October 20, 2020

I have to admit: I don’t get it

By Chaplain Mike

This is all kind of off the top of my head, so take it for what it is — an impromptu rant.

OK, this may seem like a weird thing to talk about, but I’m going to anyway. I’m sure most people don’t even think about it; the status quo is simply accepted without question. But it has bugged me for years, and I have to just say it plainly and see what people think.

I don’t see why we need big churches.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to have a big church. It’s not a right vs. wrong issue. I’m not saying it’s bad to have a big church. It’s not a matter of good or bad. In most cases, I just don’t see the point.

I need someone to convince me otherwise. Because right now, I just don’t get it.

You might say it gives the church more opportunities for ministry. Really? What can a church of 1000 do that four churches of 250, by themselves or in cooperation, can’t do? What can a church of 2000 that four churches of 500 can’t do? And wouldn’t it be better to have four smaller churches, strategically located in local neighborhoods, intentionally focusing on ministering to their neighbors, than one megachurch that people drive 50 miles to attend?

I guess I could see some larger churches in city contexts, where large populations are packed in small areas, and where congregations can serve the needy among whom they live more effectively through their facilities and programs.

But honestly, when you think about it, the ministries that make a genuine, lasting impact in reaching unbelievers or edifying Christians happen person-to-person or in small groups. We have a grass-roots faith, a down-to-earth religion that exalts those who take a towel and wash the feet of their brothers and sisters. We serve a Savior who deliberately chose obscurity and whose story should teach us to distrust the “multitudes.” The first leaders in the church were not CEO’s but servants who walked the dusty roads of the Roman Empire, paid their own way by working in the marketplace, and met with their fellow believers in homes. The early Christians met and prayed as they ate meals around the table together.

How does having a church campus the size of Microsoft promote this kind of Christianity?

Break up the big churches, I say! Let’s start a grass-roots movement of planting neighborhood churches. Set a limit at 400-500 people, and long before reaching that point, start sending teams to start sister congregations in other neighborhoods. This will allow pastors to be pastors, personally involved in the spiritual formation and pastoral care of their congregations. This will allow Christians to have churches close to home. This will give churches a defined context for ministry and help them to have a real impact on their local community.

I’ve thought about this, and I can come up with only one reason for big churches — it is an awe-inspiring experience when thousands of people in a worship service sing hymns together.

Honestly, that’s it.

At the risk of sounding too cynical, I tend to think the main thing that big churches accomplish is to make their pastors (and maybe their worship leaders) famous. These guys (and they are almost all guys) end up getting on TV, writing books, speaking at conferences, and getting their names splashed all over the Christian (and sometimes the secular) press. Simply because of their ability to build big impressive churches, they are considered models for us all.

Most of them are gifted, dedicated, sincere, passionate people. They are great CEO’s and visionaries. But if these are their gifts, why aren’t they out there in the marketplace, leading companies and having an impact in the world? In my view, they could probably do more good introducing Christian ethics and integrity into the vocations of daily life and business. Imagine how much better our communities and institutions would be if people like this were using their prodigious gifts to serve the world in the world!

I just don’t see the reason for big churches. I don’t see that they can do anything that a bunch of smaller churches couldn’t accomplish much more effectively and in greater harmony with the ethos of Jesus and NT Christianity.


  1. I’m late to the conversation, but I have several points, from some of the comments.

    Sometimes, even small Catholic churches have a hard time working together. Pastors can always choose to downplay what the bishop says.

    I like the idea that smaller churches can make it easier to get to know the other people, but if they don’t have a history of new comers, it is challenging. Most groups are set in their ways, and you have to fit to them perfectly.

    Larger churches, more opportunities, but you can get lost in the crowd, even if you are doing your best not to. At one Baptist church with a very good preacher, we used to make it a game to try to get him to speak to us.

    The best church size is whatever works for all involved, and makes it easy for the stranger to become a part of them. (assuming that the stranger wants to. I respect and understand those who just want to be anonymous)

  2. Tom Schirber says

    Why do we even think the church holds together anything more than cultural and social gatherings. I don’t think Jesus even notices the churches. He is to busy with hearts.

  3. I am not prepared to defend the whole notion of a mega church, but…

    You ask, “What can a church of 2000 that four churches of 500 can’t do?”

    Here are a few things that we(avg. weekly attendance 4000+) have done in the last few weeks.

    Hosted a funeral that was important in our community that was attended by 1500 people.
    Provided the local Sheriff office a place to host a Safe-Child Seminar.
    Hosted the regional women’s conference and men’s conference that was cosponsored by dozen of area churches, but only we could host it.
    Allow several of our specialist staff members to provide free training and equipping to area churches.
    Give away curriculum that we have written to dozens of churches because we pay someone full time to write curriculum.
    Release 4 pastoral residents into ministry service at church all under 500 because we have a full time pastoral development staff role and can afford to host one year resident as a gift to the Kingdom of God.
    Host the county adult basketball league because all the school gyms are taken.
    Pay to bring in seminary level training that is available to dozens of area churches because there is not a good seminary in our region. (okay, probably a network could do this, so I should have left it off but let me tell you these kinds of network are hard to maintain but if we just do it, everyone appreciates it.)
    And that is just in the last few weeks. It’s a good questions, but it does have an answer.

    There are great weakness to churches that have a large weekend service, but believe me we know and teach that church happens in small groups. I am not saying it is the only way and if I had to pick between one church of 400 or ten churches of 400 I would probably choose the later. But I am also convinced that healthy mega churches are a gift to the kingdom.

    I will make one final comment about our cultural moment. There are many people who shop at Walmart, and Lowes, drive across town to the mall, and the cultural experience of the mega church is highly relevant. Just as Paul secured a public (and probably large) hall in downtown corinth for his public teaching, I think that the mega-church service finds it biblical warrant not in the house church experience but in the Hall of Tyrannus and in the Temple experience of the very early church.

    That’s my 2 cents.

    • I agree with Ethan M. – there are many good things that small and big churches do! why criticize or put God in a box? He works where people can be reached – some people are reached there, others on a street corner, who cares. If someone’s getting saved, discipled, growing in Christ in any way, well, let it happen!
      To the people who are bothered by thoughts of why this or why that, or is this right/wrong/needed, etc, etc, need to get busy doing Kingdom work in the way God has called THEM, and let the rest up to God!! 🙂

  4. What percent of Christians actually attend a “mega church” ? Probably not more than 1%. And yet what an influence they have! What they really can do is promote change, make news, and use the media. The pastor of that church can get on the news at 11. The pastor of Assembly of God in Po Dunk cannot.

    Mega Churches represent the Capitalist, “Survival of the Fittest” model of church. They may not believe in evolution, but they are the product of it. But there is plenty of room in the church ecosystem. And besides, who knows the mind of the Spirit?

  5. I take it we’re not including the likes of Saint Peter’s Basilica here, but my two cents’ will follow.

    A church can have a thousand communicants and still remain as small and compact. I refer to mainline churches that have four or five services on a given Sunday. The only reason these services feel compact is that we work around a polyglot community. Central UMC in Manila, the Philippines, is an example. They are a big church (though puny compared to the other megachurches in the neighborhood) but they manage to keep things small, and there seems to be no membership drive (at least when I last visited).

  6. In the Byzantine era, a large church on a hill would cast its shadow over a city and just like the sick hoped to be healed by having St. Peter’s shadow pass over them, the Christians at the time felt protected by being in the shadow of a large basilica. A large building would be in order in a large city centre anyhow (because each city only had one church).

    For me, its not about the size of the church, but what the church is used for. If the size of the building is meant for the healing of masses of Christians, this must be good. If the size of the building is modeled after western entertainment venues and “worship” is more like a sing-along rock concert and the preacher is projected on a big screen – this is a problem. I don’t even think I have to say why this is a problem, do I? Church was never meant to resemble a Super Bowl half-time show. There is no need for all of those people to be in that one church, because there are so many other churches and locations for that kind of worshiper attend. If there was only one church in each city, I could see it getting big, but this is not the case anymore (sadly). Imho, churches of this size and style are spreading the delusion that bigger is better and richer is more blessed. Lord have mercy on us. We are weak enough as it is – why add greater temptations when we are meant to be worshiping God?

  7. As someone who has been a member of three large churches since 1987, I am not sure that I agree with you.

    If you disagree with the premise of the large church, then what do you do with the church at Jerusalem in Acts 2:41 where they had 3000 members? I think a lot of this discussion is centered more on personal preferences for church size. I was saved in a large church and have been in large churches. I have also been in small churches as well.

    There are pros and cons to both. In a large church, you obviously would have greater resources (money, people, etc), but also in a large church, people can be apathetic or lazy because they assume that someone else will do what needs to be done because of a plethora of people.

    Small churches provide a greater sense of community, because the group is smaller and it is easier to know people on a more personal level, but conversely, sometimes there are a lack of available and willing resources (people) to get things accomplished. Also, sometimes in a smaller church, people seem to know everything about everyone and sometimes there is no privacy or discretion.

    Again, I think it is more about personal preference. If it was a Biblical mandate, then we would have to ask the question about Acts 2:41

    • That church of Acts 2:41…apparently had too be scattered, to obey the heavenly mandate. Large corporate worship or cooperation is not the issue, however. If the functional units within the whole body don’t exceed the ability to mentor even the very meek and the internal processors, then, there’s only benefit to the greater pool of resources in a larger church. [I’ve found that small group process begins to be lost in house churches beyond a dozen or so, and pastoral groups of no more than a hundred or so]. After that–if these elements remain the fundamentals to the whole, the sky’s the limit–it’s a non-issue–as long as we don’t forget the imperative that Christ gave the very first disciples. That’s a huge caveat, BTW.

  8. This is from Wikipedia:
    Yoido Full Gospel Church is a Pentecostal church on Yeouido (Yoi Island) in Seoul, South Korea. With about 1,000,000 members (2007), it is the largest Protestant Christian congregation in South Korea,[1] and the world. Founded and led by David Yonggi Cho since 1958.
    How’s that for a Mega Church!
    To their favor, Dr. Cho is a strong proponent of small groups. Small groups are a way to grow churches in local settings. Members in a small group meet to study the bible or some other activity which promotes spiritual unity in Christ.

    I myself favor smaller LOCAL congregations. I am part of a denomination that in times past was more commuter oriented, that is, the church met at place A and EVERYONE went there. Even if it meant a two hour drive — one way!

  9. I agree with the post. I have, historically, belonged to or attended three “mega” churches. In each of them I was involved in some ministry or small group, or another. But I never got to know the Pastor personally, never had him in my home or knew that he was familiar with my life and struggles.

    In the NT, it describes pastors as those who not only taught the congregation in whatever was the “church” building, but as those who “went from home to home” to minister to the flock.

    I am so very blessed right now to be in a church like that. Last night my Pastor and our discipleship group came to my home. I know him as a human with faults, not a t.v. personality type to be put on a pedestal. And I know that he has that type of familiarity with almost all of our members (not yet with the newest ones, but he is getting there).

    There is a reason that description of pastors is included in the NT church descriptions and I think it was to caution us against getting to a place where churches became so focused around a particular personality that they would simply grow forever in order to be centered around that same person.

    Certainly I can’t disagree that a mega church can offer certain materials and financial benefits. But can’t the same be said of several smaller churches who work in harmony or support a particular ministry together? Thus allowing each of those churches to maintain a faithfulness to having a Pastor that is truly ministering to his flock, not just from the pulpit or a radio address, but in person?

    For whatever my two cents is worth.