Megachurches are Not Normal – And That’s OK

megachurch 200cMegachurches are awesome.

How could we not be grateful when thousands of people voluntarily gather together every week to worship Jesus? Everything about that is good.

But… (you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?)

But while it’s wonderful to see 3,000 to 30,000 people meet to worship Jesus in one massive church, it is just as glorious when 3,000 to 30,000 people meet to worship Jesus scattered over hundreds of Small Churches.

God’s power does not increase when we gather in large groups as opposed to small ones – or vice versa.

So why have we elevated one above the other?

More specifically, why have we elevated the megachurch to such a prominent place in much of our ministerial training? Not only is it celebrated, as it rightly ought to be, but we’ve come to see it as the norm – the standard by which all other churches should be measured.

Megachurches aren’t normal, they’re exceptional. Not exceptional as in better, but exceptional as in outside the norm – what Malcolm Gladwell would call Outliers. So why does the bulk of ministerial training treat the megachurch experience as normative, rather than the wonderful exception that it is?

Here are three reasons why it’s important for us not to treat megachurches as a normative worship experience: 

 

1. It’s Dangerous to Measure One Church Against Another

“How’s your church doing?”

I no longer answer that question by reciting numbers. I don’t talk about butts in the seats or bucks in the offering, because how my church is doing has nothing to do with butts in the seats or bucks in the offering. It has to do with life transformation, worship, community impact and more.

When we answer that question with numbers, we step straight into the comparison game. Even if no one says it, the moment the numbers are mentioned, everyone has a scorecard running in their heads. We know who’s “winning”, who’s “losing” and by how much.

If my church is losing, I feel defeated and depressed. If it’s winning, I get prideful and arrogant. Either way I lose – and so does everyone else who’s keeping score.

When megachurches are seen as normal, megachurch numbers are seen as normal. And that makes more than 90% of churches feel less than normal. That’s not healthy for Small Churches, megachurches or the people in them. The only way to win the church comparison game is not to play it.

 

2. Megachurches are Different and New

Megachurches are the new kid on the block. They are the exception, not the rule. And it’s not helpful to use unique outliers as our baseline.

When I say megachurches are the new kid on the block, that’s not a bad thing. The church regularly needs an infusion of new blood and fresh creativity. Megachurches have brought that in bucketloads. So no one, no matter what size your church is, or how long it’s been around, should put down megachurches for their size or for all the attention they get.

But that is a dangerous trend I see happening in some – but thankfully not a lot – of Small Church circles. Some churches and pastors are speaking ill of megachurches, not because their theology is bad, but because of their size, their newness and all the attention they get. In other words, jealousy.

When we criticize another church out of our petty jealousies, we run the risk of becoming the older brother in the Prodigal Son story – even though there’s nothing prodigal about megachurches. I, for one, want to greet my megachurch brothers with open arms and hearts. Any time that many people want to get together to worship Jesus, that’s worth throwing a party over.

But we need to stop acting like mega is normal. It’s not.

When we treat mega as normal, we end up treating anything smaller than mega as less than normal. That is neither helpful or true.

 

3. Small Isn’t Better Either – But It Is the Norm

There’s a growing wave of talk that Small Churches are the “new normal”. I’ve contributed to that idea myself in an article that’s become one of my most-read posts ever. But the reality is that Small Churches aren’t the new normal, they’re just normal.

So if you’re pastoring a healthy Small Church, congratulations! You’re normal! You’re part of a wonderful, 2,000-year-long parade of God’s people who have met in houses, chapels, tents, hillsides, bars, theaters, community centers and more.

Small Churches are the primary way most people have chosen to gather to worship Jesus for most of history. And, even in places where megachurches seem to dominate the landscape, Small Churches are still the way at least half of the Christians in the world choose to worship Jesus today.

Small Churches are normal. Megachurches are exceptional. Neither is worse. Neither is better.

We’re all in this together.

 

So what do you think? Does it help you to see megachurches as the exception, and your Small Church as normal?

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(Megachurch Aisle photo from Frank S. Malawski • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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