Think twice before you leave the traditional church

By Mark Wingfield

So you’re thinking about leaving the traditional church where you were raised and heading for the big-box megachurch down the way because your kids like the music? You’re not alone. This is happening all across America, not only in major cities but even in rural areas where big churches are drawing regional crowds.

And I get it; it’s hard being a parent and coaxing kids to go to church, so you want to take them where the struggle is the least and the fun is the most. At least they’re happy about going to church, right?

Here’s the problem: You just might get a dose of really bad theology with that pop music performance and kids’ Bible playland. That’s not to say that all megachurches traffic in bad theology, not at all. But some do, just like some smaller, traditional churches get caught up in trendy theology. The difference is, the hip music and all the bells and whistles at the big performance-oriented church might keep you from noticing the underlying theology. This is the same effect that causes reasonable people to walk in to a Sam’s Club or Costco and suddenly believe they really need to buy a 5-gallon bucket of dill pickles.

But enough about pickles. Let’s talk about souls. Does theology really matter?

Have you thought about what your children will learn about God, God’s world and themselves at this megachurch? Have you listened to the sermons and the teaching and thought about the kind of worldview behind them? If you set aside the music and the fun, what’s the message being preached or modeled?

I recently watched a video where the pastor of a big-box megachurch in our city explained his view that there were dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark. He did all this with the confidence of someone who has a degree in biology or botany or geology or maybe all three, and yet his message disagrees with everything we moderns know about earth sciences.

But yeah, the music is really cool, and lots of people go to church there, so it’s easier for kids to meet up with friends from school and fit in right away, without much effort on their part. What parent shouldn’t be in favor of that?

Maybe you’re the parent of a girl. Have you thought about what message your daughter will learn about the role of women in the church, in society, in God’s plan for life? Does the theology of the megachurch line up with your highest aspirations for your daughter? Really hip music can’t patch that over.

Here’s the deal: Choosing a church because it makes your kids feel good may not be the best path to teach your kids about God or to raise them as faithful disciples who know how to rightly divide the word of God. Giving them absolute answers—and sometimes wrong answers—is not always better than teaching them to struggle through hard questions to find their own answers. It’s hard for a reason.

But I realize you may not want to have to think too hard about theology. Your work week is hectic, and raising kids takes a ton of energy. So when you go to church, you want to be told in simple terms what you should believe. And you figure that’s got to be good for your kids, too. If that’s what you’re after, then the popular megachurch might be just what you need. But let’s stop pretending it’s just about the worship style. The choice of a church like this is a theological statement more than a statement about musical preferences.

Several years ago, a family left our church after years of deep involvement. They moved to a megachurch with a totally different approach to worship, preaching, teaching and theology. The husband of this family honestly reported to our pastor that he just didn’t want to have to think so hard at church any more. “When I come here, your sermons force me to think,” he said. His preferred alternative was to be told what to believe.

Remember that old story about the difference between giving a man a fish and teaching a man to fish? If you give a fish, you feed the man for a day; but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.

What are your kids getting from the church with the popular music where all their friends attend? Are they being told what to believe, or are they being taught how to feed themselves from the richness of God’s word for all the days to come? That’s not about the music, although a good hymn still teaches more theology than a lot of bad sermons—and than most praise choruses.

Mark Wingfield is associate pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, and author of the book, “Staying Alive: Why the Conventional Wisdom about Traditional Churches is Wrong.”