Megachurch is the term given (surprisingly) to a church that attracts over 2,000 people at a weekly service – they are indendepent Wvangelical churches – and in the USA there are about 50 Churches that manage to attract between 10,000 and 47,000 each Sunday.
So – the statistics need converting into an experience – and here was the choice:
The service was a 6.30 pm on a Saturday evening and I travel with the Dean Ian Markham and a handful of students, as keen as I am, to discover what this is all about. The building is huge and a multi storey car park deals with the hundreds of cars. This church has a membership of 18,000 – yes – can you imagine trying to count them let alone produce a pew sheet for them all!!
Here is the outside:
There is a cross on the side of the building and the police help manage the traffic ! We arrive early and are warmly welcomed with a smile by the greeter. The carpeted hallway opens out into a bookshop, meeting rooms, coffee shops, restaurants, counselling rooms, and the walls are covered with details of almost any group you ever imagined that you might want to join. I note there is no WI or walkers group on the notice board! The book shop offers all their sermons on CD and a range of practical books to help you live the Christian life. At 6.10 precisely the doors open and we are welcomed (again). There is no order of service or hymn book. The size of the auditorium is overwhelming – this picture hardly does the space justice:
The decision is made to sit at the front (not entirely a sensible one I thought – but I didn’t argue) and we wait as the seats fill up. And fill up they do – couples and families and older people and younger people. I haven’t seen such a diversity of people ever in a church – ordinary Americans waiting with eager anticipation.
The choir and band take their places – a full set of drums, guitars, piano and a violinist. the music words and associated images are projected onto huge screens and we stand and sing and pray. It is good music – and easy to pick up – pitched at a level which most can sing. It is soothing and refreshing. The pastor joins us – a regular sort of guy – gives out the notices and asks us for money. He explains where it will go and why we should give. This is a church that is committed to giving both to their projects amongst vulnerable teenagers in downtown Washington and abroad in Africa.
So far so good. There is a kind of unstuffy freshness which has its appeal. I am doing my best (and succeeding) to behave myself! Lon Solomon comes forward and smiles – he is the senior pastor who founded the church in 1980. He stands behind a lectern – all the major points of the sermon are flashed up above his head and a camera gives us close up pictures of his hands and face. The subject is The Life of Moses – part 58 – and we are taken through Numbers 16; 1-35. The theme is The Cure for Complaining.
There is clarity – and it is delivered with skill and rigour. I have some theological difficulties (understatement) with parts of the message but I had better not reveal too much – you don’t ever know who reads these blogs! Its over by 7.40pm and the students debrief. The responses are mixed but I am surprised that I appreciated it as much as I did!
I do think there is always something to learn from different ways and approaches to worship – and I am very intrigued at why America is so much more of a religious country that the UK. And certainly we need to do something to give people an accessible way into the faith. But is this the way forward? How many more people worship at Solihull Christian Centre this morning (its Sunday at 8am) than Knowle or Temple Balsall? Thats enough for now – judge for yourself:
Try their web page www.mcleanbible.org – but please come back after the visit. Am I going back? No – I’m off to a proper church in Alexandria – St Pauls, Pitt Street and then for a concert at the Kennedy Centre in DC. Speak to you later…..