The impact of megachurches, both positive and negative, is detailed in my book, Changing Churches. The question I focus on in this blog is the issue of church size. Is big really better?
Almost 60% of the churches in the United States have 99 members or less. 35% have 100 to 499 members. Yet megachurches win most of the media attention. And megachurches are often the model smaller churches mimic.
Twenty years ago we visited a very large United Methodist Church in Ohio. We entered a vast sanctuary through one of many doors. The ushers at each door carried walkie-talkies to communicate with each other. People streamed in, mostly young and casually dressed. In 1979 the membership at this church stood at 118, with 90 in attendance each Sunday. They now "host" 4,500 people in five services each weekend.
The Perils of Bigness
Are there negative side effects to rapid and enormous growth? Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point, describes a "magic moment" that causes unexpected change, similar to an epidemic spreading quickly from one person and infecting vast numbers of people. Gladwell shows that the size of a group can precipitate dramatic change. According to Gladwell:
Congregations of a rapidly expanding church or the members of a social club, or anyone in a group activity banking on the epidemic spread of shared ideals needs to be particularly cognizant of the perils of bigness. Crossing the 150 line is a small change that can make a big difference.
Gladwell cites a variety of sources that indicate groups larger than 150 become alienated and divided. In other words, the larger the church the more difficult it is to be connected and to be united in purpose. Yet these are two qualities essential for an effective church. The desire by a church to grow bigger and bigger may be a man-devised goal. Little notice is taken of a church with 118 people. No church tries to be a small church. The world values bigness and large numbers.
We forget that Jesus valued faith the size of a mustard seed. We forget he chose only twelve disciples, and none with special credentials. The early church met in homes and multiplied itself by planting new churches. John Wesley did the same thing. That's why most every town has several Methodist churches to this day.
In an impersonal world we need to be in a church where we can know each other and are known by each other. Hopefully most megachurches make every effort to be connected and unified. I'm speaking here to Christians in small churches. Value what you have.
Every church is large in God's eyes, there's no such thing as a small or insignificant church. Jesus died for your church. That's how much your ministry matters to God. It is the Body and Bride of Christ.
Church growth, led by his spirit, rather than engineered by man, produces deeper faith and gentle growth. Family connections remain in tact and church unity thrives. Small churches are in the majority and many faithfully bring glory to God. We need to stop copying the big box churches and prayerfully commit to our church family.
P.S. For much more information on Changing Churches my book is available on Amazon. It describes our journey in three churches and also raises questions about changes in the church. See my reviews on Amazon.