Rick Warren says mega-churches are biblical. He claims that the first church was five times bigger than Saddleback, and grew to over 100,000 people in the first twenty years. “Where did the more than 100,000 people attending the first church in Jerusalem meet?…’They met in different courts,’ Warren underlined. ‘Notice: one church, multiple locations. One church, multiple venues… That’s a biblical concept.'” But there’s a huge flaw in this thinking, and it speaks to a key issue in the multi-site movement.
Here’s the flaw. The Book of Acts is the story of how The Church (big-C) began. It started with the Apostles and a group of about 120 (Acts 1:15), added 3,000 on Pentecost (2:41), and from there “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (2:47). They were not attending a local Jerusalem church. They were The Church.
Warren accuses “those who say the megachurch era will die out of not knowing church history,” but you have to ask: is that any different than misinterpreting church history? To illustrate the flaw in his thinking, picture an org chart of the early Church: Christ is the first, top box, branching out to the Apostles, the 120, the 3000, 10,000, etc. This is The “big-C” Church. Eventually it branches off into local “small-c” churches, like Corinth, and Ephesus and then to the Catholic Church and then to the 2nd Baptist Church of Smithville and then to a Saddleback Church.
Warren’s comparison bumps Saddleback up a level to the box of The Church, with Saddleback multi-sites in the local church boxes. I’ll let you decide who’s at the top of that chart. (I’m not saying Warren puts himself there by any means. It’s just the logical conclusion of the analogy he’s using.)
It appears to be pastors and “leaders” who are most interested in this hierarchical structure which creates a box for their small-c church on the Big-C Church Org Chart. But The Church which began after Jesus’ ascension continues growing today, now with millions of believers at “multi-sites” in every country of the world and nearly every language. It’s actually less like an org chart and more like a family tree, where all of us – including the people of Saddleback – are part of the spreading branches that find their source in Christ.