Letters to the Editor

Megachurches misunderstood?
I am writing in regards to the recent article about an interim class that studied megachurches (Spring 2005). While I applaud Calvin for engaging this relevant topic, I was greatly disappointed by this story.

First, there was no indication that the study of this class is complete but rather that the professor was conjecturing about what their findings may be. I hope that the Spark intends to publish a follow-up article with the official findings of this class.

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Second, the article claims that a megachurch is often a supermarket of therapy and self-help groups. As a Christian, I believe that Christ’s redeeming power is for all of creation. Doesn’t this then apply to every area of the human life, including struggles with addictions and fear and abuse? Christians should be shining the light of God’s love into the places where people are hurting the most. With more than 2,000 people worshipping and tithing on any given Sunday, these churches have been blessed with incredible resources and should be using them to facilitate God’s healing!

Third, the professor in the article claims that at a megachurch is it easy for people to be unengaged, uninvolved and unaccountable. I believe that this is one of a megachurch’s biggest struggles. But as with any struggle, with God’s help it can be battled and often overcome. As a regular attendee of Mars Hill Bible Church, one of the churches mentioned in the article, I am more challenged, more involved and more engaged than I have been at any other church in my short life.
Maria Gort ’01
Grand Rapids, Mich.

More on the megachurch
Wow! Your article about Kevin Dougherty’s class on megachurches (Spring 2005) was too much. I can’t recall Jesus or any of his disciples limiting the size of their congregation or instructing them not to enjoy themselves at church. I could rant on point by point, but those who are actually members of my church (Resurrection Life Church), not observers or researchers, know his criticisms are inaccurate and irreverent. He probably calls them observations, but they are clearly criticisms. One strong belief of my church is that we don’t criticize other churches if they believe in the fundamentals of the Bible.

I believe Jesus taught that we were all members of one body of Christ, but it sounds like Mr. Dougherty feels we can only worship properly and “efficiently” in small, solemn units. Does he believe heaven is divided into small sections also? Also, although volunteers are the cornerstone of any church, the quality of an expert staff speaks for itself. Maybe not; perhaps a volunteer professor would better teach his class?
Frank Estlick ’79
Grand Haven, Mich.

In support of the megachurch
I was disappointed to read the article on megachurches in the spring Spark. In general, I thought the article was very negative towards megachurches (defined as any congregation of 2,000 members or more). My initial thought was, “I’m sure glad Jesus didn’t realize he was forming a megachurch when he fed the 4,000. Perhaps someone should have mentioned to him that by appealing to such a large congregation he was going to create an environment of disengagement.”

Being a military family we move around regularly. This has led us to attend a number of churches that, by the definition provided above, qualify as megachurches. Through our experiences we have found that larger church congregations often have the resources and facilities to provide more programs and support systems for their members, and my wife and I have found that participating in small-group studies is one of the best ways to reduce a sense of anonymity and encourage accountability. Also, the article argues that the result of megachurch involvement is disengagement from church life; our personal experience challenges this notion.

I recently spent a number of months deployed to Baghdad and was pleasantly surprised by the many gifts, letters and prayers offered by various groups, all originating with my “megachurch family.” My family has moved eight times in the last 13 years, and we’ve been adopted by a number of church families (large and small). My experience tells me that it’s not the size of the church’s membership as much as its adherence to bliblical teachings that makes for a personal experience that is spiritually engaging and meaningful.
Mark Staal ’91
Navarre, Fla.

Megachurch response
The megachurch represents an innovation in contemporary congregational life. Churches such as Willow Creek Community Church and Saddleback Community Church, which attract thousands to weekend worship, serve as organizational trendsetters. Beyond size, the ability of these super-sized congregations to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ in novel, attractive ways makes them a phenomenon worthy of careful study. The megachurch course offered during Interim 2005 was just such a careful study. In response to concerns, I will strive to clarify the nature of the course and the findings that emerged from it.

The purpose of the course was to introduce students to the megachurch phenomenon and to explore the unique opportunities and challenges that face the largest of churches. Students read sociologists, economists and church-growth scholars on the topic. We paired readings and class discussions with time spent participating in three Grand Rapids megachurches: Mars Hill Bible Church, Calvary Church and Resurrection Life Church. From their observational research, students prepared a final paper and presentation.

Students’ findings affirmed the many vital, vibrant ways in which megachurches are serving the religious needs of postmodern society: a local church with global reach, multiple points of entry and ways to belong, a faith that is relevant and exciting.

Yet megachurches also face challenges. Students discovered the difficulty that large congregations encounter in fostering belonging and intimacy among thousands. We identify such challenges not to criticize or demean the important work being done in these congregations. Rather, the attempt was to raise constructive questions that might make megachurches even more efficient and effective in ministry. As Reformed Christians, we believe that no human enterprise or organization is fully perfected. Thus, the call to redemption/reformation is as important for the church as it is for those persons, organizations, and social institutions outside it.

Finally, it must be noted that the Spark article was written before the course began. In the article, I am quoted to present an overview of what prior research says about the megachurch phenomenon. These comments must not be read as indictments of any specific congregation — after all, our class had not yet visited any congregations at the time the article was written. To the contrary, our class took great care to honor and respect each congregation studied. In the end, more than one student commented that the course had for them produced a new appreciation for the innovative potential of large-scale congregational ministry.
Kevin Dougherty
Calvin sociology professor

Dorm pic prompts memories
That picture of the old dorm demolition (Fall 2004) roused some precious memories of the 1938 to 1940 period, when I was rooming on the second floor in the now-demolished northwest corner room with Eddie Hoogstra. My friend Everett “Whiz” Van Reken was the dorm barber with a corner room on the first floor facing the main campus. Because the dorm wasn’t quite full, four of us could put our beds in one room, making it easier for one to study while the others could retire early. This created the potential for some pranks. Ed and I shared this room with Ralph Wildschut and John Hollebeek. One spring evening when nature was in full bloom and all the June beetles were flying in and out, we caught some and tucked them under the covers of John’s bed. When John stormed in at midnight humming a happy tune, he hopped into bed. Two seconds later he hopped out screaming “pinchers, pinchers” and tore the bed apart. Everyone had a great laugh.
Loren DeWind ’42
Downey, Calif.

Pikkaarts and Wilgenburgs in ItalyWhere in the world is Spark?
Four college friends who now live 2,500 miles apart met up in Italy in October 2004. Brian ’98 and Rachel Boonstra Pikkaart ’98 of Grand Rapids, Mich., and Arie ’97 and Erika Rooks Wilgenburg ’96 of San Diego, Calif., took a nine-day tour of the country, which included a stop at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The Spark, originally packed as airplane reading material, proved to be a clever ploy to get the friends’ photo published in this edition of the magazine.

What a site!
I read with interest the recent article in Spark about how the miraculous KnightCite was being used in West Michigan and not just on the local campus. As a high school teacher myself, I know that students often ponder over the various rules in an attempt to match the rule to their source. It is a needless task. Thus, the site is great! But you must realize, as any good Calvinist would, that the power of reformation spreads beyond West Michigan. I live in South Dakota, where I am now working on a master’s degree in English, with a focus on teaching at the secondary level. Visiting family in Grand Rapids over Christmas break, I saw the article in the local news and proceeded to share the wealth back out here on the prairies. KnightCite is now a link on the University of South Dakota’s English department page so that students here can use this resource. Saving time and money ... could a Dutch Calvinist be any happier?
Rick Koetje ’92
New Holland, S.D.