What are the Benefits of a Large Church?

I have been pondering this question for a little while, and before I post up some reflections of my own, I thought I might fire it out for my readers to comment on. Here in the UK we are seeing the emergence of the “mega-church”, and many churches are eager to grow into the thousands in size. But of course this is not without controversy. For example, Eugene Peterson has resolved never to serve a church so large that he could not remember everyone’s names (from the introduction of “The Contemplative Pastor”).

So are large churches really that desirable? Would it be better to have more smaller churches? Here is the question I would like you to answer:

Is it preferable to have 10 churches of 300 or 1 church of 3000 in a town?

I chose 300 as a size for the “small” church as it seems to be a generally agreed on “nice size” for a church. It’s big enough to have the resources to do all of the things a church should be doing, and small enough for people to know the names and faces of everyone else in their church.

At the moment, my thinking is that there is potential for a large church to take advantage of its size to accomplish things that smaller churches cannot do, but this will not come automatically – the church must be deliberate about putting its 10 talents to good use. Also, the large church must find ways to ensure that there is real community amongst its members, even though many will not know each other.

There’s lots more that could be said, but I’ll hold back until I’ve had some feedback on this issue.

6 thoughts on “What are the Benefits of a Large Church?

  1. I’m part of a church of 450 that exists as 4 congregations of around 100… Having been part of congregations of 300 and 600 I have to say small is good… though it presents challenges for resourcing, and we do do some stuff cross-congregationally, particularly in youthwork.

    Smaller should help develop people in ministry. For example. I think we have a preaching team of over 15 people… if we only had one large congregation it strikes me as unlikely that that would be the case… likewise other areas of service.

  2. Hi Mark,

    A priority must be the ‘local’ impact of any given Christian community and the more ‘dispersed’ (meaning, coming from a large geographical spread) the congregation, and the more ‘centralised’ the church governance/focus, the higher the risk that the ACTUAL community in which given Christians live (along with all it’s complex needs) won’t benefit from the ‘ministry’ of the larger church.

    An example would be a small suburbian village/town which has it’s Christian community ‘drained’ as they attend a larger church 5-10 miles away, to the detriment of the local ministry of the village/town church (usually Anglican, but perhaps URC/Methodist/Baptist etc…).

    One ‘excuse’ for this that I’ve heard is that the Christians from said village/town could then run a ‘cell group’ in their local context and this would allow for a local ‘impact’ of such a cell group, but – realistically speaking (and I’ve personally experienced all that I’m talking about) – one’s ACTUAL focus becomes the ‘mega-church’ and ITS local context and ministries.

    Being IN a village/smaller town community is not about ‘impacting it’ from on high through a mega-church cell group, but just ‘being’ part of the local setting. Attending the church services, being part of the toddler group, helping out at the carol services/easter joint services etc….

    Where your treasure is, there will be your heart and mega-churches do tend to be ‘treasured’ by those involved with them…

    No – I think mega-churches drain Christian resources from areas where they are most needed, as well as encouraging people to buy into the ‘bigger is better’ paradigm, which can be oh so short term in it’s focus and understanding.

    My desire would be for churches which are as large as their local contexts would need them to be. So in a small village one isn’t going to get much bigger than 100+, in small town perhaps 200+ and in a housing estate with in a large town/city perhaps 300+.

    Once you get above these numbers you are going to be draining resources from another area.

    Of course, there’s nothing to stop the occasional ‘mega-meeting’, but I think you’re talking about a completely different thing altogether.

  3. Could it be that God doesn´t grant many big churches in this country for that very reason that we can´t handle them? If there are principles of shepherding/discipleship/leadership (whatever you want to call it) in place, then is it necessary for the senior elder or pastor/teacher to know everyone´s name? Or would it suffice that he can rest assured that everyone who is a member of his church is indeed known by a cell leader or an elder and is sufficiently cared for? I suspect that in too many churches, it´s too easy to slip in and slip out.

    I was really encouraged when a few of us went to the Church of Christ the King, Brighton all night of prayer that we were approached by an elder who hadn´t seen us before and wanted to know where we were from and what we were doing there! Could recognising new faces be a new gift of the Spirit or is it just hospitality?

    So I am a fan of big churches. I think that they fulfill the “light to the world” mandate. The world can´t dismiss churches of thousands off as the lunatic fringe, particularly when their life in the Spirit is spilling out into social action, ministry to the poor and so on. But big churches have to work properly or they will just become preaching centres or worship centres and lose the thread of church altogether.

  4. I can’t speak for things on that side of the Atlantic, but here in the Southeast United States, our church is over three thousand members but it’s split into about two hundred small groups, most averaging probably twenty people a group.

    My wife and I recognize the necessity of the smaller groups, but so far have not found a group we fit comfortably in. I believe that there is room for both types of churches, as long as the large churches split up into home fellowship groups and the smaller churches are willing to ‘team’ together with other congregations so that they can pool their resources towards larger-scale outreaches when possible.

    On that note, here in Atlanta, Georgia, we have a yearly event called ‘Unite Atlanta’ where many local churches, large and small, team together for community service projects all over the city. Last year, the inaugural event seems to have had a very good impact on the city’s residents, and I’m sure this year will be even better. It’s good to see churches banding together in unity.

    Back to the topic, the only potentially _bad_ thing I see in large churches is the fact that a visitor can still ‘hide’ in the anonymity of the crowd, and people who desperately need help might not receive it because they’re too shy to ask. (shrug) There are good and bad aspects of it. I guess it all comes down to the direction God leads the leaders and the humility of said ministers–if they’re prideful self-seeking individuals, then it’s unlikely that there would be any *genuine* ministry going on.

  5. Thanks everyone for your thoughts. I’ve posted a new entry on this issue, and I’m going to take a while to digest your ideas and respond to some of them later.

  6. I’m all for 10 smaller churches. We’ve just left a mega church type thing ([probably around 1400 members, with more in attendance) and I’m not even sure they know we’ve left. We went there for 7 years and were always very involved in leadership and have been gone for 5 months and are still receiving mailings. (And yes, we told them we were leaving, though I guess we didn’t formally ask for our membership to be removed) We never received quality care, I can’t remember a pastor ever laying hands on us for prayer (though we met monthly for what I would call administrative meetings with a pastor and other small group leaders) or receiving prophetic words, or just have a normal meaningful relationship. We were all too busy running the machine to get together and just be people and really know each other. You wake up one day and realize you don’ t know anybody and nobody knows you, and that’s not the love the church was meant to display to the world. The church should be showing the world big love, not big productions. And yes, it was sickening to see how the money was used. Of course I’m sure it’s possible to avoid some of these pitfalls of large churches, but it wouldn’t be easy. I think our culture is far to individualistic and we place far too great an emphasis on our individual faith –personal Bible reading, prayer and worship–instead of true community. Most of us have no idea what a true community even looks like so we settle for the giant crowd and excitement of it all, but too often it’s very very shallow and unfulfilling. While I have strong opinions about this, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that big churches are wrong or bad. My experiences have definately biased me.

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