Most Sunday mornings, the 5,000-seat sanctuary at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church is wall-to-wall worshipers.
But this Sunday, the Rev. Alyn E. Waller, 52, expects a thinner crowd. "The culture of morning at the Christmas tree will probably win out over services," he said.
Under Waller's leadership, Enon grew from a few hundred congregants praying in a historic church in Germantown to 15,000 members of a mega-church, convening in an amphitheater-like sanctuary on the city's northern edge.
As practiced as Waller is, he says he still gets nervous before a crowd.
"I am an introvert," Waller said. "So, it kind of wears me out to do the people thing. While I love people, it's a terrifying thing to get out there in front of them.
"I do it and I love what God does in the moment, but I'm also very acutely aware that it comes with a lot of power, comes with a lot of other people's hopes and dreams.
"After my second sermon, I asked my Dad, 'When does the nervousness stop?'
Waller's father, the Rev. Alfred M. Waller, was in a position to give advice. He led Cleveland's Shiloh Baptist Church for nearly 30 years, starting in the 1960s.
"My father said, 'When it stops, you stop, because you claim to be speaking for God and some people may order their lives based on what comes out of your mouth. If that doesn't make you nervous, and if you don't handle it like it's precious, then you've gotten ahead of yourself.' "
I've always distrusted folks who say they speak for God.
It can be manipulative, but I do believe God speaks. It's incumbent on those of us who use that language to make sure that it's really true. Also, you have to have healthy relationships in your life, so you don't become enamored with your own story and begin to become manipulative.
It's really easy to take that same language, 'God told me to tell you' and you just begin telling people what you want to tell them. That's where religion and religious leaders can do a lot of damage.
You lead a multimillion dollar group. Is Enon like a business?
It absolutely is, in the sense that we have money. The ministry costs. We have budgets. We hire people and we have to stay solvent. You can have all the good intentions in the world, but if you don't practice transparency, good fiscal accountability, then you're going to run this thing into the ground.
You've grown Enon.
Ten years ago, Newsweek coined the term pastorpreneur, because, in many ways, to pastor a church like this is like being an entrepreneur. The average Baptist church has 200 members. So here, the rules, the approach, the budget, everything is different. And for my generation, there is no model. We who are doing this now are doing it as we go, because it's just so new.
Does Enon's survival rely on having you at the helm?
The African American church, in particular, is very leadership influenced, pastoral focused. That's not going to change. We have to recognize that reality. Succession will happen before I leave. Five years before I retire, we will together, as a congregation, decide on the next pastor and he or she will become my assistant pastor and there will be a transition.
The tradition is to start all over [with an interview process]. This church will be empty within six months of my leaving if [the congregation] goes back to that model.
Your congregation is overwhelmingly black. Does it bother you that there aren't more white members?
Right after we got in the building, we started getting more white people coming.
I think the majority culture should always ask how the minorities are doing in their midst, so one Sunday, I stood up and said, 'I'd like all the non-African Americans to meet me.'
I'm thinking the 25 white people in the church are going to show up. Four hundred people showed up and they mostly looked like me. One guy said, 'I'm Asian.' Another guy began to speak fluent Spanish. They were trying to help me understand that everything black is not African American. There's diversity in this church even before we get into the European conversation.
But over the last eight years, [the number of white people] has dwindled. I recognize I have become more polarizing over the last eight years, responding to our climate.
Interview questions and answers have been edited for space.