Over the past several decades, mega-malls have been draining commercial and social life from downtown shops and eateries. Built for the automobile, malls attract people from a region more than a particular town. Leisurely downtown strolls where you recognize neighbors and meet new ones became passé. Downtown in small town America, even cities, was boring compared to the big box centers of consumption and entertainment. But something strange is happening in recent years, many American small town main streets seem to be coming back to life. What has that do with churches? Sustainable churches? Actually, plenty.
For similar reasons megachurches have thrived, not by evangelism as much as by draining people from smaller churches. Instead of particular churches committed to a particular confession and a particular place, you have megachurches with generic names like “Bubbling Brook” or “Inspire.” Denominational names have been dropped. Sometimes you don’t even see the word “church” on the side anymore. “My church is dead,” people often say, the little church they’ve grown up in, but “the Spirit’s really doing big things at Rockin’ it Christian Center.” How much of our evaluation of “dead” and “alive” churches is actually determined by the same market forces that make us attracted to the mega-mall instead of our local downtown?
It’s not just the stereotypical megachurch with its sophisticated entertainment and technology that keeps us looking for the next big thing. You can go to a conference and hear great preachers and great music. You learn tons. Then, you go back to your home church and it just seems so… ordinary. So, even in solid churches people often move around from church to church looking for Martin Luther or John Calvin to rock their world. We’re all caught up in this impatience with the ordinary growth that happens week in and week out, but the good news is that like downtown local churches are making a comeback. Many people who wanted anonymity are now missing the community they had before. Many are saying “Hey, we need to move to that house close to our church, so we can actually go their regularly.” It’s more important that we and our kids grow up, instead of being dumbed down. Join us this week on the White Horse Inn as we look at what it means to build sustainable churches in a mega-mall culture.