Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Supersize It?

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Supersize It?

Article excerpt

Can our Catholic churches compete with today's megachurches? And should they?

BIGGER IS ALWAYS BETTER. OR IS IT? IT'S EASY ENOUGH to debunk the good old conventional wisdom by asking what exactly is being measured. If the subject for discussion is the box office gross from Titanic or Star Wars, bigger is better for their producers. But if quality is more important than quantity, "bigger is better" may be a canard.

These thoughts came to mind when reading a comprehensive article in the Los Angeles Times on the so-called megachurches that have arisen throughout the United States, particularly in California and the Southwest.

Megachurches are defined as congregations with 2,000 or more members, "offering polished services and practical messages in supersized sanctuaries." Saddleback Valley Community Church in Orange County, California claims membership of 14,500 and is described in the L.A. Times report as a "seeker sensitive" church that "stresses innovation and reaches out to people unfamiliar with traditional religion. Led by self-styled religious entrepreneurs, they use sophisticated business techniques to create a spiritual product for choosy suburban consumers."

For those of us familiar with traditional religious observance in relatively small congregations, such mass (no pun intended) praying or merely witnessing is hard to imagine. While some of the megachurches are evangelical with sincere prayer, others seem more like show business. Individual members of these communities may well be faithfully seeking God, asking forgiveness for sins, perhaps, and/or resolving to lead better lives.

But I wonder. Isn't it possible that some of these ceremonies are more feel-good exercises than intercommunion between the people (who used to be in the pew) and God? Not that there isn't a feel-good element in the worship of Catholics and mainline Protestants, when the music is good, the liturgy is meaningful, and the homily is evocative. (Praise the Lord!) And, unfortunately, those attending traditional religious services are sometimes merely spectators.

It is not to disparage the megachurches to be reminded of the tent revivals conjured up by Sinclair Lewis in his novel Elmer Gantry. …

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