The Rev. Dr. John Morgan is the head pastor of a growing independent Evangelical church in New Mexico that uses the mega-church model. Morgan wrote a chapter in the GO Society book (disclosure: I edited that piece) that does a good job describing his efforts and how Work Levels play out in independent churches.
In these churches, the local congregation is the only authority over the pastor. They may belong to a loose association (less organized even than Baptist associations) of similar congregations but do not have a larger hierarchy. His church is based on the Congregational model, where the entire membership votes on major issues. (Or at least it used to be: I can’t imagine how this works in a church above 800 or so.)
John Morgan presented his experiences at the last GO Society conference in Toronto. And made a jab at “mainline” denominations that made Stephen Xenakis spitting mad.
For a contrary point of view, Xenakis is a good place to start. He used RO with some consulting from his friend, Stephen Clement, to help solve some problems at his Episcopalian Church (part of the Anglican Community) where he was a lay leader. It’s interesting that two different types of congregations used the same theory to do two very different types of changes. Xenakis describes his experience with SST/RO in the Army Medical Corps at the same conference but they didn’t record or don’t have up his session talk about how he used RO ideas at his church as a lay leader. Too bad. I recall it being interesting and it may have something to say to church organization issues.
One lesson to take away is that there are multiple models of organization that can work for Christian churches. However, I believe that the Mega-Church model is almost exclusively made up of independent congregations. At least, once they get to a certain size, they leave whatever denominational authority that they had been ignoring and the head pastor becomes answerable only to whatever local oversight board they have.
Peter Drucker thought highly of the megachurch model, and was even a mentor to The Purpose Driven Life’s Rick Warren as he started his mega-church in California. Drucker had written in Fortune:
Pastoral mega-churches are surely the most important social phenomenon in American society in the past thirty years. This to my mind, is the greatest, the most important, the most momentous event, and the turning point not just in churches, but perhaps in the human spirit altogether.
It’s interesting that they are highly unregulated and have no power structures except for the work hierarchy, which dominates the church. It’s interesting, really: these Protestants who can rail against the evils of the Catholic hierarchy implement a very similar structure locally. In at least one of the megachurches, the head pastor owns the physical church facilities, which must give him some bargaining power. Add to that the money that must be generated as a result of having a powerfully charismatic (in the Weberian sense) pastor and it must be very difficult to challenge his power. Just thinking about it, not pointing fingers or anything. I’m just suspicious of the powerful, which is why I suppose I like Wilfred Brown.
Video presentation of John Morgan on “RO Goes to Church” at the GO Society website (registration needed)
Image Credit: Winter at Lofoten (2008). By Tackbert. Public Domain.