I had the opportunity this week to talk with Mike Slaughter, the lead pastor of Ginghamsburg Church and author of Change the World. Here are a few highlights. The complete interview is accessible using the audio player above.
SHANE: What year did you arrive at Ginghamsburg?
MIKE: I came to Ginghamsburg in 1979, so I’ve just completed 32 years here in ministry.
SHANE: Wow, that’s kind of an anomaly in the United Methodist Church, wouldn’t you say?
MIKE: I know, I know. And this is my third appointment. I’ve been at Ginghamsburg in five different decades beginning in the 70’s, and I’m only in my 50’s, so that’s a pretty good deal.
SHANE: What’s the weekend attendance now at Ginghamsburg?
MIKE: Twice a year we do an update with our key investors, those who are faithful in giving at Ginghamsburg, and we just had a report out. For the first four months of this year, it was 5,002 people.
SHANE: Do you do services all weekend?
MIKE: We do 5 weekend services on the main campus, three on our Dayton campus, and on our middle campus (between the other two campuses), we do a small Sunday morning worship service, for folks who want a smaller experience, and the message is a video. Then on Monday night, in the original little two-room country chapel that was built in 1876, there’s a small, video kind of venue, that for some people, becomes a make-up of the weekend, but for a core group of about 25 people, it functions more like their house church. We also have Gateway Cafe on Monday nights, which is church for our food pantry clients. Our cell groups always serve a hot meal, and there’s worship and communion. That averages about 250 people.
SHANE: Ginghamsburg has been called a recovering megachurch. Do you think that’s the case?
MIKE: I think that’s somewhat the case. We fell a bit into that in the 1990’s, where we got caught up somewhat in all the church growth principles: 80% rules, create new space, maximize parking, etc. Our 130 acre main campus was referred to tongue-in-cheek as the Disneyland campus, complete with a conference center, and so forth. So in a way, we did “recover”, or wake up from that corporate model of church. But in another sense, the missional DNA has been a part of our movement all along. But I would say there was a little blip in the 1990’s where we got a little over-focused on building that mega kind of campus. So we never did follow through and build the sanctuary and the things we were planning to do-- which I’m thankful for in the economy we live in today.
SHANE: Do you see other megachurches becoming more missional? Do you think this is a trend?
MIKE: I do see a trend, because megachurches have the potential, if we give ourselves away, to do what denominations used to do before denominations became so top-heavy... if we’re careful about our costs, if we’re focused more on equipping other churches-- if we begin to focus on multiplying, as Ginghamsburg is doing with restarts. We look at churches in urban areas that are ready to close, then we move in, restart those churches, and we’re having some phenomenal results. One we restarted 2 and a half years ago is averaging 387 folks on weekends now.
SHANE: You mention in Change the World that there’s a disproportionate amount of buildings and resources in rural areas as opposed to urban. Are denominations beginning to recognize this? Why is it such a problem?
MIKE: I hope we are. Shane, 84% of Americans now live in or around urban areas. But I’m United Methodist, so I speak out of the context of what I know best. 74% of our capital resources (that’s our buildings) are where only 16% of the American population lives. The Methodist Church flourished in the 1800’s and early 1900’s in small towns and rural areas. But now we continue to send pastors to church buildings instead of populations. And if we’re really going to reach people, we’re going to have to radically rethink our paradigms of what it’s going to mean to be missional.
SHANE: Will multi-campus churches replace the megachurch as we know it?
MIKE: There’s always going to be a megachurch, but the megachurch is not really replicable. How many people have gone to conferences at Willow Creek, Saddleback, Ginghamsburg, and other places, yet don’t replicate those places? The key to all megachurches, really, is the anointed leader that God has placed in that position. Anointing is something that God does. It can’t be replicated-- it’s God’s choice. No individual can take credit for it, because it’s a gift. I believe that churches of 200, 300, 400, or 500 are much more replicable than a megachurch.
SHANE: Where do you see the house church movement heading?
MIKE: I think the house church movement definitely has potential. We have 5 here at Ginghamsburg that are pure house churches. We’ve been focusing more of our energy on restarts, but I think the house church has great potential. It’s not going to be the only model. I believe that there are three models of church that can work effectively. One is conventional church, whether a megachurch or a church of 200, 300, 400, or 500. It comes together in worship, disciplaes in small groups, and serves in mission. Another is the “cafe” kind of churches that meet in third places, outside of conventional church buildings. They’re between a house church and a conventional church. And then there are cell churches. I don’t think just one of those is going to work in our culture. We need to look at ways of doing church that represent all 3.
SHANE: Is it possible for a church to become “too missional” and not focus enough on foundational things like theology and Bible study?
MIKE: It all goes together. You can’t separate any of these dimensions because people will not sustain mission if they aren’t growing in the mind and heart of Jesus. It’s just as important to train people in the spiritual disciplines. Discipleship is relational. We learn by seeing the reality of Christ’s life in other people, and by being mentored and coached by other people. So you just can’t separate it. The church needs to look at what it means to be the community of Christ, centered in the Word, living in the power of the spirit. What does it mean to be a member of Christ’s body? What are the responsibilities we agree to and the commitments we make? And how do we hold each other accountable to those commitments?