In my last post, I wrote about the light bulb conversation Johnny and I had on the porch that ultimately led to us leaving Giant Church Incorporated.
Johnny and I saw problems before the day of the men’s breakfast, but rarely talked about it. When we did, I redirected our conversation away from anything negative, even when he had valid concerns. It frustrated Johnny, but the leadership of the church taught over and over about the damage caused by gossip and a critical spirit. They taught it on Sunday mornings in a series of messages. Several times. Probably recently. They reiterated it in staff and team meetings, and one-on-one with leaders. Gossip was never tolerated and when it was suspected, the leaders shut it down immediately.
I was afraid to dishonor Giant Church Inc or its leaders. Any question, doubt, and healthy criticism were considered dishonoring gossip. To Giant Church, to the leaders, to God. Offenders were reprimanded and shamed, and sometimes removed from leading or serving.
I’ll repeat what I stated in my first post: Giant Church Inc is a distinct kind of organization with mega church characteristics, but all Giant Church Incs are not mega churches, and all mega churches are not Giant Church Incs. There are plenty of churches that operate like Giant Church Inc with fewer people and smaller budgets.
What Is Giant Church Inc
It is a non-profit, tax-exempt entity operated like a corporation, ruled by a CEO pastor with no outside, uninvested, or objective accountability in financial or leadership matters.
Typically it’s newly planted by an applicant (usually a married couple), who is screened and approved by the church planting association. In some cases, an established church pays a recurring fee to be part of the association or group of related churches.
The association does not oversee any part of the church, but will sell resources to Giant Church Inc to help its leaders learn the strategies necessary to launch, grow, and sustain the church. Launch manuals, recruiting techniques, coaching sessions, digital marketing plans, budget templates, and more are available to churches in the network.
The network’s ministry business partners can create a captivating logo and website for the church. Another business partner will produce a creative media campaign to help build a following. The network has several business partners who can design and build the church, or provide the necessary equipment for a portable set up. Legal, finance, and global missions partners are also available to the church network.
It could be a standalone Giant Church Inc, but often they are part of a larger connected group of churches.
Giant Church Inc has a hierarchical authority structure, often patriarchal. If there are elders, they are approved and appointed by the pastor. There is no congregational voting. The pastors and staff are to be honored and obeyed without question. They are preoccupied with authority and submission, and teach the lay leaders to lead the same way.
It is hyper focused on attracting newcomers and neglects the more complex task of biblical discipleship. It sells its church-logo-branded merchandise in the lobby and asks volunteers to wear church-branded merchandise.
Spiritual growth and maturity is measured by how much you attend, serve, give and the climb up the growth track to the next level.
The worship time is entertaining and the teaching tends toward the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel. The sermons are more motivational than biblical, and never expositional.
There is a distinct separation between the insiders and the rest of the members at Giant Church Inc.
The men’s and women’s “ministries” are for profit limited liability corporations owned by the pastors and/or church leaders. The men in the church pay an application fee to participate. The fees increase and more personal information, such as journals and W-2s, are required by the company’s administrators with each new level. The men are rewarded with the LLC branded items, such as t-shirts, necklaces, and rings, when levels are completed, but these rewards can be revoked as church leaders see fit.
Another way to put it: Giant Church Inc is a consumeristic, entrepreneurial, entertaining 501c3*, vying for its share of the market, shaping consumers instead of making disciples. It’s big business and big money.
Mark Galli, the recently retired editor in chief of Christianity Today, wrote in his series for the magazine called The Elusive Presence, “For some decades now….I’ve believed that American Christianity has been less and less interested in God as such, and more and more at doing good things for God. We’ve learned how to be effective for him, to the point that we don’t really need him any longer.”
It seems Giant Church Inc has forgotten God.
I didn’t tell Johnny what I saw when I worked for the church in 2014, because I didn’t want to believe it. But I couldn’t deny it either. I tried to make the necessary changes in the business office of the church, the ones I thought I was hired to make. Again and again, the executive pastor told me he would take care of it.
I was told by church leaders I was too serious, a rule-follower, and while my personality type made me loyal and dependable, it also made me rigid. It was clear that my questions were bothersome.
Once we have spent time in a particular belief system, especially in a “church” environment that demands massive contributions, unquestioned loyalty, absorbs all spare time and which forms the entire social network for people, most don’t have enough mental energy to figure out that something is terribly wrong.Christy Thomas for Patheos
I quit asking. Nine months after I was hired as an accountant for the church, I prayerfully resigned.
I was relieved for several reasons. First, I’d no longer know what happened in the financial office and behind the scenes at Giant Church Inc.
Second, I’d have time to grieve properly for my parents. My mother was terminally ill and my father died while I was on staff. In addition, my immediate family experienced another trial and I needed to be more available to them.
The high performance culture at Giant Church Inc makes it difficult to be broken in any way. The fast pace and constant change don’t allow it. An unspoken motto at Giant Church is: Be sorrowful when absolutely necessary, but let it be short-lived and get back to the business of positivity.
I’ll never forget the words from another staff member my first day on the job at Giant Church Inc. “They told me this was a fast moving train and I have to move with it. They weren’t kidding,” he sighed, looked down and shook his head. He’d worked for Giant Church less than a month. He resigned a few months before I did.
Less than two months after I left my job at Giant Church Inc, my mom passed away. It was a gift to be back in my previous job. They allowed me the time I needed to grieve and take care of my parents’ estate.
Lastly, I hoped and prayed my feelings about the leaders of our church would change back to what they were before…..before I was on staff. Before I knew what I knew. I hoped attending church and serving with my family, without the rigorous demands of staff life, would allow that.
God did that for me. He tenderly led me through the grieving and healing process, settled me back into the position with my former employer, and allowed me to love my pastors and church leaders even better than before.
But the red flags didn’t go away. I’ll tell you what I did with them in my next post.
I’ll end with a story of Jesus we know well, but may not think about enough.
Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.'” Matthew 21:12-13
God help us!
*I heard this said a while ago and it’s been stuck in my head since – I just can’t remember who said it.