Megachurch documentary, panel coming to Hartford

Megachurch documentary to be screened at Hartford Seminary/Contributed PhotoHARTFORD –Mall-sized churches with coffee shops, jumbotrons and stadium seating don’t quite fit the New England landscape.

But because of names like Rick Warren, T.D. Jakes and Joel Osteen, many New Englanders have at least heard of the term “megachurch.”

Those who want to learn more about this growing phenomenon, can view “The Alpha and the Mega,” a new documentary on megachurches, on Oct. 8 at Hartford Seminary, 77 Sherman St. in Hartford. The screening will be followed with a discussion panel.

By definition, a megachurch is a Protestant church that has at least 2,000 attendees on Sunday mornings. There are about 1,200 megachurches scattered across the U.S.

The documentary was produced by Clothespin Films. Director Morgan Mead described the film as being, “heavy in some moments, with some light-hearted humor.” It features Scott Thumma, professor of Sociology of Religion at Hartford Seminary. Thumma has studied megachurches for more than two decades and recently published “Beyond Megachurch Myths.”

“When I talk to people about this documentary, they assume it’s going to be critical,” Thumma said. “One thing I liked about Mead’s approach is that he’s genuinely interested in trying to understand what in the world is going on with these (megachurches).”

Mead, of Indianapolis, said he stumbled upon megachurches about three years ago when he was looking for a church.

He said until someone recommended he visit a local megachurch, he had never heard the term.

“I went and I was immediately enthralled and had to learn more about it,” he said.

Mead, an admitted documentary junkie, said he couldn’t find a single megachurch documentary, which the filmmaker saw as an opportunity. He began his research and found that megachurches are more diverse than he thought. He found all black megachurches, all white congregations, gay ones, Asian ones and even an online megachurch. One, he said, met in a closed-down shopping mall.

What he also learned, he said, is that there is tension between small and large churches.

Thumma explained the disagreement between large and small churches often revolves around how the message is delivered.

“In many ways they’re wanting to do the same kind of things, helping people understand God better,” he said. “But (nearly all megas clearly embrace)  the idea that the Bible, the scriptures and the message could be made contemporary or that hymns could be changed to a more modern sound and still convey the message.”

Thumma said these are some of the issues that could be discussed at the Oct. 8 screening, which begins at 7 p.m. The free screening will be followed with a panel where Thumma, and megachurch pastor, Jim Pourteau of Liberty Churches, will discuss megachurches with an Episcopal and a Lutheran priest.

Thumma encourages anyone interested in the “nature of the church” to attend.

“It’s a picture of a religious culture that most folks from New England don’t really get to experience,” he said.

Mead said he won’t be able to attend the screening or the panel, but said the event is appealing to anyone who may be looking for a church.

“I personally think it’s important because when you’re making any kind of decision in your life, you need to look at all the facts,” he said.

The film will be available in mid-October at www.megachurchmovie.com.

 

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