Mega vs Meta

by | June 27, 2023 | Espresso

Let’s face it, megachurches have been a great blessing to millions of lives. Whether it’s the large arena-type churches in the US, the concert-venue style church in Australia, or the stadium-like megachurches in Nigeria, many lives have been impacted by the message and ministries flowing out of these churches.

I have been privileged to travel to 55 nations of the world. From Austria to Zimbabwe. From Norway to Nepal. From China to Croatia. From Indonesia to Ireland. From USA to Ukraine. I have been blessed to meet some incredible people and see the unique ways in which God is at work establishing His Kingdom in different nations. Almost without exception, I have sat next to believers and sung ‘their version’ of a Hillsong chorus. Sometimes it was almost unrecognisable! Nonetheless the lyrics transferred from the Australian church to their language with the same power and meaning.

Megachurches have achieved things most churches could never achieve. The mere scope of their influence, their reputation with business and civic leaders, their ability to sway political leaders, and their capacity to provide social services, welfare and assistance to their city is incredible. Megachurches have altered the global churchscape forever. Their methods have become the models used by thousands of churches around the world. Their practices have become the programs millions have implemented. Megachurch leaders have become the long-distance mentors of most pastors. They have greatly influenced the public perception of church and shaped the mega-narrative regarding Christianity.

The first 22 years of my leadership experiences were in churches numbering between 650 and 5200 members. We were blessed to hear and meet some of the best megachurch leaders in the world. Their gift was undeniable. Their authority and charisma were tangible. Their revelations were supernatural and inspiring. They graced our pulpits, sold their books, and promoted their principles and programs at our conferences.

However … yes I know you were waiting for that! Let’s consider the status of Christianity in Australia. Church attendance has been in decline for seven decades! In 1950 about 44% of all Aussies attended church regularly. According to ABS, today only 7% of Australians attend a church service more than once per month. In fact the number of people declaring they have ‘no religion’ has double in last 15 years. In the 2021 census, 38.9% said they do not affiliate with any religion or denomination, up from 19% in 2006.

So despite the amazing growth in the size and number of megachurches, Christianity has been consistently in decline. Further to this, only 2% of churches said they had multiplied or planted another expression of church.

There are several conclusions we could draw from these statistics. There are certainly a lot of opinions, speculations, and educated conclusions. However, its obvious megachurches are not the solution to reversing the decline in church attendance, or to slowing the landslide of public opinion against Christianity in Australia.

Megachurches are no longer the benchmark for success for every aspiring pastor. Their leaders do not have the solutions, principles, patterns, and methods that work in every context. Their model may succeed in New York but fail in Perth. They may grow exponentially in London yet struggle to gain traction in Adelaide. Their models and methods may work in Houston but fail in Brisbane. And they may gain followers in Melbourne but not in Townsville.

According to sociologists Australia is SBNR – spiritual but not religious. They do not respect institutions or denominations or those that lead them. Religion has become irrelevant to the majority. People are curious and interested in the spiritual but disillusioned with religion. Many researchers are declaring our nation to be both post-Christian and pre-Christian for the first time in its history.

Therefore, Church leaders must discover new ways to advance the Kingdom of God. If this is true, and I suspect it is, pastors need to reset, pivot, innovate and re-pioneer the way they ‘do church’. Christians need to reconsider the way they communicate and propagate the gospel. For years we have celebrated and promoted the megachurch models and despised and minimised the smaller churches. We have emulated the achievements of megachurches and minimised the results achieved by small churches.

I believe we need metachurch not megachurch. Meta is an adjective meaning ‘more comprehensive or transcending’. Yes, it is hard to believe, meta is greater than mega. I’m not anti-megachurch. I am saying megachurch is not enough. We need something more, something other than.

For metachurch to succeed, we need to admit ‘small is valid’. I did not say ‘small is better’, though I have some friends who would say this without hesitation. Small churches have an important part to play in the advancement of God’s Kingdom in the season in which we find ourselves.

Whether you call them missional, mosaic, multi-site, messy, or micro, metachurch advocates recognise the genius that is embedded in the diversity and innovation within the Body of Christ. Like the grace of God, His message, and His messengers, are designed to be multi-faceted not myopic. We need to shift our focus from mega to meta; from growing church attendance and building nice facilities, to gospel saturation and incarnational living.

To make this shift we must celebrate small and slow. This is hard when everything we have applauded is big and fast. We must recognise small is valid. I didn’t say ‘better’. Multi-site may be the best model for some contexts, while micro will serve better in other contexts.

What do I mean by slow? Are we willing to be the sowers and waterers, and not the reapers as described in 1Corinthians 3.6? Are we content with establishing relationships and friendships with people who don’t believe in God, and have no generational affiliation with church, and walk a long journey with them? Are we willing to love our neighbours despite their antagonism or rejection of the gospel? Are we willing to take small steps with the SBNRs?

Microchurch leaders are not anti-megachurch they are pro-Kingdom. They are asking a new set of questions about the future of the church. They are courageous and curious enough to attempt new models of church. They are not focused on big-and-better-here methodology. They don’t live by the mantra ‘build it and they will come’. They are focused on small-and-many-everywhere methodology. I share more of my thoughts on microchurch and how we pivoted our church services in Brisbane here.

Gary Rucci has been serving in christian leadership since 1989. Together with his wife Nikki, also a credentialled minister, he has served in various portfolios in a few of Australia’s largest churches and alongside many influential pastors and not-for-profit leaders. Gary loves to network and collaborate with others across the Body of Christ. Gary and Nikki live in Brisbane and have three adult children.