Contemporary megachurch first founded by a woman

Aimee Semple MacPhersonThe men may not like to read this but it was a woman who birthed what I believe was the precursor to the contemporary megachurch. This woman’s name was Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944). After a short stint as a missionary’s wife was curtailed by her husband’s death, and a period of fruitful itinerant evangelistic preaching, she decided to base herself in Los Angeles, California. There she built an enormous church with a seating capacity of 5,300. The Angelus Temple, which was completed in 1923, became a forerunner of contemporary megachurches of today.

Drama and entertainment in the service of the gospel

She incorporated Hollywood entertainment and theatrics to attract and hold the attention of the crowds. Once she had a giant whale built on stage and she dressed up as Jonah to preach. Another time she preached to the LA Police and came on stage on a motorbike in police uniform, dismounted it, blew the aimee with King Kongwhistle, and shouted:”Stop! You are breaking the law! ” That’s drama for you. According to Wikipedia, her “illustrated sermons attracted people from the entertainment industry, looking to see a “show” that rivaled what Hollywood had to offer. These famous stage productions drew people who would never have thought to enter a church, and then presented them with her interpretation of the message of salvation. McPherson believed that the Gospel was to be presented at every opportunity, and used worldly means at her disposal to present it to as many people as possible”. She preached a gospel of love and reconciliation and grace, unlike the many preaching the hell and brimstone gospel. “McPherson was famous both inside and outside of rfalling under powereligious circles. Every city where services were held usually had civic leaders in attendance, as well as pastors representing the local churches of every denomination. She made sure that Angelus Temple was represented in local parades and entered floats into the famous Rose Parade in Pasadena”.

Multi-gifted megachurch leader with a social conscience

Her messages were accompanied with signs following: people were “slain in the Spirit”, “drunk in spirit”, healed, speaking in tongues and other supernatural phenomena. The church was filled to capacity three times each day, seven days a week.

“She was also very skillful at fundraising. Collections were taken at every meeting, usually with the admonishment of “no coins, please”. When the $1.5 million Angelus Temple opened its doors, construction was already entirely paid for through private donations.”(Wikipedia)

She started a social and educational center for mid-western immigrants to California and during the Great Depression she supplied free hot meals for thousands of poor and hungry people.Angelus Temple

She started a Bible School to train pastors and missionaries and by 1944 over 4000 have graduated from its doors. She also planted many satellite churches in the pattern of the Salvation Army and they evolved into a denomination called the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

When it came to communications Aimee was way ahead of many: she wrote scores of books, 180 songs, 7 sacred operas. She also published the weekly Foursquare Crusader and a monthly magazine called “Bridal Call”. She also began broadcasting on radio in its infancy in the early ’20s. McPherson was the first woman in history to preach a radio sermon, and with the opening of Foursquare Gospel-owned KFSG (now KXOL) on and was also the first woman to be granted a broadcast license by the Federal Radio Commission.

But her life was marked by controversy: her divorces, a suspicious kidnap and an alleged adulterous relationship, and her death from sedatives. Read more about Aimee Semple MacPherson (Wikipedia).

The contemporary model of the megachurch is not a new idea: it’s almost a century-old!

And it was founded by a woman!

(This article was first published on the 28th Jan 2008.)

Oral Roberts: an Asian pastor reinstates his hero

Expect A MiracleOral Roberts went home to be with the Lord on Tuesday, 15th December 2009, age 91. When my wife told me, I was not surprised, because I knew he was quite old. He was one of my Pentecostal heroes in the early years of my Christian life.

He first came to my notice through his magazine, “The Abundant Life.” It was a magazine that was distributed free of charge and delivered to my home. From there I wrote in for his free books. One of them is titled “The Miracle of Seed Faith”.Oral preaching

Oral Roberts knew how to share truths powerfully. The truths he taught were  simple and practical. I was inspired and instructed by his teaching on the Holy Spirit as your helper, and the edifying use of the “prayer language.” I also accepted and practiced his teachings about miracle seed faith. Looking to God as a source; seeding for your need; and expecting a miracle everyday – these were a part of my life in those days.

Praying for the sickI read his autobiography, “Expect A Miracle” and still have the copy in my bookshelves. I never could give it away in my regular cullings when I selected books to give to friends in Bible school. He was a captivating personality, a visionary charismatic Pentecostal leader. Being Pentecostal at that time meant “Stone Age” methodology, and uncultured presentation. Oral Roberts changed that perception through his visionary, outside the box, forward thinking and methodology, like his harnessing of television for the gospel.

My interest and following waned when his TV programs became more entertainment oriented, and when he tried to raise funds with controversial tactics. In particular, when he claimed that Jesus would take him home if he does not raise $8 million within a year, and Oral Roberts Universitypleaded with the readers and audience to help prolong his life. That was too difficult to swallow and from then on, I was disappointed, and stopped following and reading his magazines. Further news about the problems with the City of Faith and other university financial misdemeanours by his son Richard sort of confirmed I was right to feel disenchanted.

Now he is dead and as I read some online articles about Oral Roberts I have to admit he is a man sent by God, a man with flaws and faults but nevertheless, like the imperfect heroes of faith in Hebrews chapter 11, he deserves to be reinstated as a  Pentecostal hero in my heart.

Here are some interesting articles from Chritianity Today.com about Oral Roberts:

Why Oral Roberts Obituaries are Wrong

Q&A: Mark Rutland on Oral Robert’s Legacy.

Fund Raising: Did Oral Roberts go too Far?

Here is an old clip of him praying for the sick in the healing crusades in the 1950’s: