The word “megachurch” many invoke a litany of prejudices, but Dr Joel Tejedo from the Asia Pacific Theological Seminary clarifies in this interview the unique role megachurches have in shaping society for good.
Dr Joel Tejedo is the Director of Asia Pacific Research Center, Asia Pacific Theological Seminary (Philippines). He holds a BCMin from Bethel Bible College of the Assemblies of God in the Philippines, an MDiv and a DMin from the Asia Pacific Theological Seminary (APTS). He served as the faculty and academic dean at Luzon Bible College and opened extension centres in the major cities of Northern Luzon. Currently, he is a full-time instructor at APTS. Dr Tejedo is also a prolific researcher and writer who has published and articles that have been presented at international lectureships.
He studies the Pentecostal impact on the Philippines, producing papers such as “How Filipino Pentecostals Build Communities in the Philippines, Baguio City” (2011). Another notable paper he wrote is “A Pentecostal Witness in the Public Sphere: A Case of Four Non-Government Organizations Working Among the Most Vulnerable People in the City of Vallejo, California” (2015).
At the Global Pentecostal Summit last November, Dr Tejedo’s presentation drew much interest. Titled “The Megachurches and Public Life: How Megachurch Congregants See Life as a Whole and How Do They Live Out Their Faith in Public Life?”, his paper highlighted the important role of megachurches in shaping a city’s public life by acting as change agents for social and political transformation. He stated in his presentation that the establishment of megachurches such as Christ’s Commission Fellowship (CCF) and Victory Christian Fellowship (VCF) in Metro Manila demonstrates the new face of Christianity emerging in the Philippine religious landscape.
This interview was conducted by Helen Gianchand, who, with her husband, served as Dr Tejedo’s guide during the Summit.
What makes a megachurch a megachurch? Is it true that most megachurches are Pentecostal and evangelical?
Western scholars define a megachurch as one that has 2,000 members. However, the John Templeton scholars try to correct this view because in the Global South there are megachurches whose members are in the hundreds of thousands. Yes, most megachurches are Pentecostal and Evangelical. In fact, among 12 megachurches in the Philippines eight are confirmed Pentecostal and four are purely evangelical.
Based on your research, the lifestyle of megachurch congregants is manifested and marinated by dining out with families and friends, shopping, socialising with friends, volunteering and more. Your data shows that most of them are more than happy attending their current church. Can we conclude that the strength of the megachurch is the structure of having smaller, closely-knit groups within the church?
There are many factors to consider in the success of megachurches. One, they are planted in urbans locations where you find the business hub. Two, they use digitalisation to attract and win people to Jesus. Three, they utilise small group meetings in café, malls, park, and houses to nurture members.
At City Harvest Church, we often hear this: “You may be poor today, but you will not be poor forever because we serve a God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills.” Have there been any studies done over decades or generations to show this to be true, that social mobility takes place over time among Christians? Why has preaching about prospering become a characteristic of the megachurch and how is this related to Pentecostalism?
There is the perception that megachurches are teaching prosperity only; they call it “the health and wealth of the West”. But faith matters to the people attending megachurches. It helps them persevere during trials and testing. It also allows them to believe that God can prosper them. And faith can supersede the desire of any material things, even an overflowing grace of God. As Christians we should correct the abuse of prosperity gospel among megachurches because we believe that the highest form of exhalation is when we glorify Jesus in the midst of sufferings, martyrdom and deaths. When people prosper within megachurches, we need to celebrate with them so that they can advance the Kingdom of God. The God that we serve is in the business of blessing His people.
On that note, the emergence of megachurches has often been criticised and misunderstood by both the religious and the secular. But the evangelistic and revivalist nature of Pentecostalism seems to be necessary for the fulfilment of Matthew 24:14 where the Gospel is to be preached to all the world before Jesus returns. In your opinion, how should the gap be bridged between the megachurches and the rest of the church body, particularly in the end-times plan of God?
Megachurches have an important role to play as the “Christian face”, in urban society. They are the positive force that provide meaning, purpose, and destiny to city people; chaos and violence grow in the absence of megachurches. Megachurches speed up evangelism in the city, then the rural places, nation and across the globe.
We live in a media-driven culture, and it is said that megachurches have the financial resources, talent, and expertise to use media effectively. Most do an excellent job of sharing the message of the gospel through media channels that reach enormous numbers of people. Do you believe that megachurches have a stronger voice and more potential to win souls compare to smaller churches?
Both small and megachurches are using technology to spread the gospel. However, megachurches are excellent in utilising and maximising the potential of digital technologies, in sharing the gospel, in their programmes, through social connections and networks with their members and people in society. This is one of the strengths of megachurches: they use Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and other social media outlets to evangelise or win souls. I was privileged to share my case study on megachurches as an example of “Technology in Theology” at a conference in Canada. I encourage small and traditional churches to learn to adapt the potential of digital technology. My observation is that CHC is excellent in teaching theology using technology. CHC is an example of technological prowess.
Aside from conducting effective mission outreaches, how do or how can megachurches create global impact?
I think CHC already has the DNA for creating global impact. CHC’s voice is loud and clear not only in Singapore but around the world. My recommendation and prayer are that CHC continue to disciple its members and they adhere to become bold witnesses, be it at home, marketplace, mission field (especially among the unreached people groups and the indigenous peoples) to advance Kingdom works.
Based on your paper, you have noted that Christian churches play an important role in shaping a city’s public life. What are your thoughts on Christians in positions to bring betterment to a country?
Our world is facing intertwining negative forces that affect people lives. We have young people suffering mental depression, famine, inflation; ongoing wars that cause shortage of supplies in cities and nations. Thus, megachurches have an important role to play in society to create a healthy urban life environment. It will help people to be resilient in the face of challenges. The megachurches in the Philippines have become a witness in the economic and political sphere. They empower, endorse and send their gifted members to enter politics to be the light in their respective assignments. It’s a different context in the Philippines but there, we have political leaders—senators—who take seriously their call to be a channel of blessings.
I read this research article titled “Christian Megachurches and Politics in the Philippines” by ISEAS researchers John Choo, Evelyn Tan and Daniel PS Goh that said that “non-Catholic megachurches in the Philippines have been expanding their political influence by engaging political elites, galvanizing the grassroots, and ministering to the middle class”. Do you agree?
I think the author of this article is talking about CCF, because they have an organisation that addresses the political issues in the country. During the recent Philippines election, the way Peter Tan Chi (the senior pastor of CCF) interviewed the presidential candidates was his way of educating and informing his members who to vote for. Directly and indirectly, CCF is influencing its members to become change agents in the government sector. They send their members to teach Christian values formation to the police authority, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, and the Department of Education.
Thank you Dr Tejedo for sharing your insights on the role of megachurches in society.
I’m grateful to City Harvest Church for the opportunity to be invited in the Global Pentecostal Summit and for the chance to date my loving wife in Singapore for the very first time!