good argument for making the construction of massive buildings a moral issue. As always, I could be wrong.

Wade Burleson said...

Bob, Jack and Paul and IMB Missionary,

Thanks for your comments. I agree with Paul--if Enid is dismal, please give me more dismal. :)

This post is probably more testimonial than anything. We purchased 50 acres to relocate, but about eight years ago, after seeing the cost of building a massive facility ($25 to $35 million), we decided to begin multiple Sunday morning services (currently four), remodel and make the best use of what we already have, and start new works and support mission work around the world rather than focus on bigger and better buildings here. In the last few years what Emmanuel has accomplished in Niger, Africa; India; New York City, and Guatamela, not to mention local ministries, has been nothing short of amazing. Not saying we couldn't have done it all had we built new facilties--only that it would have been much, much harder.

Anonymous said...


Neither you nor Tom are incorrect on this issue. I have said for years that the end is near and Christians are finally beginning to understand that numbers truly mean nothing-they are just that (Which is why the church in Geraldine WY or Princeton KY is just as important as 1st Baptist Dallas (as much as I think that they are misguided in the building project) or 1st Baptist Enid.

There are those who I am afraid actually do believe that Mac Brunson and Steve Furtick ARE INDEED more important in the Kingdom of God than the Bi-Vocational Pastor who will never see more than 40 people within the walls of his congregation. May God have mercy on us for such foolishness.

God has His people (Church) everywhere and we are all equal and precious in Christ before Him.

This was a timely and proper article which will resonate throughout the future and should serve as a warning to those pastors who seek to lead their congregations into bigger, larger, better.

The True Church is about people following Jesus-always has been, always will

Because of His GRace,


Romans 5:1

Bob Cleveland said...

The Tabernacle was a pretty fine place for a tent, and the temple God had Solomon put up was a pretty splendid place, too. But that was an entirely different time and they were there for an entirely different purpose.

I have long been troubled by the thought that we even think we can bring glory to GOD by building something. Who's going to see it? The world? How is it possible for a carnal child of the devil to recognize the glory of God in bricks & sticks? Are we trying to avoid simply loving them and acting like it?

And for us believers, I don't know of a bigger display of God's glory than a friend in Latvia on her knees, worshiping as the leader just plays some chords on the keyboard in an old dilapidated church building in Bauska during a choir practice, or when some folks gather round me at Red Hills in Kingston Jamaica and just love on me, after I've shared greetings from FBC.

No, God's glory has nothing to do with that building. Any more than the flowers that adorn Emmanuel in the summer have to do with the garden spade.

Aussie John said...


Excellent,much needed and and timely words, both from yourself and others such as Paul and Bob, which reflect our Savior,His grace and love, in the wise words they always write.

Paul is absolutely spot on when he says,"..... people who assign motives to someone else for something they say or do, assign what they ASSUME...", and "... they [those who assign motives] are usually totally INCORRECT...."

I can only feel sorrow towards such people,for they obviously don't understand that their words are a mirror image of their hearts and minds.

A good exercise: Think that when I focus attention on another I have four fingers in operation; the pointing finger accusing,or, criticizing, the other three point back at me:
1. one at Christ in me the hope of glory:
2. the second one at my own sin:
3 the third at the love I have, or don't have, in my heart for the one I'm pointing at with my assumptions.

Anonymous said...

Just so you know, to date, FBC Dallas has not borrowed one cent in construction.
Downtown Dallas is perking up. The recently completed downtown park rivals Millennium Park in Chicago for it's design. Every weekend it is packed with families--and bordered by a squadron of Taco vendors! The Arts District, which the church borders, is the most elaborate, privately-funded collection of venues since Lincoln Center.
Maybe it's just Texas....
One other observation: several international direct sales organizations have begun in Dallas and their founders have been generous to the churches there (in addition to sponsoring orphanages and missionaries). Maybe it's the Trinity River water....
I remember when the former Prestonwood worship center was built. Mary Kay Ash was a member of the "Colors Committee." She liked mauve....
Like you said, let's not judge motives.
And laugh.
"If it's of men, it will pass..., but if it is of God...."

Kevin said...


You've articulated some of the same things I've been thinking as I look at the current landscape of Christianity in America (albeit from afar).

I do really hope you are correct here. I hope we'll be moving away from grandiose building projects. Like you, I'm not necessarily opposed to them. But it seems the money could be more wisely spent in many cases.

Anonymous said...

This is a very intriguing post. I agree with these thoughts.

Each church has to wrestle with what it believes God is leading it to do in their own context.

I agree that the size of the church, or the size of the building, is not a moral issue.

Building a large building could be a morally wrong thing to do, as could NOT building a larger building. That all has to do with motives that I do not feel comfortable addressing.

But the point of your post is considering whether building large programs and buildings is strategic and effective in this day and age. I believe that you may be on to something.

We went 13 years without a building. We rented. We met in homes.

We have had a building for the last 6 years. It's big for us, and small to others.

If a church is going to build, the church should at least be thoughtful and clear-headed about what it is doing. Is the building needed? Can the church service the debt? Etc.


Wade Burleson said...

Louis and Anonymous 10:45

I appreciate both your comments and the spirit in which you write them. I was attempting to not assign motives and make moral judgments (and I think you catch that), but simply using illustrations of what is happening in the modern mega-church to ask the question, "Is the evangelical Christianity mega-church movement now moving away from the construction of massive buildings?" I think it is, but in time, again, I could be proven wrong.

Wade Burleson said...

And I agree with both of you that each church is unique and must make her decision based upon her environment.

Anonymous said...

Please understand that my comments are going to come off crass and self righteous, but please look past them and "try" to see what I am saying. I want to address the issues a former poster made, and certainly do mot mean to offend him/her since we are both "In Christ".

Please take a moment and think about my responses--Grace to all

Just so you know, to date, FBC Dallas has not borrowed one cent in construction.

Its still a waste of God's money

Downtown Dallas is perking up.

Who cares, its still a waste. FBC should split up into smaller congregations and migrate out into the city. Sell the land and split up the money for the smaller congregations-it would be much more glorifying to God and they would no doubt impact Gods Kingdom in a much greater way than a Downtown FBC Dallas

The recently completed downtown park rivals Millennium Park in Chicago for it's design.


Every weekend it is packed with families--and bordered by a squadron of Taco vendors!

How many of them come to FBC Dallas? How many times have people from FBC went out and spoken to these people about Christ?

The Arts District, which the church borders, is the most elaborate, privately-funded collection of venues since Lincoln Center.

Im not sure that this is relevant to anything

Maybe it's just Texas....
One other observation: several international direct sales organizations have begun in Dallas and their founders have been generous to the churches there (in addition to sponsoring orphanages and missionaries). Maybe it's the Trinity River water....
I remember when the former Prestonwood worship center was built. Mary Kay Ash was a member of the "Colors Committee." She liked mauve....
Like you said, let's not judge motives.
And laugh.

Truly at a loss on this one

"If it's of men, it will pass..., but if it is of God...."

Usually used as a cop-out; but it is a true statment

Again, I know this comes off as mean spirited and in some way is; my main point is to get people to think outside of the box. I still say FBC Dallas needs to split up and "go out into the world" instead of staying in down-town Dallas where noone actually lives. But I CERTAINLY am not God and have NO dog in this hunt!

Grace in Christ


Romans 5:1

Anonymous said...

I think there is some willful ignorance going on here.

To make "ought" judgments based on errors of fact should be embarrassing.

Or ought to be.

No one lives downtown? Really?

I do.

Other facts:

Directly across Federal street from FBC-Dallas sits the landmark "Federal Courthouse and Post Office" for Dallas. It has not been either for decades. Recently, a developer turned it into condos.

One block further, the former Republic Bank Tower--another landmark. All condos now.

The same is true in all directions. The Downtown Rotary Club predicts more of the same as people abandon their automobiles.

Tonight, my SS class Christmas fellowship will be gathering on the 25th floor of another high-rise four blocks from the church. Our hosts came to FBC initially because they saw the demolition of the old FBC buildings on FoxNews on a Sat. morning.
They've been transformed more than the old buildings.
Call it "Demolition Evangelism." It's not for everyone.

The point is, Downtown Dallas is experiencing a "Conservative Resurgence." Increasing thousands are within walking distance, ride the free, historic McKinney Ave. trolly, or the regional Dart rail. The St.Paul station--aptly named, don't you think--is one block away.

Now why exactly should this downtown church abandon its property, just as an influx of residents and redevelopment is underway?

Anonymous said...

Update: FirstDallas will is involved in the new downtown park. This is but one example:

Anonymous said...

tThis post is dead on. I work in the missions area of church life and I am amazed at the buildings we like to build thinking that is how you reach people. Buildings reach no one. People do. On the flip side I am seeing some of the strategies we use overseas coming back to America to help us reach our own people. That is small groups that can flow through a culture with speed and no money. Buildings can, not always , be more of a hinderance than a help. In other countries buildings become a way the government controls the church. I also find it funny that most evangelical pastors do not like the financial politics of the Democrats yet they act just like them when it comes to fiscal matters. They spend like they will never run out of money and have debt like I have never seen. Crazy.

Anonymous said...

BTW, just to be clear. I am not suggesting that FBC Dallas totally abandon downtown, but seriously downsize to several hundred-say 400-500.

Think about what would happen if FBC Dallas would open up a small section of the Church from 1030 am until 2 pm for prayer during weekdays-or basically any church in any city for that matter.

At the beginning of each 1/2 hour, a pastor gets up and delivers a 5 minute devotional and sits back down and the people come in for the devotional and pray-Think God might honor that?

He did back in the late mid-1800s in New York City and Chicago! Google it!! Theone in NYC was historic in American Christianity

Grace Again-Enjoy the Lord's Day


Romans 5:1

Anonymous said...

In 1856 a Methodist names William Arthur published a book of fiery sermons which closed with a prayer pleading with God to "Crown this nineteenth century with a revival of pure and undefiled religion...greater than any demonstration of the Spirit ever vouchsafed to man." His prayer was answered when the greatest revival in American history began the next year.

In 1857 churches were sliding down hill. Thousands of Americans were disillusioned with Christianity. William Miller, a new England farmer, had captured nationwide attention with his prediction that Christ would return on October 22, 1844. When nothing happened, many abandoned their faith.

America's moral recovery began when Jeremiah Lanphier, a concerned layman, started a noon prayer meeting for New York businessmen. Only six people came to the first prayer meeting on September 23, 1857 on the third floor of the "Consistory" of the Old Dutch Reformed Church on Fulton Street. By spring daily prayer meetings sprang up in many locations and daily attendance grew to 10,000. America's greatest Spiritual awakening was under way. It was called the Layman's Prayer Revival because laymen led it.

During the Layman's Prayer Revival the owner of a hardware store in New York urged businessmen at the Fulton Street prayer meeting to always set a holy example. A well-known manufacturer followed him to his store and confessed that he had cheated him for years and wanted to pay it back.

When the news spread that there were daily prayer meetings where sinners were welcomed, prayed for, and encouraged to turn to Christ, some hardened criminals were saved. A notorious criminal nicknamed "Awful Gardiner" surprised everyone when he found christ through the prayer meetings. He was not alone.

Hundreds of people who had always spent their nights in the gates of hell came to the prayer meetings that had begun in the evenings. Thousands forsook crime and became devoted follows of Christ. Crime and vice drastically declined. Wealthy people generously helped the poor whom they regarded as their brothers and sisters.

Ships coming into New York harbor came under the power of God's presence. On one ship a captain and thirty men were converted to Christ before the ship docked. Four sailors knelt for prayer down in the depths of the battleship North Carolina anchored in the harbor. They began to sing and their ungodly shipmates came running down to make fun, but the power of God gripped them and they humbly knelt in repentance.

"Do you have to stop business at noon and go to a prayer meeting?" A customer from Albany asked a New York City merchant. "Yes, I must. Why don't you go with me?" The customer went with him and received Christ. He returned to Albany and started prayer meetings there.

In March of 1858 a religious journal reported that "The large cities and towns from Maine to California are sharing in this great and glorious work. There is hardly a village or town to be found where 'a special divine power' does not appear displayed."

In Chicago 2,000 men met at noon for prayer in Metropolitan Hall. In Jayne's Hall in Philadelphia 4,000 were meeting. An elderly philanthropist named John Crozer wrote in his diary, "I have never, I think, been present at a more stirring and edifying prayer meeting, the room quite full, and a divine influence seemed manifest. Many hearts melted, many souls devoutly engaged."

Continued at

Anonymous said...

God created(built) the universe and all things in it! What can we build, with our hands, that glorifies God? Nothing! These mega-church buildings seem to glorify the building and this is idol worship! Loving, exhaulting, fearing, respecting, worshiping, following(and more) is Glorifying God! Accepting and loving Jesus Christ His only begotten Son and Lord, King, Master, Minister and Saviour(and more) is Glorifying God as He would have it! God is not a respecter of persons, how much less of a value does a building have? Christ is the head of His Church, the Church is Christian believers certainly not a building! I know the above is woefully incomplete but is a start.