Outreach Magazine once again came out with its list of the top 100 churches in worship attendance in America (http://outreachmagazine.com/outreach-100-largest-churches-2017.html) and once again Nazarene churches are more absent than a Buckeye at a Michigan Wolverine victory parade. Making the Outreach Magazine cut are Baptists, non-Denominationals, Methodists, Assembly of God, and even a Lutheran church but no Nazarene churches. I wonder why? Is it our theology? The Wesleyan Church has pretty much the same theology as Nazarenes but they are represented. Theology isn’t the problem. Is it our conservative bent to social issues? Many churches on the list that are far more conservative than the Church of the Nazarene, so I doubt that’s it. Why isn’t there one Nazarene mega church? Here are a few observations:
1) Nazarene ecclesiology. I have heard it said that our system of governance hurts us. The argument is that heavy handed District Superintendents thwart creativity and too many pastors of growing churches hop, skip and jump when another opportunity arises. There may be some truth these arguments. I’ve seen DSs that are more qualified to be a meter readers than the leader of churches and sometimes pastors jump around too much. But not all DSs are goobers and not all pastors have itchy feet, so you would think that tremendous growth could have happened somewhere.
2) Nazarene apportionments. The argument is: It’s all about the money. If growing churches weren’t outrageously taxed by the denomination (anywhere from 13-20%), they could invest more into mission and evangelism. I’m all for cutting our “franchise fees” but I’m not convinced that money is the sole reason for lack of phenomenal growth. The early church grew to mega church status overnight and while they didn’t pay their WEF budget, they also didn’t have any money.
3) Nazarene Community. The majority of Nazarene churches’ attendance is under 75, and several of these churches are located in close proximity to larger churches. Moreover, most of the churches on the Outreach Magazine list have more than one campus. I think Nazarenes have been reluctant (either because of a District Superintendent mandated injunction or, more times than not, a sense of duty to our Nazarene Community) to “invade” the territory of a small non-productive churches. Nazarenes don’t like to step on another Nazarene’s toes. Large churches have heard the whispers that they are “stealing the sheep” from the smaller Nazarene pastures and so rather than deal with such innuendo and criticism, they tend to not start satellite campuses.
So what is the answer?
Recognizing there may be a little truth in all of these arguments, there is probably not a single solution. But freedom seems to be at the heart of the issue. Our churches and pastors need:
Freedom to be creative.
Freedom to take risks.
Freedom to fail.
Freedom to use our District apportionment (at least) to start satellite campuses.
Freedom given by our Nazarene brothers and sisters to move into their “territory,” while not targeting “their sheep” to start new campuses.
Freedom to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in the days ahead.
Some could conclude having a mega Nazarene church is not necessarily a bad thing, but it still begs the question: With over 4,650 churches and over 14,000 elders, deacons and licensed ministers in USA/Canada why isn’t there at least one mega church?