I had a chance to visit a mega church in my home town of Miles City MT. Technically they may not have the numbers since this is a rural community. But they had all the markers of such a church. Coffee during the service, screens, a praise band, multiple services, multiple blue jean clad pastors. I went to their early morning service and I would guess they had 300 in attendance. I believe their later service has 400-500 in attendance so let’s assume a membership of 1000.
The photos above are the sermon notes of the pastor with questions parishioners are supposed to fill in as the sermon unfolds. It was within a few weeks of Trump announcing that the embassy in Israel would be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A lot of speculation arose of whether this was playing to Trump’s evangelical base. As the sermon notes indicate, it sure did in this church. That week a range of presentations were to be done on Israel and a book study of David Jeremiah’s end times book, Escaping the Coming Night was being held.
Thankfully my husband and I were able to sneak out in the middle of the service to visit the United Christian Church (UCC/Discples).
There I am guessing we had 15 folks in worship. We sang from hymnals. No big youth extravaganzas as I’m guessing that the age group leaned towards 70. We had a transgender and disabilities rights activist share her journey of faith, one that had been rooted in the knowledge of God’s love for her. We celebrated communion, as they do every week. The pastor spoke of reconciliation and his memories of North and South Vietnamese Christians sharing the bread and cup together in the midst of the war.
The contrast could not have been more stark. At the United Christian Church, the Gospel was about God’s love and God’s movement of reconciliation in the world. The sermon, the hymns, the communion service communicated this. At the mega church, the Gospel was a mix of right wing politics, escaping the end times and whisking us away from the troubles that mark this word. It was about separating the true believers from the rest of us. The sermon, the praise music, the book studies all pointed to this vision of the Gospel.
I am convinced that if Christianity is going to have a future in this country, it will be small groups like the United Christian Church, breaking bread together and enacting God’s reconciliation in their communities. The future church will not be big, will not have the numbers, will not have stupendous programming. They will be, as the Hebrew Bible speaks of, a remnant showing a different kind of life, against the dominant currents of our society. A life that seeks to redeem this world, not escape it. To cross boundaries and not erect them.
And the fact is, there are small groups of Christians doing this in most communities across this country. And they don’t have the physical and media presence of the large mega churches. But they are simply living out the Gospel of reconciliation for LGBT folks, for doubters, for those who don’t fit in, for the rest of us trying to find our way in this world, journeying with friends, practicing ancient traditions.
If you’d like suggestions for such churches in Montana feel free to message me. Working for an ecumenical campus ministry with seven mainline denominations, I know a lot of churches that fit this description throughout the state and region. But otherwise this site has some good tools for finding them in your own community.
Dwight Welch is the campus minister at United Campus Ministry at Montana State University Billings