Big churches! Multi-site campuses! Church planting movements! Megachurches! It’s all the rage. How often have we stopped to think about the bigger-is-better mentality about church? Could it be that we’ve got it all wrong? That maybe bigger is not better? That maybe the megachurch model is actually not working? That maybe the more effective church is a smaller church?
Should You Make Your Church Smaller?
It’s a revolutionary concept, sure, but think about it a second. Ask yourself these five questions, pausing a moment on the last one to check your motive and passion for a larger church.
- Are you reaching out as you should be, or is your church focusing exclusively upon inward maintenance? One of the biggest (and oft-deserved) perceptions of massive churches is that they are more concerned with their own members than with reaching the lost. It is a sad reality that churches spend millions more on a more comfortable experience for the church club than they do reaching the throngs of people who are without Christ, who are suffering in need, and who are desperate for help of any kind. Sure, a large has more resources, and thus a higher likelihood of potential impact, but it is also true that a larger church has a higher level of preoccupation with member matters.
- Are church attendees slipping through the cracks or are they actively engaged? In a smaller setting, it’s much easier to find and focus upon newcomers and seekers. Discipleship doesn’t happen while sitting in theater-style seats and listening to a thirty minute message once a week. Discipleship is a person-to-person activity carried on in small settings. Pastors of large churches are rarely, if ever, knowledgeable about every person who attends their church. In a huge church, it is easy to get lost, to be utterly lonely, and to be virtually forsaken.
- Is there unity and cohesiveness, or spectatorship and fragmentation? Most people find it hard to achieve closeness and unity with others in a large group. This is precisely a problem that every megachurch grapples with—how to achieve unity. Thankfully, many large churches have thriving small groups ministries. On the other hand, some churches just let the fragmentation happen, clinging to the hope that some of the mud will stick to the wall.
- Are members given an opportunity to minister and to exercise their gifts? In one large church that I attended, it was hard to find a place to serve, simply because so many people were already serving. It’s a good problem to have in terms of the willingness of people to serve, but it could indicate that there are simply too many people at that church. If people are simply coming for the show, and not finding a place to get connected and serve, then there is a problem with the church.
- Are you seeking the glory of God and the best for your people, or are you driving for personal ambition and self-glory? It’s easy to beat ourselves up over our ambitions, constantly second-guessing ourselves and spiraling into a hole of self-deprecation and guilt. Every now and again, however, it is helpful to take a glance at our heart. Are we on track? Are we really doing what we’ve been commanded to do as ministers, church-planters, and pastors (1 Peter 5:2)?
We’ve gotten into our minds that when it comes to church, bigger is always better. But is it? Is it really the best approach for achieving the goals of the church?
Is truly “strategic” to engineer a more appealing worship experience to draw in people who wouldn’t otherwise come to church? Is it not better to reach out then to hope to attract people in? Is it really our mission to create a better experience through expensive stage effects or witty one liners? Are we making a wise investment of time and resources by trying to pack in more people in, build up bigger buildings, and raise the church budget?
Or have we totally missed out?
Maybe it’s time to undertaking a shocking goal. Maybe it’s time to start a seismic shift that could dramatically improve your ministry. Maybe it’s time engineer a strategic church split. Maybe it’s time to shrink your congregation, thus expanding and creating more churches, more faith communities, and more areas to worship and thrive. There is no problem with more churches, but there could be a problem with the drive for bigger churches.
And maybe, in the process, you’ll find truth growth—a deep, meaningful, and life-changing growth that makes bigger numbers seem utterly inconsequential.