If there’s not already one somewhere within 100 miles of you, there probably will be soon “megachurches” are the latest phenomenon in popular Christianity.
I’ve looked at a lot of megachurch Web sites recently, like Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago (one of the nation’s largest). What I find most intriguing is what seems to be almost uniformly missing from these Web sites photos of the megachurches!
The absence of photos is conspicuous because these are huge, huge, HUGE facilities. You’d think those pastors would be proud to show them off!
Here’s what I mean:
In addition to auditoriums equipped with theater seating for weekly worship congregations of 2000+, megachurches usually include a wide assortment of service-oriented amenities all in one building or campus: gyms, fitness centers, banks, broadcast production studios, senior centers, daycare, meeting rooms, and more.
As a result, megachurches architecturally tend to resemble shopping malls or corporate parks more than houses of worship. (As you can see via this unusual collection of photos from the facilities page, buried in the Web site of First Baptist Church of Dallas.)
It’s a classic case where the site message and the organization’s purpose appear to be at odds: Megachurches go out of their way to avoid being too much like traditional, small churches. However, their Web sites generally try to present the atmosphere of a small community even to the extent of omitting photos of their building exteriors. Which is it, guys?
Megachurches specifically include all those additional services and facilities as a strategy to build community, to give people lots of practical as well as spiritual reasons to join the church. They’re also trying to provide a “modern, updated” approach to Christianity, deliberately appealing to people who have been turned off by traditional churches. (See this backgrounder from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.) In other words, they consider their facilities to be a major “draw.”
Why, then, no pictures?
I think omission of photos undermines the credibility and effectiveness of these sites. Whatever the churches’ intent, the lack of photos sends the message that despite all the effort to create those glittering palaces, megachurches still consider their facilities to be an embarrassment of riches, exhibiting some element of ugliness that should be disguised. They do everything they can to create a consumer-culture experience of religion… but then advertise online a simple small-town feel.
Do they think their members and propective members wouldn’t notice?