I'm writing this post for those of you who live in an area without a Protestant/Baptist megachurch. We have four megachurches in Houston including the largest in the country (Lakewood) which took over the old pro basketball arena. (Of course, I've got pictures
The megachurch is at the forefront of two major cultural waves.First
, they represent an effort to build cultural gated communities within the larger city of Houston. Second Baptist, the local mega with the probably most enveloping "community" has within itself itself a complete social structure carrying its members from cradle to grave. They have daycare, a school, mixers, singles functions/matchmaking, exercise facilities, job assistance, social functions, counselling, right up to senior care.
Effectively, a church member can live their life totally within that "Christian" context. It does have a lure primarily among families with children in that it allows those kids a "safe place." But, interestingly to me, that "safe place" isn't only objects in the real world; the megachurch culture also works to construct a safe virtual world, movies, TV, music etc. An entire industry has grown up to serve Christian rock, literature, and Veggie Tales to this "safe community."
The megachurch fully engaged has the effect of segregating church members in a self reinforcing belief system that extends well beyond Christian tenets. So, when you hear wacky polling or absurdist comments around the "culture war" understand that there are people who live within this self reinforcing reality.Second
: The other major shift that has taken place within the structure of the Megachurch is the actual deemphasis of traditional Christianity. The "traditional" Christian virtures, mercy, charity, humility, and love, have been replaced with a narcissistic philosophy of Christian self improvement.
The whole thing is underpinned by a Christian backbone, but if you look at the sermons and products of Joel Osteen as example (the main guy at Lakewood,) they actually have very little to do with Christianity.
This, I think, is one of the reasons for the growing popularity of the megachurch. Listening to bible verse is boring, but "Living at my Full Potential," that has zazz.
I would argue that this populist new Christianity represents a fundamental shift in values from "what would Jesus do?" to "What can Jesus do for me?"
That's not an absolute shift by any means, but I do think it's big and historic change in the interpretation of Christianity and the relationship of God to the individual. I'm not yet sure what the long term implications of this are.(A little busy this PM, so I threw up something I wrote awhile back. Normal service will resume tonight/tomorrow.)