When it comes to churches, is bigger really better? There is a common assumption among church leaders and church attendees, that the bigger the church is, the better they are doing. More members, a bigger budget, a new building, additional programs, and better technology are commonly seen as really good things. But are they really?

What is a Megachurch?
The common definition of a megachurch is a church that has 2,000 or more in attendance each week. The megachurch mentality is more than just numbers, however. The majority of churchgoing Americans attend a church with 200 or fewer members. Nonetheless, it is the megachurch model that many churches claim as their pattern. The megachurch mentality involves a certain leadership, a kind of personality, a plan for growth and expansion, and a set of goals and priorities, dreams and aspirations.

The Influence of Megachurches Today
The megachurch movement is over a generation old. Reactionary movements such as the Emerging Church movement have appeared. Yet the megachurch still holds profound influence on the American church landscape. Megachurch pastors hold the most TV airtime, write the most popular Christian books, and affect more church leaders than any other single group of people. The megachurch is not dead.

Is the Megachurch Good or Bad?
Is the megachurch, or the megachurch mentality a good thing? Surely, many megachurches have many things to commend them. However, megachurches—and the thinking that affects megachurch wannabes—have several pitfalls. Here are some of them—and how to avoid them.

Megachurches often to place an improper emphasis on size and numbers to the neglect of spiritual development.
God has given us His plan for church growth, which has nothing to do with numbers. “The building up of the body of Christ” is true church ‘growth,’ which results in attaining…to mature manhood” (Eph. 4:12-13). The growth of the church should first of all be spiritual, not numerical. In an effort to avoid this numbers-game pitfall, church leaders must prioritize spiritual growth above numbers growth. In addition, they should be hesitant to expand the church’s numerical size without accompanying growth on the spiritual level.

Megachurches can allow individual members to get lost in the crowd, thus neglecting the specific needs of specific people.
The church is about member fellowship (Acts 2:42-47). In the biblical model of church interaction, members should be active serving one another, loving each other, and ministering to one anther’s spiritual needs. In a megachurch, it is possible for someone to slip in for the service and leave, without forming relationships, exercising his or her gifts, or experiencing the ministry of other members. This is, perhaps, one of the greatest dangers of the megachurch model. The larger the church, the easier it is to forsake one of the most important aspects of church life. To overcome this danger, churches should work hard at member interaction, perhaps developing a small group program to involve people in small, tight-knit groups for fellowship and spiritual development.

Megachurches tend to foster an entertainment model for church, rather than properly emphasizing involvement and interaction.
Megachurches are usually really good at what they do. They’ve got top-notch musicians, expensive A/V equipment, plush seating, amazing architecture, talented speakers, engaging drama, advanced technological accoutrements, and even good coffee served fresh in the lobby. But does all of this really foster spiritual growth? Some would say, “yes.” Others would question that claim, since it is easy for a member to be lulled into the entertainment of the experience rather than the spiritual impact of the service. Sitting back and enjoying the show is not what church is to be about. Megachurches must strive to involve members in ministry and focus on spiritual development, not just a great show.

Megachurches are often built and organized based on the interests and desires of the attendees, rather than the biblical paradigm of churches.
The flagship megachurch is Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, Illinois. Under the leadership of Bill Hybels, Willow Creek skyrocketed in population during the 80s and 90s, forming a blueprint of how to do megachurch. How did Willow Creek get as big as they did—to 23,000 attendees? One of the ways was by matching the church to the desires of their potential community. Prior to the founding of the church, Hybels and his associates spent months surveying the neighborhoods around South Barrington, discovering what people liked and didn’t like about church, music, worship styles, and traditional religion. The result of their survey was a guide for what Willow Creek was going to look like. The plan worked, bringing in thousands of new attendees each week. Unfortunately, with such a seeker-sensitive plan for church, it is easy to neglect the biblical model and priorities of doing church. Sure, the Bible provides some flexibility for how churches should function and operate, but a church should be careful not to allow the preferences of its constituency to alter the biblical model of church.

Though there is nothing inherently sinful or wrong about megachurches, we should occasionally stop to think about whether the megachurch mentality is really the way of doing church. We know that the early church grew by thousands, and those thousands were added to the church (Acts 2:41; Acts 4:4). However, there is more evidence to suggest that the “church” was a loosely organized collection of smaller house churches, not a massive single megachurch. Whatever our stance on the megachurch model, let us be sure that we make the Bible our touchstone for church growth.

About The Author

Daniel Threlfall

Daniel Threlfall has been writing church ministry articles for more than 10 years. With his background and training (M.A., M.Div.), Daniel is passionate about inspiring pastors and volunteers in their service to the King. Daniel is devoted to his family, nerdy about SEO, and drinks coffee with no cream or sugar. Learn more about Daniel at his blog and twitter.

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10 Responses

  1. Terry Reed

    Mega churches have much to offer and we can learn from them. However, the majority of people attend small congregations. The key to reaching the people of the world is the multiplication of small churches.

    Terry Reed

    • Virginia Gilbert

      I couldn’t agree more. Well, maybe I could — I would add that the key to reaching people in the neighborhood is the multiplication (or resuscitation) of small churches. And perhaps we could take a lesson from gardening: sometimes the best way to revive an older plant such as a hosta is to divide it. Along with planting new churches, evangelists might look into encouraging existing churches to divide and multiply.

      • Dave Gilbert

        Virginia, I agree, the small church (like a family) can be the most fruitful nurturer of spiritual growth. (Of course, megachurches can draw in some folks who would otherwise never open a church door.) My grandfather pastored a small, rural church for many years and was enormously successful with his modest flock, yet with never a hint of expansion.

        (His name was George B. Gilbert, and he wrote of his experiences in the book “Forty Years a Country Preacher” — which included a foreword by my aunt, Virginia Gilbert.)

        Thank you for sharing your thoughts — “divide and multiply” should always be an option.


  2. wanda

    Yes, I agree that when a church focuses more on numbers than on spiritual renewal, that it deviates from the “true” model of what Christ intended the Church to be. However, just because a church is small doesn’t mean that it’s functioning as it should. I’ve seen smaller churches that languish about getting caught up in programs and insular activities of the past that have nothing whatsoever to do with reaching out and evangelizing the lost. They don’t grow for a lack of vision and they seem to think that God is only as big as the four walls of their sanctuaries. I think the ideal church (if there were such a thing) would strike a balance. It would hold to Biblical truths, lifting up the name of Jesus first and foremost, using the tools at their disposal to witness and to introduce Him to those who don’t know Him and then doing a grand job of discipling those folks, so that they, in turn, can disciple others. Yes, there are some megachurches out there who are totally missing it. And their 40,000 are going the way of the leadership But when a church, no matter how large or small, trusts the Lord to do the impossible, He always does.

  3. Brian Russell

    I pastor a church of under 200 in attendance on Sunday Morning and many of the statements that are made in this article are part fo the small church mentality too. People slip in and out of a small church service every week in thousands of churches and no one even says “hi” and yet we don’t seem to point that out. Ushers count people every week in a small church and get excited if 10 more people showed up this month copared to a year ago. Growth they call it when all in reality it is the result of 2 christian families moving into the area. Small churches mess up with discipleship just like mega-churches, and yet it seems that when one mega-church admits it and changes dramatically to make disciples, the small churches bring out their bows and arrows and let fly. I have found that when asking small church pastors what their plan for discipleship currently looks like, I sometiems get blank stares and mumblings. Missions is a focused effort in discovering the needs and interests of the people you are trying to communicate the gospel with, in a manner that is relevant to the culture….is it really that bad to discover what the felt and real needs are of a community? When I read what people write about mega-churches or small churches, my main concern is that we try to work to gether and build each other up to do the work of the kingdom. It is true that some mega-churches seem to have demi-gods leading them, but lets not throw out the mega-church with our small view of size and what really matters. I don’t really care if the church is large or small but if the teaching is biblical and relevant. I also think that those two words go very well together. The key to reaching the people is demonstrating a love for each other that is attractive to those outside the kingdom of Jesus Christ. In all your pursuits….get love….whether in a large church or a small church.

    • admin

      Well said Brian. In the end, big or small it is about the truth, power and life which is Jesus Christ. The center and foundation of everything. When your church is build on that and He is the true shepherd, the size is not a factor. May the Lord help his body to see past these unimportant things and look to Him for guidance, direction and leadership.

      Sharefaith Team

    • Florence Johnson

      I have given the megachurch concept a lot of thought, and prayer as well. I agree with the article, as well as the striking of balance between the two, (i.e.) small and large and or mega-churches. I have expereienced both.

      This is what I believe with all my heart. Read the scripture when Jesus met with Peter and his fellow fisherman one night and Jesus and Peter had the conversation regarding his fishing all night. Jesus encouraged Peter to go back out and fish again. Peter responded by saying and I paraphrase…we have been doing this all night, but at your word we will try again, and of course he did and the catch was tremendous (here’s the biblical principal) the catch was so tremendous they had to signal their fellow fisherman brotheren to come and assist because they had so much.

      What was Jesus saying here? As we know Jesus said follow me I will make you fisher of men. The catch is to be shared. If you have so much fish then the boat will began to sink. Sink into counting heads, sink into, shows of entertainment, sink into numbers and not gospel. the things I have seen not only mega churches, but any church who find themselves trying to get numbers instead of salvation and deliverance through the gospel of Jesus Christ. To get to the place of trying to week after week come up with entertainment, and programs to keep the numbers and people up is…well I don’t know at this point what to call it.

      Call the other bretheren and call out for help, how many people can you effectively serve when you get up into the tens of thousands. Where are the mega ministry’s going with this and when and how will it end. God alone will judge.

  4. Betty Moore

    I very much appreciate your article. I am the wife of a pastor of a very small church. We became a church after first just being a Bible study, which we began after leaving a church that aspired to mega-hood. Our family had been involved in that mid-size (600) church for nearly twenty years. The preaching was never very deep but we felt that we should be there to serve. Then we began to realize that, slowly at first, then steadily faster, the focus was becoming something other than what it should be: the equipping of the saints to do ministry. Suddenly numbers became more important than anything else, so policies changed so that we could get more people in the building. The actual teaching of the Word was shoved farther and farther to the back burners as leaders began to embrace models of pragmatism, that is to say, “if more people are coming we must be doing it right.” Anyone who questioned that plan was castigated, isolated and encouraged to leave. We left…because we believe that church is not to be modeled according to the results of polls, whether within the church itself or out in the neighborhood with the primary goal of expanding numbers. Believe it or not, those who don’t know Christ also don’t know their real needs and, contrary to many popular opinions, perception is not reality. We see this in John 4 as Jesus meets with the woman at the well…she certainly didn’t perceive her real need until He showed it to her. If He had been there only to meet her felt need He would not have shared all of the uncomfortable truth of her situation with her…her sin, her need of a Savior. The reality of the situation was that she needed to be saved and Jesus Christ was her salvation…that was real. Reality is reality, truth is truth and all truth comes from God. He put that truth in a book and He put that book in our hands, then He tasked His people to share it with the world so that none should perish.
    How many will there be who hear from Christ…”Depart from Me I never knew you” because they faithfully attended a really fun event each Sunday where they were fed great coffee, some pastries and words that they ‘perceived’ to be spiritual, but which contained nothing of the actual gospel? When the deity of Christ, His preeminence as Sovereign, begins to come after the desire to meet felt needs, then the “church” is no longer what He established it to be. Many churches, in an effort to attract more attendees, are even changing their names so that they won’t sound too churchy.
    Regardless of the size of a church, which is God’s pervue according to the second chapter of Acts…is it not?, it must operate under His leadership and according to His instruction, His Word. Church is the place where the family of God gathers to worship, to learn and grow and become equipped to spread the gospel of reconciliation. Of course we must be willing to receive, warmly, anyone who comes in the door, whether they are believers already or someone who has never picked up a Bible before…but we aren’t to change what church actually is just to try to get more bodies through the door. God, through His Holy Spirit, is the one Who calls, saves and gifts us. He’ll add to the church such as are being saved as we obey Him and do what He told us to do, preaching salvation and making disciples. Evangelism is what we are all called to do…in every walk of life. We aren’t called to just sit and listen to the pastor preach the same, joke heavy, Bible light message every week and then have some coffee and doughnuts with each other and walk out the door to do nothing more than invite our neighbors to come do the same thing with us next week.
    Since when are all believers not expected by Christ to share His message with our neighbors and families? When did it become ok to abdicate that position of servanthood? And how can we share the love of Christ without explaining why He needed to die on a cross? If we cannot tell people that they (like we) are sinners, that there is a penalty for sin (that banned word “hell”)and that Jesus paid the penalty for our sin, becoming our Redeemer as we humbly believe and receive… If we don’t tell them that He rose from the dead, proving every word He said about being One with the Father, and that He lives as the only Lord of all who come to Him in faith…then what’s the point? There are plenty of places people can go to have ‘felt’ needs met. Church leaders need to stop taking polls about felt needs, the results of which have turned “churches” into really big, flashy coffee bars. The more we strive to turn church into just another cool place where no one will ever feel uncomfortable (sin should make us uncomfortable and hell even more so)…the less we will stand on the foundation of the Word, in its entirety…the less we will trust that God is now, and has always been, in charge of growing His church and the more churches, large or small will become mere shells of what they should be. You want your church to be relevant? Trust God and His Bible…He is as relevant as it gets, He always has been and He always will be. He’ what people need whether they ‘perceive’ it or not. That may not always be popular but it will always be right. As I read it, God didn’t tell us that we’d always be comfortable…He told us that He’d never leave us or forsake us. Let’s model that no matter what size our churches are!
    Your article is real and pertinent and I am grateful to have read it. Thank you.

  5. Milton Gregory Grew

    Might not the mere fact that one goes to a “mega-church” be enough to give one pause and think they might have taken the “broad and spacious road” that Jesus said was a dead end in Mattthew 7:13?

    • Betty Moore

      Well said, Mr. Grew. In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (NKJV) Basing the success of something according to numbers may be the way of the world, but it isn’t the way of the Lord…and church is not, first and foremost, a business.