Mega-Ministers

Bill Hybels and fourth-century preaching star John Chrysostom would have a lot to talk about

Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois—the quintessential "megachurch"—is about to get even bigger. In addition to a 7,000-square-foot expansion at its main campus, the church is looking for 12 local auditorium spaces to host mixed-media services: live worship music and prayer coupled with video-screen preaching. The church knows that sermons by Pastor Bill Hybels are a huge draw for the 17,000 people who already attend its six weekly services, but it also knows that many people are unwilling to drive more than 30 minutes for the experience. The satellite congregations propose a new solution to a not-so-new problem.

Though he lived nearly 1,600 years ago, John Chrysostom would have understood Hybels' situation. He, too, attracted sometimes overwhelming attention for his preaching. Chrysostom is actually a nickname, meaning "golden mouth," that was given to him after his death in recognition of his superlative oratorical gifts. His messages moved many people to change their lives. Other listeners, motivated by jealousy or distress that his words struck so close to home, moved to have him banished.

As archbishop of Constantinople, capital of the Roman Empire, John also led a large congregation. In his day, the "megachurches" of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople each had about 100,000 members, with church "staffs" in the hundreds. To serve such a crowd, John led services every Sunday and saint's day, most weekdays, and several evenings, for parishioners who worked late.

Third, John, like Hybels, was known for effectively applying scriptural insights to everyday life. He denounced such modern-seeming sins as abortion, materialism, and horse-race gambling while encouraging daily repentance and devotional ...

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