19 January 2008

Smaller church is better church...?

Many people don't like the megachurch movement for various reasons. Many of these reasons have begun a philosophy of ministry that can be summed up in "The Smaller, The Better." I find this to be a bad philosophy to fall under. Also, many who believe this are only attempting to justify the not-so-productive state of their own church instead of truly searching for the truth of what church can look like. This post is a list of only a few of those myths about how smaller churches are better than megachurches.

Myths of the "The Smaller, The Better" Ministry Philosophy:
  1. Smaller churches have better quality (or deeper) teaching. This is not true! I have been in churches of all sizes. I grew up in churches from 100 to 1000. During my college years, I attended churches that ranged from 50 to 9000! During my first semester of graduate school, I chose to regularly attend a church of about 8000. (I chose to go there because of the hard-hitting and powerful messages!) I've spent time learning under many different pastors of different church sizes, denominations, and preaching styles. My experience has shown that the pastors at the larger churches fed me more and gave me a better "punch in the face" to live like Jesus than I ever got in the smaller churches. I'm NOT saying that you can't get that in smaller churches. I'm only saying that I, personally, rarely received that sort of life teaching in smaller churches. However, bigger doesn't always mean better teaching either (take a look at my posts on Joel Osteen). All I know is that, in my experience, Perry Noble and Jon Weece taught me far more about following Jesus than any other senior pastor from which I've learned.
  2. Smaller churches truly worship God while bigger churches just entertain and put on a show. Before I get into anything, I just want to say that you can not judge the hearts of those present in ANY worship service, no matter the church size. Also, I hate to break the news, but there are most likely people in ANY worship service (of ALL church sizes) that don't genuinely worship God when they come to church. IN FACT, I would dare say that this is happening A LOT in most of the small churches throughout the southeast US. I say this because many people here in the south go to church because that is the "social expectation," not because they want to thank God for being their Lord and Savior. They go to church to show their face, making their appearance so that people will think they are good Christians and so they can feel good about themselves even if they don't live like a Jesus-follower through the week. Most of them are still going to the small, dying church for no other reason than "My great-grandaddy went to this church and all of my family has gone here since." This is the unfortunate church culture of the south. I despise it. It makes Jesus some social club, like joining the Kiwanis or something. NOW, back to my point. SAYING THAT BIG CHURCHES ENTERTAIN PEOPLE INSTEAD OF WORSHIP GOD IS ONLY A BAD EXCUSE FOR HORRIBLE MUSIC QUALITY IN SMALL CHURCHES. I'm sorry, but it's usually true. This excuse is used a lot to negate the spirituality behind the great quality music of larger churches. A small church can't have that sort of quality, is quite jealous of it, and so finds something that "must" be wrong with the larger church's worship. How dare us. Let's face it. Typically, smaller churches have poor quality music because there are little resources to pull from in a small church, while a large church has tons of resources to pull from (musicians, full time worship pastor, on-staff video/media directors, great sound systems, etc.). That's simply the truth. HOWEVER, just because the larger churches have these resources DOES NOT MEAN IT IS ANY LESS SPIRITUAL OR ANY LESS AUTHENTIC WORSHIP!!!! (Sidenote: Who is utilizing their resources better to give God the best worship service they can give: the larger church who gives intense detail to have the best quality possible in every minute of their service or the smaller church who throws a service together and writes a sermon on Saturday night and everything looks sloppy, struggling, and shoddy on Sunday morning? I've been in both and I know what my answer is. Lack of resources is no excuse for a sloppy service. I've led worship in a small church for years. I know firsthand! Everyone needs to step it up and put together all your resources to worship God best you can, no matter size...without bashing other churches' attempts at doing the same thing!)
  3. Smaller churches do more "discipleship" while megachurches just evangelize. FALSE!!! Typically, it is true that megachurch Sunday worship services are sometimes focused more on reaching the unchurched, I don't see this as a problem. This is a great opportunity to reach tons of people with the Gospel (and in case you haven't noticed, most of America is now unchurched). We have to keep this evangelistic emphasis! Please don't make accusations that bigger churches don't disciple believers. Megachurches usually run on a "small group" model, in which people meet in smaller core groups throughout the week and dig even deeper into God's word and how to follow Jesus. These groups typically range from maybe four to twenty people. They meet together to discuss life, struggles, and look to God's word for instruction in how to live life best in following Jesus daily. These groups are where people get to deal with the "nuts and bolts" of living like Jesus. However, when taking a glance at large churches, a person can't see these life transformations and discipleship taking place because this takes place outside of Sunday morning...during real life.
  4. Smaller churches have better fellowship because you know everybody. First, my experience has been that most "friendly fellowship" in churches is skin-deep...at best. So, no, you can't call the generic "how have you been?" and the "bless you..." as better fellowship. Second, if you think that everyone knowing who you are is better fellowship, then you might think you are more important than you really are. People knowing you is not the point of church, nor the point of fellowship. When in a larger church, I believe that truer fellowship can happen. When a person plugs into a small group that meets regularly and does life together, you actually get to know people on a deep level and also a social level. You also become close to those whom you serve with (because in larger churches, it is quite often a requirement of membership/partnership to serve in some form with the church). [Just a sidenote: Speaking of this requirement of membership, I love that most larger churches are asking this of those who commit to the church. I hate that many people in smaller churches who have been members for years do little to nothing to help the ministry of the church. Smaller churches tend to not push that one must serve. To partner with a church means to serve, not just use its resources.] Anyways, I would rather have 10 people who I deeply know and we deeply care about each other and help each other grow in following Jesus than have 100 people who know my name and ask me on Sundays "Brother, how are you this blessed day?"
  5. Smaller churches teach "doctrine" and "theology," while megachurches only preach practical messages without "true" theology. Look...we have made a bad polarization between doctrine/theology and practical teaching. When did learning how to manage God's financial blessings become a non-theology topic? Last I checked, God is certainly concerned about us doing our best with His money and blessings (just take a look through the Bible, especially Jesus' teachings!). When did learning about relational evangelism in the workplace and coffee shops not become a non-theology topic? Last I checked, Jesus went to Matthew's house to eat with sinners and then "ripped the Pharisees a new one" when they accused him of bad company. We have polarized teachings as either doctrinal or "watered-down." If the preacher doesn't use words with sixteen letters that people don't understand, then it's "watered-down." Yet, in those very messages, some of the deepest doctrinal truths can be expressed and transform lives without ever using "Christianese" words. Again, I have learned more about the real life of following Jesus from teachings at two megachurches I attended than any of the small churches I attended.
  6. Smaller churches are more concerned about real ministry, but megachurches are only concerned about numbers. Again, this is usually a horrible excuse for not reaching people like we are called to. Megachurches are "mega" because THEY ARE REACHING PEOPLE. Numbers don't mean changed lives, but I would bet that there are more changed lives out of the megachurch's 9000 people that they reach out to than out of the 50 that the small church reaches...Numbers matter because numbers translate as people hearing the Gospel and being given the chance to choose to follow Jesus.
This post is far too long and I'm sure I've repeated myself too many times in it. So I'm ending. I'm sorry if my thoughts offend, but I would question why they offend you before writing them off as false. Maybe they offend because we as humans too often go on the defensive without good reason. I feel like I have presented good reason for this defense. I want you to hear me one more time: I am not against small churches. However, my experiences have been far better in the larger churches I've been involved with than the small churches I've been involved with. Also, I'm not even part of a large church now, so please don't think that I am defending them for my own sake.

By the way, I caught some of the new "American Gladiators" on NBC while writing this and they had one of the cheesiest lines ever. One of the gladiators is named "Justice," and when describing him, the commentator said, "Judge...Jury...Ginormous." I just thought that was funny enough to post.


abram.rampey said...

codums, i love reading you blog. I look foreward to new posts all the time. you have such a passion for your beliefs. oh and the gladiator line was perfect.keep it up. i love you bro

Dustin Wilson said...

Very good post man. I really enjoyed reading it.

Ruth N. said...

Well, small churches with the right motivations become big churches. Sometimes it's easier to find a group of people, who dont even know where their great-grandaddy went to church, together and then help them understand that to get something they've never had they have to do something they've never done. I think that is what small churches don't acknowledge; their way hasn't worked for years! But who wants to be wrong, right? You said it the other night about the KJV-people have backed themselves into a corner and now their only response is to be defensive. I enjoyed reading, Cody.