The personal provision shop
My generation grew up with the provision shop- that disorganized and overpacked grocery that sells the common things a family needed but with less choices. Service was personalized and there’s even first name familiarity. You can even get credit and items purchased delivered to your home. But there are limitations: it does not sell everything a family member may need. You can’t get a haircut, or buy fresh food, or a pair of shoes or clothing. They don’t do banking and you can’t get a meal or be entertained with a movie. Sometimes what you want is there but you can’t find it in the mess. However, this is what we grew up with and are comfortable with, even tolerant of.
Shopping mall generation
There is however another generation, now in their thirties and below, who have grown up in a different world. It is the world of the shopping mall. And in this world, in this one place they can obtain nearly everything they needed. The mall is stocked with all kinds of products from all over the world, whether fresh or packaged. It offers services of all kinds for all the needs and desires of all age groups. Air-conditioned and alluring, it is the consumer’s paradise. It offers choices. It offers lifestyle. It even confers identity. If I regularly go to a particular shopping mall, I am young and trendy; if another, I am an aunty; if still another, I am a sophisticate’ or yuppie or sporty person or bargain-hunter. This particular generation is comfortable in a shopping mall; but it feels disoriented, disjointed, and lost in the good old small provision shop and find it a hassle, so what if the manager calls them by name and knows their parents!
Megachurch growth is sociological and psychological too
That’s why I believe the megachurch is here to stay and is likely to grow stronger. It’s more than just a spiritual thing; it is also sociological and psychological. The younger generation has been culturally conditioned to feel welcome and comfortable in a megachurch structure because it is so much like the shopping mall they have pleasant experiences of. There they get all their needs met under one roof. More resources means more choices, “products”, even branded ones from USA or Australia; and it means varied and better servicing of the attendees’ needs.
Giants in the land
This is one reason for the rise of the contemporary megachurch in our city. Churches like City Harvest Church and New Creation Church are the two notable examples of giants in the land. Are they like spiders organizationally? Without the spider the web will become cobwebs. I say this with deep respect for the pastors of both churches. This is just an organizational metaphor I recently learned. I use them without any sense of contempt or put down so do not inundate this comment box with “Sour grapes” etc etc.
From spider to starfish
There used to be a megachurch that dominated the scene: Calvary Charismatic Center. It used to be a spider. It became a starfish a decade or more ago. A wise move. A starfish when cut up regenerates itself and multiplies. That’s what happened to that megachurch now with a new name, Victory Family Church. You find them in all the suburbs: Choa Chu Kang, Sembawang, Yishun, Jurong West, Tampines and where else? Wonderful. The spider can go away for a year and spin another web in East Timor and things are still well with their churches’ souls.
Happy for City Harvest Church and New Creation Church
Having said that I am glad that City Harvest managed to cut a deal and avail itself to a place huge enough for its growing congregation in the city-Suntec Singapore. $310 million is an amount that seems chewable by 30,000 attendees. Its just about $1000 per year per attendee for ten years. The members must be as happy as when New Creation members heard about their coup at One North, though some may be contemplating a quiet exit . I used to be provocative to stir other Christians to think about issues like stewardship, laws, the lease, alternatives, etc etc. Now I only think up provocative titles, and have come to the view that each church decides what they regard as best in the Lord, and for the church, from the leadership’s discernment. The rest we just leave to posterity to assess. The members who do not like it can zip up their wallet or vote with their feet to the megachurch next door. Or why not walk to the small church next door.
Small church challenges
The small church: well, to be candid, young people are there not always by deliberate choice but because their parents are there; or close friends are there, or they find meaning and purpose in some role or responsibility. But they do feel the pull when their friends talk excitedly about their “shopping mall experiences”. Anyway when was the last time you stepped into a small provision shop? Is this a death knell for small churches of under a hundred? No not really. Haven’t you heard of 7 Eleven? But that is another story: the story of the small church.
Does size matter?
Does size matter in the light of this? Can a megachurch more effectively reach unchurched people who are more used to and comfortable with the shopping mall than with the HDB mom’s and pop’s store? Probably so. However, megachurches do have their weaknesses too. Consumerism, the cultural trait of generation next is one of several things that the megachurch appeals to, and this is the very Achillees’ heel that gives rise to megachurch weaknesses. More on that another time, God willing.
(I am getting lazy. Picked up an old post -28 dec 2007- from my files and just revised it to make it current.)