Being the pastor of a large church I often hear the term “mega church” being used. Sometimes it’s used just to describe large churches, but more often than not it’s used as a derogatory term insinuating that if your church is large it must be because you’re compromising in some way – teaching sermons that satisfy what people want to hear, being seeker-sensitive, entertaining people rather than making disciples, teaching the health and wealth message – the list goes on. I should state right at the start that I love being the pastor of a large church. I love our community and the amazing things that can be achieved when lots of people are focused in the same direction. A large church can exert large influence.

The definition of a mega church is one that has 2,000 people or more in regular attendance (that’s the American definition at least). With a population of 320 million people (72% of whom identify as Christian) it should be easier to grow a mega church in the US than in Australia where our population is 13 times smaller. If we were to use the definition of a mega church proportionately, an Australian mega church should be one that is 150 people or larger! Not only is our population smaller, but so is the percentage of people that identify with the Christian faith (61%).

And that’s the point. To grow a large church in Australia is tougher and yet the church world in this nation so often compares itself to other countries and then feels inadequate as a result. It’s my opinion that we need a more Biblical approach to defining what a mega church is. “Mega” is from the Greek word “megas” which is translated a number of ways in the Bible. Depending on the context it can mean abundant, arrogant, fierce, large, loud, terrible, older, strong or severe (I’ve been to churches that fit all of these words). But most of the time megas is translated “great” – and that’s what we should all be looking for in a church community – a great church!

So what makes for a mega church? Let me suggest some things:

Firstly, Jesus referred to the great commandment, which is all about love – loving God and loving others. A mega church will focus on these things. The people will have an undeniable love for God that has been developed out of gratitude for His amazing grace. Being filled with God’s love the mega church will be good at loving others. Remember that Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan to demonstrate what loving ones neighbour was all about. He couldn’t have used a more shocking definition if He’d tried. Jews and Samaritans hated one another. In fact Samaritans were considered half-cast Jews and were accepted by neither Jew nor Gentile. They were stuck in no-man’s land. Think of people like that today. What parable do you think Jesus would use in the 21st century to demonstrate what it means to “love your neighbour as yourself?” And so the Jewish man who was beaten, robbed and left for dead was helped by a generous Samaritan. A great (mega) church will do that.

Secondly, a mega church will demonstrate genuine community. In Acts 2 we see the first church devoting themselves “to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” The supernatural power of God was at work, people helped those who were in need, they met together regularly, they ate together and they grew as a result. They focused on the great commission as well as the great commandment. They made “disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I (Jesus) have commanded you.” People’s lives were changed and transformed by the Gospel. Great churches still do that today.

Mega churches will encourage their people to develop genuine friendships with people outside the church community (and not just to try and convert them either). A mega church is where people are journeying together, with different age groups mixing together – the older teaching the younger and the younger respectfully encouraging the older. There will be affection for one another that is physically and practically demonstrated. People will share the experiences and milestones of life with each other – celebrating the highs and being sensitive in the lows – rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. A mega church is one that will willingly and easily turn to prayer and fasting, have a high regard for God’s Word, not give clichéd answers, will tackle the hard issues of life and one that doesn’t always have to be right because we have a God who is. A mega church will also admit when it falls short of all of these things, apologise and try and do better in the future.

I used to go to church conferences where the number one question asked was “how many people do you have?” (Or, how many people are you running these days?) I used to dread the question because it assumed that just because you attracted a crowd it was in some way a sign of God’s blessing on your life – you were successful and you must be doing something right (and that may be the case). But growth and size should never be the measurement of a church’s health. A mega church is not about the number of people “attending” but rather what’s happening amongst and through those people whether they are few or many.

A couple of weeks ago someone from our church posted a John Wimber quote on my Facebook page. Wimber wrote, “I’m concerned the Church has become more of a theatre experience, rather than a meeting place for people to encounter & interact with God. People don’t need more entertainment; they need to encounter the King.”

It’s a great quote, and I certainly agree with the sentiment of it, but I felt there was a reason this man posted the quote – a reason that was more than it being just a great quote. I asked him and I was right. He said he came across the quote when I was promoting our recent Good Friday service and it appeared to him that the service could perhaps contain entertainment.

All of this got me thinking about the question “Is it wrong for the church to entertain people?” Before I give my thoughts on this let me say that I agree with John Wimber in that entertainment is not the church’s purpose or goal.  He was observing a phenomena that was rising in his day when the church was becoming increasingly a “theatre” experience that was more seeker-sensitive than Spirit-sensitive. I believe the main reasons we are to gather are to encounter God, grow deeper in our relationship with Him as well as to strengthen our relationships with each other.

But is it wrong to entertain people in the process of achieving these goals? Are they mutually exclusive? If we entertain people do they not encounter God? Can people only encounter and interact with the King if they are not entertained?

For answers to these questions we need look no further than the way Jesus taught as well as the content of the Bible. The vast majority of Jesus’ teaching was in story form (Parables). Telling stories was the primary entertainment of the masses in Jesus’ time. After a long discourse (recorded in Mark 12) that contained stories, an amazing answer to religious leaders who were trying to trap Jesus, and then a blunt rebuke to one of the leading religious sects (the Sadducees) the people were enthralled.  Mark says, “The large crowd listened to him with delight” (Mark 12:37). Were they entertained? Absolutely! They were rapt. Their emotions were stirred. I can hear them whooping and cheering. Jesus entertained people and, while they were engaged, they encountered and interacted with God.

The Bible is full of language and writing that entertains people – there’s history, poetry, stories, drama, suspense, hyperbole, miracles, sinister plots (think Haman and Esther), proverbs, songs, fantasy, humor and a whole lot more. God could have given us a two-sided A4 page with “Things to do” on one side and “Things not to do” on the other, but instead He gave us a book that engages and entertains the imagination and enables us to encounter Him on every page.

Unfortunately many churches today see life in black and white and shades of grey. What a shame when the very nature of God in creation is so full of colour and entertainment that engages our senses. See the incredible variety of animals and plants, taste the amazing foods, smell the aromas of coffee & freshly baked bread, hear the sounds of birds singing their song, let sand run through your fingers on a warm day. God’s creation entertains and engages us and through it we can encounter Him. Should not the church gathering reflect these same qualities? I love encountering God in our church and all of the ingredients of our services make this possible.

In Jesus’ day people were entertained by stories. Today telling stories is still a big way of engaging people and communicating truth. In Today’s society however, we are blessed with technology. We can communicate, engage and yes, entertain people through film, social media, drama, dance, music, lights, pictures, artwork and so much more. In an age where the adult attention span has reduced to an average of six minutes I believe that entertaining people is even more important because if they tune out how will we communicate life-changing truth?

Is it wrong for the church to entertain people? Not at all!

I woke up early this morning and started my day by reading the Bible. In my daily reading I was up to the prophet Malachi – the last book of the Hebrew Scriptures. I’ve read this many times but this morning something jumped out at me in Malachi 3:7-8, “Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts. “But you say, ‘How shall we return?’…In tithes and offerings.”
In this chapter, Malachi the prophet is addressing the fact that many of God’s people had drifted away from Him. Malachi encourages the people to return to God. The people ask the question, “How shall we return?” The answer is not what they – or I – would expect. The first thing God addresses is their financial giving: “In tithes and offerings.”

This is a recurring theme in the Bible because our attitude towards money and material things is a good indicator of the spiritual temperature of our hearts.

Money is such an important topic in the Bible that it is the main subject of nearly half of the parables Jesus told. In addition, one in every seven verses in the New Testament deals with this topic. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, fewer than 500 verses on faith, and more than 2,000 verses on money. In fact, 15 percent of everything Jesus ever taught was on the topic of money and possessions – more than His teachings on heaven and hell combined.

Why does the Bible have so much to say about money? The answer is simple, because there is such a strong connection between our spiritual lives and how we think about and handle finance.

I’ve heard it said that you could get a good feel for someone’s spiritual commitment by looking at two pieces of tangible evidence – their diary and their credit card statement. While this may be a bit simplistic, it’s certainly true that how we spend both our time and money is a good reflection of who we are. Given this, is it really so surprising that the Bible talks so much about financial issues?

Jesus put it this way: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus also said, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Mammon is an Aramaic word that is wrongly rendered “money” in some translations. The word means more than that though. Mammon is literally “the worship of material things.” Jesus was teaching that it is impossible to worship material things and God at the same time. No one can serve two masters, He said.

This brings us back to Malachi’s answer to the people’s question “how shall we return” to God? “In tithes and offerings” replied the prophet. That is, by bringing to God the first tenth of any increase or income as well as giving offerings/contributions, we conquer the inbuilt human love of money and we make sure our hearts are focused in the right direction by placing treasure in the right place. It’s really quite simple!