When I first joined YWAM [Youth with a Mission] staff over a decade ago, my first job was as the registrar for schools offered at YWAM Cambridge's Academy Of Performing Arts. The majority of my time was spent handling student applications and dealing with references. As a Christian program, of the three references we required, we always asked for a Pastors Reference. Occasionally people came without any church background, but the majority of students easily provided this reference.[link added].
Over the last couple of years a shift began to happen that has caught my attention. Almost half of our student and staff applicants contact us asking us if it is a problem that they cannot provide a Pastors Reference. They go on to share one in a number of common explanations- I haven't been part of one church for very long, so I don't know my pastor well enough; My church is quite large, so I don't have any real relationship with my pastor and he wouldn't be able to provide a reference; I don't attend a typical church, per se, so can I use someone else?
While their explanations themselves are very telling, I am genuinely and increasingly intrigued by the emerging pattern. The role and relationship with ones pastor has changed dramatically. Where 10 years ago, most Christians could quite easily go to their pastor and get a fairly accurate reference, now it seems increasingly uncommon and difficult. For better or for worse, this is a significant change in a relatively short period of time
According to Leadership Network's recent publication Innovation 2007, over 21 million United States professing Christians - 38% - are in churches that have over 500 regular Sunday morning attenders. 4.7 million of these are in the nation's over 1200 megachurches - defined as churches that have over 2000 people. Considering that fifty years ago there were less than 10 megachurches in the US, this phenomenon represents a growing reality that may help to explain Arpin-Ricci's observation.
But rather than guaranteeing less personal pastoring, the growth of individual local church size could precipitate a growing lay pastoring movement that could significantly strengthen Christ's church in the US.