Churches Are Too Big!

September 29, 2015

by Dr. Randy White

**This article was previously posted by Dr. Randy White HERE and is used by permission. 

The small church is not appreciated today, and I think that is a sad thing.

A “megachurch” is defined (by an anonymous somebody) as a church that has more than 2,000 in weekly attendance. In the 1980s, a handful of mega churches were born. Today, there are more than 1,600 of these churches across America. In the 2013 Outreach Magazine list of largest churches, the smallest of the top 100 had more than 6,000.

Though not all people attend a megachurch, I would venture to say (without statistical research) that in America’s cities, more people attend large churches than small, even if there are more smaller churches than large. The cities and suburbs are dominated by large churches with attendance of 500 or more in attendance.

Having been a pastor of both small and large churches, I think I can give a few observations that bring me to my conclusion that churches are too big.

Knowing Your Pastor

I speak as a Pastor, of course, but I think that knowing your pastor is a great joy. I don’t mean knowing his name, I mean knowing him:  fellowshipping with him, sitting in his study, hearing his joys and feeling his pains.

Through the years, I’ve tried to keep an open office and a published phone number. I found that most people respected the time sensitivities. But I also know that in churches larger than mine, this would be virtually impossible. A pastor is, after all, only one man, with the same 24 hours in a day that others have.  The fact is, the more people under his care, the more challenges he faces to  care for those people. Even when he desires to know “the sheep,” the challenges of doing so are insurmountable in a large congregation. One area in which I personally noticed this was in the area of outreach. For years I made it a point to contact new visitors and invite them to a meal with my family, usually in a local restaurant. I enjoyed these times of fellowship (and gained 40 pounds). After a time, however, I realized that I was creating a false-expectation. Truthfully, once they joined the church, I wouldn’t be able to have dinner with them again because I would have to move on to the next “prospect.” There are only so many meals in a week, after all. In time, I came to dislike the fact that I only had fellowship time for a prospect and not a member. Something was wrong with this picture.

I am committed to the fact that a church has one pastor, and this is the man who stands in the pulpit each week. As a Pastor, I want to know those I preach to. I want to be with these people at the most important times of their lives (birth, marriage, death, and all of life in-between). At these important times, I don’t want to be a professional, called in to perform a ceremony, but I want to be a pastor who has already developed strong relationships with the family so that I can best minister in the crises or celebrate in the joy.

The Growth Spiral

Here’s a truth you should know: the bigger the church, the more the church needs to get bigger. There is a “growth spiral” that becomes a necessity in time. There are two key areas in which growth demands growth.

First, a growing church has growing financial needs, and only growth in numbers can meet the needs. As the church grows, it will build a building. This is almost always done with debt, but even if it is done in cash, the larger building demands more staff, more equipment, and more utilities. The increase in staff, equipment, and utilities becomes a fixed expense. The only way to meet the expense is to increase the size of the congregation.

Second, a growing church has a growing social / psychological pressure to continue to grow. A growing church likes the excitement of seeing how many new members joined this week and how many attendance records were broken. This pressure may not be spoken, but I can promise you that the Pastor is very much under the pressure to do “whatever it takes” to feed this monster.

How do you avoid the growth spiral?  Why not do what churches used to always do: they started other churches. When the Pastor can’t know the people and the building can’t hold the people, a church should at least consider the option of sending a core group to start a new church. This will be healthy for everyone. Start a church, not a “campus,” which only exacerbates the problem.

The “Cool and Rich” Pressure

Large churches with “celebrity” pastors attract cool and rich people. The parking lots are filled with expensive cars, the pews are filled with pretty people.

But have you noticed that most people in our world are neither cool or rich…or even pretty? Most people are average. The mega-church is at war with average. As more and more people attend a church, the cool and rich will rise to the top in leadership and prominence, even if their spiritual substance doesn’t merit such rise.

I think that there needs to be place in a church–even in leadership–for the guy who doesn’t have the social awareness to dress for success, the lady who always has more month than money, and the family whose kids are a bit snot-nosed and sometimes find ways to escape the child-care prison called the preschool area.

The Dumbed-down Sermon

In-depth teaching is difficult in large groups. We know this almost inherently, but we deny it at church. Would any of us be happy to discover that our surgeon learned surgery in a class of 500? Would be we thrilled to get notice that our child’s elementary class had just welcomed 15 new students? We would not celebrate in either case, because we know that the most important learning happens in small group or one-on-one settings.

Here is “Randy’s Law of Learning” –As the material increases in complexity, the classroom should decrease in size.

In most large churches, the members are not good at understanding complex doctrinal issues because large-group sermons simply don’t allow it. The members are “generally Biblical” believers who are only equipped to paint with a large brush. The problem is that this is simply ineffective for the real questions of the skeptics around them. Even if those in large churches could attend a small class for these more in-depth issues, they simply don’t.

Do small churches take advantage of the small group for in-depth teaching? Probably not as much as they should. If a small church wants to distinguish itself, this is a prime area of opportunity in which it is uniquely equipped to excel in an area that a large church simply cannot operate.

Consider a Small Church

If you are looking for a church, consider a small church. The fellowship will be great, you’ll know your pastor (and encourage him), you will be able to grow in knowledge and in leadership.  –and your snotty-nosed kid can run the halls without being arrested by the church security forces (and will likely even make his way to the Pastor’s Study, where the Pastor will give him a hug, a piece of candy, and take him back to the nursery!).

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available

Bill Mac

This post is spot on, and yet the only people we consider to be worthy as leaders all across the SBC entities are megachurch pastors. “God’s man” always seems to be a megachurch celebrity.

    Andy

    While I can share a bit of this sentiment…How would we practically go about finding a good, competent SBC President? Assuming we were looking for a pastor (is that rule?)…how would we even know which small-church pastors could handle such a task? Big church pastors are well-known because they have made a mark somehow…written a book, led a large orginization, something has made their name become well known to those who might make a recomendation.

    I would say there is a slight chance we could have an SBC Pastor from a church of 500-1000 (which would be a lot smaller than recent Prez’s), but little to no chance of a president from a church of 50, 100, or even 200.

    Just my thoughts.

      Rob Ayers

      Your answer Andy shows all that is wrong with the state of our cooperative today. “Popularity” is equated with “competence” with “size of church” equating to “competence.” On the same level then Jesus would never be competent enough to lead any large church or convention apparatus. His “competence” was limited in only the core group of faithful followers, of which the inner circle only equaled 12 men.

      Rob

        Andy

        So what is your solution? How should we go about finding man who is currently pastoring a 75 person church, but who also is the right man to lead 45 thousand churches?

        (Also, incidently, Jesus had 12 close friends, a larger outreach team of 70 sent-out evangelists…and repeatedly drew crowds in excess of 4-5 thousand to hear him speak…so don’t sell him too short! :-)

          Rob Ayers

          Andy – your answer again presumes that a man being a shepherd of a 75 person church is incompetent in leading as President a convention of 45,000 persons – not because he lacks leadership skills, but because he only leads 75 people. That friend is the philosophy of the world, not of the Kingdom – for as the Master has said and continues to say to all who hear: “…those who would be first will be last, and those that are last will be first.”

          I have never sold the Lord short. On the contrary, oh you of little faith who would look on the outside at the so called popularity and success in “the business” rather than looking at the heart of the matter (See the Lord’s comments on this very issue in 1 Samuel 16:6-7). My solution to the problem would be how all the problems of the people of faith have been solved since Noah. We presume if a person has a golden tongue, sells a lot of books, and can gather a crowd then that what measures success in the church. It is not the number that follow you in the crowd that makes you a warrior in the Kingdom – but availability to follow the Master, and take up your cross. Yes, Jesus had many followers at first. But when the pedal reached the metal then they too went their way (See John 6:66 (how appropriate a number for a verse!)). There are many good men who have the ability and the availability if called upon to serve – and would do so at great sacrifice to themselves and ministries. Will we ever ask the Master about them? Or will we continue to look only at the eye candy instead?

          Rob

        Lydia

        “Your answer Andy shows all that is wrong with the state of our cooperative today. “Popularity” is equated with “competence” with “size of church” equating to “competence.”

        Bingo. So much of Christendom is immersed in cult of personality.

Andy

Some very good observations, I would only push back on 2 points:

1. “I am committed to the fact that a church has one pastor, and this is the man who stands in the pulpit each week.”

–> While I agree every church has one man who is the “Senior/Lead” pastor, Churches as small as 100 or less often have multiple pastors…who can assist in soul care. What IS a factor is when a church gets so big that the pastor does not know very many of the church members, and so doesn’t know what struggles might need to be addressed, whether from the pulpit, or elsewhere.

2. “In most large churches, the members are not good at understanding complex doctrinal issues because large-group sermons simply don’t allow it.”

While it this may be an accurate observation, I think the “because” is not entirely accurate. If we are talking about a Sunday morning sermon, One can deliver the same sermon to 100 people, or 1,000…with the same theological content. I would say the tendency NOT to do so is attributed more to the “growth Spiral” you mentioned…preaching what will appeal to the most people. For more interactive learning and applying of doctrine, smaller-setting groups are required, whether the church has less than 100, or more than 1000.

D. Morgan

Very well stated. While i do not disparage 1st Baptist Church of Megalopolis with 4 Sunday services and guides strategically stationed to keep the folks moving, you simply cannot beat a small church. The fellowship alone is worth it. And it promotes a greater involvement of the members in both church activities and in each others lives. Perhaps we are nostalgic for the early communities of believers in Ephesus.

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available