Francis Chan at Facebook headquarters

October 10, 2017

Why Francis Chan Left the Megachurch

It’s an unlikely scenario. A celebrity pastor trades in his thriving megachurch for the house-church model. But that’s exactly what pastor and best-selling author Francis Chan did.

During the height of Chan’s megachurch ministry, he drew a crowd of 5,000 to Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California. Then he left the megachurch and totally restructured his pastoral and discipleship model. But why?

Chan shared his reasoning during a talk at Facebook’s headquarters back on June 22. So this story is a few months old. However, in June I was on maternity leave and missed this news coverage. Maybe you missed hearing this story too. And because the topic of church models is so relevant (and fascinating) to our Juicy Ecumenism readers—many of whom are church leaders—I thought it important to go ahead and cover it here.

During Chan’s talk, a Facebook employee asked, “What is working well in your ‘We are Church’ model that others can reproduce in other areas in San Francisco or elsewhere?”

For those who didn’t know his backstory, Chan explained the mega-church model was “all I knew what to do.” But over time he grew frustrated with his congregant’s contentment with only showing up on Sunday to sit and listen to a sermon.

“I’m going, wait a second, according to the Bible every single one of these people has a supernatural gift that’s meant to be used for the body,” Chan said. “And I’m like, 5,000 people show up every week to hear my gift. See my gift. That’s a lot of waste.”

He also acknowledged the millions of dollars it costs to maintain a megachurch’s spacious building, staff, sound system, and other resources. “And I’m going, gosh, how come people in other countries go to church for free,” Chan admitted.

Rather than worry with the number of filled seats, Chan grew worried over the major disconnect between his congregants. Chan confessed he was “convicted” by Scriptures’ call for Christians to love one another and noted “that’s not a small command.” Recalling John 13:35, he recited, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Chan realized it was time to reconsider the direction his ministry was going. He shared with his Facebook audience that he wanted to gather people together in a format “where they can actually use their gifts” and “get everyone reading the Bible” on the same reading plan. Thus, his “We are Church” model was born.

According to the “We are Church” website, Chan’s new church model is structured as follows:

1.) Each church meets in a home.

2.) Each church has two pastors, both of whom aren’t paid.

3.) Tithes and offerings are collected, but all are set aside to be used for missions locally and abroad.

“Everyone’s in these homes so that it cost nothing,” Chan described to his audience. “We have 30 pastors now that all do it for free. We send them out in twos. So we have 14/15 house churches. And we just plan on multiplying, doubling every year. In ten years we could have 1.2 million people. And free.”

Chan no longer preaches. Instead he focuses on training church members to become effective church leaders. Chan said he believes his new church model works well because members “suddenly have responsibility.”

“One guy put it like this, ‘It’s like being adopted rather than being in an orphanage,’” Chan recalled. “The Church the way I was doing was like an orphanage. Here’s a bunch of kids with one leader.”

“It’s not without its issues because relationships are messy,” he warned, lest anyone be tempted to believe there is a flawless body of believers.

Chan even admitted the mega-church model was easier in some ways. His megachurch’s disjointed structure allowed him and members to live removed from the real needs of their fellow congregants and call to care for those needs.

“When it’s family it gets messy,” Chan concluded. “[But] that’s what Christ wanted. And we fight for it. And it’s been a blast.”


10 Responses to Why Francis Chan Left the Megachurch

  1. Charlie Satterwhite says:

    This was the NT model, and it was adapted in early Methodism. Therefore, the Methodist Church became the fastest growing church in America’s younger history.

  2. Cheryl Anderson says:

    I would like to know what you mean by the term ecumenism. Does he correlate his belief’s with a Rick Warren and his ecumenical approach to Christianity and truth in all religions moving to one world religion? He spoke at Saddleback a while back and I want know if he identifies with Rick Warren’s heretical teachings. I did one Francis Chan study on God and want to know his Biblical approach to one world religion

    • John Smith says:

      ??? The only “ecumenism” on the page is the title of the group, a tag and your post. So what exactly is the question? Who is “you”? (“…you mean by the term ecumenism.) Are you asking IRD to be your personal research service? Do you want to know if Chan embraces or rejects: RICK WARREN AND THE PURPOSE DRIVEN PLAN TO DESTROY THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST?

  3. Harry Green says:

    I have come to believe that the ‘future’ church will not look like the church of the present or past. The cost of maintaining the institutional church with buildings and grounds, is poor stewardship of our resources. Giving 10% outside our walls is considered acceptable? It is not! I also want each member to have a responsibility/ministry in helping, serving and loving others. The Church is a movement, not a place. I am taking a study leave to investigate the options for the Church of the Future.

  4. Don says:

    A one size fits all solution, although tried and true, has its limits. The Church needs modularity, flexibility as well. Megachurches have a purpose and connect with people who this kind of small community approach would never reach. I feel the essay would benefit from more analysis to evaluate his argument. It reminds me of twitter posts that reflect an author’s position by linking without comment, without the author giving his or her position. Does this reflect IRD’s view? Do most folks at IRD take this road? I think not.

  5. Lisa says:

    I am a member of revival fellowship.
    Chan’s church model similar to ours. We are a small church where members really know, help and care and build each other.we are assigned so we responsible and be a part of ministry. Use our gifts no matter what to contribute to the ministry. Which is i found good because we are the livibg church. The body of christ. And most of our congregants are speak in tounges. It is also one of the promises of believers. We pray fast for the members to get the gifts of speak tounges so they can experience God miracle and holy spirit in real life

  6. Dave says:

    Francis Chan started out great, yet now his theology and he are drifting. It’s concerning when once solidly biblical teachers start associating with NAR!

  7. sarah morgan says:

    I was excited to look deeper into Chan’s We Are Church movement, until I learned that their policy does not allow females to be pastors or elders.

    There is no way I could get on board with a movement that subverts women’s rightful place as equal co-bearers of God’s image.

    Sad to see he is trying to be cutting edge, but holding women back in the dark ages.

  8. Vicki Holton says:

    What I have read here is what I have been saying for years. Thank you for knowing I am not alone in my thoughts. Churches just seem to want more money for “churches of stuff”. Very disappointed in churches of today.

  9. Mark says:

    According to information I am able to gather and assuming it is somewhat accurate, it appears that around 80 percent of mainstream church bodies in America are in decline regarding not only the numbers of those that attend, but I think more importantly, are in decline in the number of those that are reached with the good news of Christ. I Pastor a small rural church and often wonder what we might do differently in order to be obedient in sharing the love of Christ outside the four walls of a church building. I frequently think of Christ informing the Pharisees that they were more concerned about tradition than the commandments of God. I tend to believe that we may be in the same boat.
    It seems that perhaps we have become inwardly focused.
    Jesus said that we would be going to share the gospel in all the world. This may include down the block.
    Obviously the world does not come to us. And church bodies decline.
    Given the world does not come to us in our buildings, is it reasonable to think that God is leading us to get out of our buildings and maybe our one or two hour a week tradition? I don’t have the answer but I am sure Christ does. Maybe we should applaud those that are willing to take different avenues in order to take light to a world that really needs it. It all has to be grounded in love and obedience.

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