Ten steps to planting a megachurch

I have no plans to plant a megachurch. Imagine the administration hassles. But I am an armchair megachurch planter. And here are my ten steps based on my observations. I have studied (some might say rigorously) five different megachurches at various stages of the developmental process – form megachurch megastar Joel Osteen to the New Calvinism’s Mark Driscoll. Lest you be concerned, the essential steps to growing your megachurch (based on my observations and my list), don’t seem to require any mention of Jesus.

  1. Be improbably good looking and well presented. Lets face it. If you’re not good looking there’s no chance the TV stations are going to want to interview you about anything. If you’re not blessed with natural good looks you can always get surgery. Self improvement is the first step down the road to success. You need to be good looking so that you can plaster your face all over the covers of your books and your church website. It doesn’t matter what doctrinal bent you come from. As the pictures below demonstrate (yes, they are all pastors – can you name them?).

  2. Marry an improbably good looking woman so that you can talk about your “hot wife” – This is also important because all the single guys will listen to you wondering how you managed to, to quote an Australian beer ad, punch above your weight. Here are the wives of the improbably good looking guys above. This is also really important when it comes to preaching the annual series on sex that all Megachurches must have in order to stay edgy, relevant and controversial.

  3. If you’re not a good looking guy with an equally (or slightly better looking) wife then you should resign yourself to just running an ordinary church. If you are good looking then here are the rest of the steps…

  4. Pick a suburb or sub culture – also known as an audience, target market or mission field. Contextualise like crazy. If your sub-culture is a group of inner-city gothic vegetarians then dress like they do – but eat meat to show that this is an issue of preference and conscience. To be a megachurch you either need to be in the subculture but not of the subculture, or you need to present that to which the subculture aspires to…
  5. Come up with a name for your church – Here you have three choices – you can choose an edgy buzzword, a relatively obscure Biblical reference, or a buzzword based on a relatively obscure Biblical reference. This choice should be made subject to the availability of the web domain. I would call mine “Buzzword Church”. Here are the names of our five case study churches.
    • Mars Hill Church
    • The Village Church
    • Elevation Church
    • Lakewood Church
    • Hillsong
  6. Come up with position titles – This one isn’t that hard. You’re either Pastor (your name) or some sort of edgy non-Biblical name that makes people feel comfortable. If you go down the pastor line you also need to distinguish yourself from your colleagues with a reference to your particular role.
  7. Pick some venues – Did someone say multisite? Your sites need to be far enough apart that there are clear suburban boundaries so that you can selectively allocate new families to the appropriate multisite location (or campus) just like the public schooling system – but close enough that there isn’t a change in demographic.
  8. Hire a marketing team – you’ll need a graphic designer (Image Pastor), a publicist (Media Pastor), a web developer (IT Pastor), a marketing manager (Evangelism Pastor) and a social media strategist (Community Pastor). Just to start with.
  9. Build a functional and edgy website – there are two design aesthetics you can choose from that cover every possible sub culture. Grungy or Minimalist with a feature image/sliding gallery (preferably featuring a picture of someone raising their hands). This choice is largely cosmetic – you can even combine them. What matters is your ability to “convert” in the web marketing sense – you need to turn casual visitors into podcast subscribers. Once you’ve built a substantial base of podcasters you can hit the lucrative conference circuit. There you get to hang out with a bunch of other improbably good looking “Lead Pastors” from your theological persuasion.

  10. You can gain megachurch style points by having your own personal website too. You get extra points if your own website outranks your church website when searching for your name, but lose points if the .com version of your name belongs to someone else (I’m looking at you Mark Driscoll, and you Brian Houston).

  11. Set up a publishing/recording company – You need to share your thoughts with the whole world. This sort of notoriety is good for your brand at home and abroad. A publishing arm will help get your initial tomes off the ground, and hopefully get money coming through the doors in the long term. If your writing is sensational enough it will generate a buzz.  A recording arm will encourage talented musicians to join your church – having the added bonus of improving the quality of service. This will also help to justify your outlay on the best AV equipment available. God hates bad sound. And podcast video needs to be as clear as possible if your missional agenda is to gain traction in the global market place.
  12. Stir up controversy – Part of being a successful Megachurch planter is creating the buzz that comes with being a megachurch. To achieve this you need to pick some touchy issues to be passionately outspoken about. You can recant about these later (or become more passionate). The point is to get your name blogged about lots. The ridiculously good looking people above have the following impressive results when you google them
    • “Mark Driscoll”: 313,000
    • “Joel Osteen”: 722,000
    • “Steven Furtick”: 45,300
    • “Brian Houston”: 121,000
    • “Matt Chandler”: 367,000

If at first you don’t succeed – Pull up stumps, blame God (or the Devil), reassess your marketing strategy and go back to step 3. Unless you decide that you aren’t actually really, really, ridiculously good looking. But even then there’s hope. You just have to wait until you’re old and austere.


AndrewFinden says:

Is it just me, or does Brian Houston look a little bit like Count Dracula in that photo?
In fairness.. Matt Chandler is not exactly 'well presented' at the moment – being ball with a massive scar across his head.. but hey. And how come John Piper is not on your list?

RodeoClown says:

Of those websites you've got listed there, Hillsong's is the only one with Jesus front and centre (first option on the menu that jumped out at me). As much as I don't like a lot of their stuff, at least they've got him above the fold.
My recent post How To Nap

AndrewFinden says:

http://www.marshillchurch.org/ has an add for their series investinating "the man who is God", plus, on the main slideshow there's an image of the cross with big letters 'The Gospel', and if you click "I am new here" you get: "It's all about Jesus, only about Jesus, always about Jesus"
http://thevillagechurch.net/ has the descriptor: "Bringing glory to God through lives changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ".

RodeoClown says:

@AndrewFinden – I was talking purely about the screenshots above. Not clicking through to anything.
I completely missed that Village church one – not sure what happened to my eyes there…

I know Mars Hill is big on Jesus, but for some of them (Lakewood, I'm looking in your direction), you'd be hard pressed to tell there was anything about Jesus at all.
My recent post How To Nap

queenstuss says:

That made my day, except the bit where you said you don't intend on planting a megachurch…

Nathan says:

I had to update the post to mention the fact that all Megachurches must run a series on sex. It was going to be point number ten. But I forgot. Now it's part of point number two.

Piper was who I was thinking of when I said you could plant a megachurch when you're old if you're not improbably good looking.
My recent post Ten steps to planting a megachurch

AndrewFinden says:

I apparently missed that sentence the first time around.

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Doug Vincent, nm_campbell and nm_campbell, Dr. Joseph Atta-Fynn. Dr. Joseph Atta-Fynn said: Ten steps to planting a megachurch » St. Eutychus http://bit.ly/5PLU0E […]

Rabbi Adar says:

Apparently there is no hope of Megachurch status if the pastor in question in a woman.
My recent post Jewish History in Two Hours?

Nathan says:

Hi Rabbi,

Interesting point – I don't know of any megachurches being run by women – nor of many who would be interested in women's ordination. I suspect there's a correlation between people who want to plant megachurches and people who are theologically inclined to ordain women. People who want to plant megachurches tend to think that they're the most viable option to run any number of smaller churches (which is why they concentrate power via video preaching etc).

I suspect most female pastors aren't actually all that interested in running a megachurch – but perhaps that is a generalisation I can't back up.

There's a touch of ego about the whole thing.
My recent post How to write a poetic media release

camnio media says:

the posts as well as the article is realllly interesting

Kay says:

really?? Matt Chandler and Driscoll are ALL ABOUT Jesus and the Gospel…9the others im not so sure of) … nice site by the way :)

RodeoClown says:

Kay – If you read the comment, I was talking only about the website screenshots in the post. Nothing to do with the specific churches or people :)

Sgillesp says:

PJ – re Joel Osteen and results:
define "saved." If the preaching is usually about self-improvement and just about never about the real Jesus of the gospels, to what are people responding? To what are they giving their heart? The others listed here annoy me; he alarms me – because he is the definition of the teacher itching ears want to hear. My guess is that the faith one comes to from listening to Joel, is faith in oneself – isn't that exactly what the Serpent was preaching back in Genesis?

Justyn Smith says:

Just throwing this out there…I like all these pastors you mentioned. They’re all seeing many saved. They’re all reaching out to their communities and abroad. Joel Osteen and his Lakewood Church, by the way, has seen more people saved than Billy Graham. I think it’s strange how he’s seeing thousands of salvations and it’s only Christians who are the ones who crtiticize him. I know he seems to say some things that “alarm” Christians, but perhaps there’s a reason. Maybe he’s trying to keep open some doors so people will be receptive to the Gospel…
Even though the blog has a mocking tone to it. It’s still entertaining. In the end we’re all here for Jesus and that’s our common bond despite our different styles. :)


Nathan says:

Hi Justyn,

I thought I had replied to this comment a while back – it doesn't appear to have posted though – so I'll do it now, in case you've subscribed by email.

Of all the pastors I mentioned here it is Joel Osteen I am concerned about – I don't think he preaches anything that resembles the gospel so I don't think he's actually saving people. There's a name for people who try to "keep doors open so people will be receptive to the Gospel" by adding to the gospel, or by changing it. Heretics. The Bible pretty consistently warns us to be on the look out for people who come appearing to be preaching the word while offering something more palatable than Christ crucified and the promise of suffering – Paul calls them "super apostles" – and he condemns them.
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Chris Inness says:

your such a cynic Nathan.. :P

Some comments
1. Everyone should look after themselves – Pastor or not.
2. Why would one marry a woman that he does not consider hot?
3. Don't all churches do this?
4. Again don't all churches do this? Willows, St Andrews
6. Are denominations just big multi-site churches with live preaching?
7. Cynic. Plus you think Church marketing is important, don't you?
8. So other churches create dysfunctional, ugly web pages? (sorry for the sarcasm)
9. I agree but it does encourage development of the gifts within their congregation.
10. The church should stir up controversy in the world. It is not a normal message.

I think you are picking at a splint that is only there in your mind and creating division mental division that is unhelpful.

I think that we as the global church need to consider how our actions appear to the rest of the world when we stir up debate to divide the global church into stereotypes and over things that don't really matter. Particularly on the web.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Ps I had to delete a comment I made to point 3 so that I was not a hypocrite

Nathan says:

Umm Chris, and to a lesser extent Justyn (who I had not replied to)… this post is satirical. I don't think following these ten steps will lead to megachurch status nor do I condemn them by listing them – I just identified ten things I think are common to mega church set ups, and posted them. Don't read too much between the lines.
My recent post iPad critics should take a tablet

Nathan says:

But let me counter your points one by one…

1. I don't know that Jesus was conventionally good looking? Paul certainly wasn't. He was bow legged and not physically impressive.
2. Why would anyone make hotness the criteria by which they married someone? Even Driscoll argues that it's once you marry a woman that she becomes the standard of hotness. What hope do you give the not absolutely physically beautiful women? What hope does God give them? Are you saying ugly people should be single? Or just that they shouldn't marry ministers?
3. Most just try to reach the people around them with the gospel.
4. Are they megachurches? Most churches don't. Three churches in Townsville do… In Brisbane almost all Presbyterian churches are named "Suburb" Presbyterian Church.
6. No.
7. I'm not being a cynic here, I believe this step is important for growth. It's part of being a Jew to the Jews etc…
8. Most do, again, you're reading negatives into neutral statements. But, nobody is saved by a website… It's the second point, the "having your own personal website" that is bigger than your church's that I think is a problem.
10. These guys stir up controversy within the church, not just within the world…
My recent post iPad critics should take a tablet

Chris says:

I suppose that is what I am saying Nathan. It is satirical yes but what value or damage does it do. What I am highlighting, is that it only continues the cycle of division of the church and the subconscious to segregation of the church.

Satire and sarcasm should be very carefully thought through for their psychological impacts that create practical impacts in our world.

My opinion.

Nathan says:

"What value or damage does it do?"

No damage, it has the value of finding common elements of successful churches and presenting them in a humourous context.

"It only continues the cycle of division of the church and the subconscious to segregation of the church"

As you say, this is your opinion. I don't think it's accurate. I don't think this does anything to fuel division or segregation.
My recent post iPad critics should take a tablet

this time it is joel [sorry for my face turning up on andrew for some reason]

quick thought: whoever mentioned the masculine nature (and probably typical male ego stroking nature) of these supposed megachurch – physical appearances point to the obvious similarity in gender and ethnicity. where is the non-male, non-Caucasian voice amongst these glossy lights.

ps. i know little to nothing about all persons represented in this. and i think we may have varying notions of what constituts ‘hotness’. perhaps it should be altered to conventionally attractive. or better yet, lacking any significant defects in appearance (not overweight, no skin blemishes, full crop of hair, all necessary limbs/indexs and no additional ones)

pps just discovered this while at andrew and peta’s house and i enjoy your irreverent writing, even where (or especially where) i disagree