Megachurches

The World Isn’t Looking For a Bigger Church, They Want A Better Church

Pastors want bigger churches.

Church members? Not so much.

Sure, a lot of people go to big churches. That’s what makes them big, after all. And the majority of them are strong, healthy churches doing great ministry. But if you ask the average member why they attend, “because it’s big” won’t even crack the top ten.

And non-attenders? Quite frankly, the default is to distrust any church they deem as “too big.”

Is that too simplistic a way of viewing the church? Of course. Every one of us can point to many exceptions to each of those rules. But those exceptions are… exceptional.

It’s only pastors who say “you know what the problem is with that church? It’s not big enough.”

The Growth Gap: How The Megachurch Phenomenon Has Unintentionally Isolated Small Churches

Sometimes it seems like the divide between big and small churches is so vast it’s almost insurmountable.

And it’s increasing, not diminishing.

Why is that happening? And why does it seem like that divide has grown especially large in the last few decades?

I think it has to do with the advent of the megachurches. Not that they’re bad. They aren’t. But the massive difference in size between megachurches and the typical church is causing an unintentional rift that we need to pay attention to.

The Growth Gap: How The Megachurch Phenomenon Has Unintentionally Isolated Small Churches

Sometimes it seems like the divide between big and small churches is so vast it’s almost insurmountable.

And it’s increasing, not diminishing.

Why is that happening? And why does it seem like that divide has grown especially large in the last few decades?

I think it has to do with the advent of the megachurches. Not that they’re bad. They aren’t. But the massive difference in size between megachurches and the typical church is causing an unintentional rift that we need to pay attention to.

What About Those Sheep-Stealing Megachurches?

There’s a lot of conversation going on about megachurches.

In my context of ministry to small churches, much of the conversation surrounds this question. Are megachurches actually reaching new people for Jesus, or are believers gathering into ever-larger groups, leaving crumbling smaller churches in their wake? (A phenomenon commonly called sheep-stealing or sheep swapping.)

Most of the time I hear these question, they come from a place of frustration and pain. Sometimes that pain has turned to anger – including anger at me every time I praise a big church.

These questions and concerns will only increase as megachurches keep getting bigger while small churches seem to struggle more than they used to. Since these two phenomena are occurring at the same time, it’s easy to think that one (megachurch growth) is the cause of the other (small church struggles.)

My take is that, while the two are related, it’s not a direct cause-and-effect.

Real Church Growth Doesn’t Just Make Bigger Churches, It Heals Hurting Ones

How did the church of Jesus grow for the first 1900+ years of its existence without any megachurches around?

That’s how long it took for the first megachurches to appear on the landscape. They’re the new kid on the church block. Until the middle of the 20th century, the relentless growth of the church moved forward, not through growing bigger churches, but almost exclusively through the multiplication of smaller congregations. And that’s where most of the growth of the church still happens today.

The church must always grow. The church will always grow. We know that because Jesus said he’d do it. In some places, that means larger congregations. In most places that means more healthy small congregations.

5 Ways Small Churches Help Big Churches Without Getting (Or Asking For) Credit

Big churches and small churches all have something to contribute to the body of Christ.

But, because of their size, the contributions of big churches tend to get noticed more. That’s okay. We don’t do this to be seen. (At least we shouldn’t).

And sometimes the attention that’s received from the glaring spotlight on big- and megachurches is unfairly harsh and critical. So our big church brothers and sisters need our prayer and support, not our jealousy and criticism.

But there’s an interesting side-story going on in the church that no one but small church pastors are in a position to notice. Small churches don’t just contribute good things to the body of Christ in general, we’re providing ministry for big churches that no one else is aware of.

Why Are There So Many Unhealthy Small Churches? (Don’t Worry, It’s Good News)

“I like the idea of small churches. But if they’re so great, why do I see so many more unhealthy small churches than unhealthy big churches?”

A small church pastor asked me that question recently. Not from cynicism or unkindness. It was out of genuine concern for a reality he saw.

To be honest, it’s a reality we all see. The vast majority of unhealthy churches are small. That’s unarguably true. What’s not true is his unspoken concern that most small churches are unhealthy.

The truth is that while the vast majority of unhealthy churches are small, the vast majority of small churches are not unhealthy.

Supporting Small Churches Does Not Mean Bashing Big Churches

I like big- and megachurches. I wish there were more of them.

I like small churches even more. I wish there were a lot more of them.

As I continue to write and speak about the value of small churches, I’m noticing a disturbing mini-trend that I want to opt out of. It’s the tendency in some people, when they hear that I’m for small churches, to start talking trash about megachurches.

“Megachurches are so shallow,” they say. “Big churches don’t care for their members as much as small churches do.” And “a large crowd is the sign of a shallow church,” are just a few of the comments I’ve heard recently.

And, of course, there’s the meme that keeps making the rounds showing a huge megachurch, with the words “When you tell them what they want to hear”, contrasted with a photo of a small, empty church, and the words “When you preach the truth.”

Ugh.

Not only is that not an accurate picture of reality, it undermines the power of the Gospel to draw people to Jesus, in both large and small crowds.

5 Principles Megachurches Can Learn From Small Churches

Small churches receive a lot from our megachurch friends. We read their books, sing their songs, use their curriculum and attend their seminars. And we’re grateful.

But the benefits don’t have to flow only one way. There are important, though less obvious principles that megachurches can learn from small churches.

Healthy small churches have characteristics that make them work. It’s not a mistake that over half the believers in the world choose to attend a small church. These principles can be a blessing to big churches too. It’s not that they aren’t being done by bigger churches, but they’re be more obvious in smaller ones.

As you read them, you’ll notice they tend to have one theme in common. Relationships.

What’s Better? 10,000 In One Megachurch Or 10,000 In 100 Small Churches?

Comparing small churches to megachurches is like comparing peas to pumpkins, or roses to redwoods. Each has a purpose, but those purposes are too different to determine a relative value.

. . .

Instead of comparing roses to redwoods, I’d like to propose a way to compare apples to apples without participating in the “who’s better?” game.

How about these two questions, side-by-side:

What are the benefits of 10,000 people worshiping in a megachurch led by one pastor?

What are the benefits of 10,000 people worshiping in 100 small churches led by 100 pastors?

Now that’s apples to apples.