When you think of large churches and mega-churches, what comes to mind?
If there’s one thing I learned from writing about the church, it’s that some people hate megachurches. With a passion.
I try not to engage the trolls and the haters in the comments on my blog (engaging them just gives them what they want). But I’ve also noticed that even among normally more balanced and nuanced church leaders, it’s easy to take swipes at megachurches.
Sometimes I wonder how much of that is born out of envy, a sense of inferiority or simple misunderstanding, but after years of hearing people complain about large churches and megachurches, it might be good to re-visit the subject more intentionally.
A while back, someone left this comment on about some large church pastors who burned out:
Wish these guys would get wise and start obeying Scripture and follow the New Testament model of interdependent churches under presbytery rule with representatives. Of course these preachers get burned out. They’ve made themselves the lynchpins of megachurches. They should get burned out. It’s a bad model of church government on many fronts, and it’s actually from the mercy of God that these men burn out. Churches are meant to be small, tightly knit communities, not splashy corporations. You build a monster, you get devoured. Or you become a monster. Burnout of megachurch pastors probably saves souls.
Burnout of megachurch pastors saves souls? I wish I was making this up. But I’m not. Somebody actually wrote this.
Are megachurches perfect? No. But no church is perfect, including small and mid-sized churches.
There’s nothing wrong with small church. There is something wrong with dead church.
And occasionally, when small churches start to reach new people, they become mid-sized churches. And then, before you know it, some of them become larger churches. Then what?
If you go to a megachurch, you will discover thousands of people whose lives look more like Jesus a few years down the road than they ever did before. You’ll discover people who have placed their faith in Jesus and who are being transformed by the love of God (and you’ll discover that in small and mid-sized churches too).
You know who isn’t being transformed by love? The critics.
Think about that for a while. And maybe worry about that as well.
4. People don’t like attending large churches
This is a fun argument to spin because it sounds like what Yogi Berra said about a certain New York restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
While it may be true that there is a cultural trend toward smaller, the truth is people in continue to flock to megachurches. Studies continue to show that megachurches keep getting bigger and there are more of them every year. And even a more recent study shows churches over 250 in attendance are more likely to be growing and seeing people become Christians.
Large churches are doing a better and better job of making things smaller too. The launch of new, smaller campuses and smaller worship spaces are models many megachurches are adopting.
The paradox is that large churches keep getting larger and smaller at the same time. Which is one of the reasons they keep growing larger.
5. Megachurches are unbiblical
This is a common criticism of megachurches. People don’t like the lights, the structure or “CEO” style leadership.
I’m just not sure the argument stands up, though.
First, the critics of megachurches are rarely practicing what might be called ‘biblical’ forms of church. My guess is most don’t get up at 5 a.m. each day before work, get together with other Christians to pray and promise each other that they won’t cheat on their wives, that they’ll care for the poor and stay faithful to Jesus.
My guess is they’re not reciting ancient canticles, gathering daily in each other’s homes and radically pooling their possessions to care for the poor and help other fledgling churches fuel the rapidly expanding Jesus-movement. If they are, my hat’s off to them. This is probably a fair representation of the form of first-century Christian worship.
The reality, of course, is that the church has always changed, adapted and responded to changing times.
Organ music, now seen as traditional, obscure or even quaint, was the ‘radical’ new worship of the nineteen century.
It’s so easy to confuse the method with the mission and preferences with principles. The methods change. The mission doesn’t.
In fact, if you want to jeopardize the mission, never change your method. You’ll become irrelevant in a generation. Just Nest and Ring have changed home security, Lyft and Uber have disrupted taxis, Airbnb has changed the hotel industry and the way we vacation, it’s not that people gave up on home security, transportation or accommodation, it’s just that how we now do that has changed.
Ditto with the church. There may be a day where large churches are no longer an effective way to share Christ with others. If that’s the case, they’ll fade. In the meantime, though, if they continue to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus, why stop them?