How Big is Too Big?

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I want to start with a disclaimer: I currently attend a large church (4,000+ attendees each week). Perhaps it is because of this that I have recently been pondering if perhaps the so-called megachurches of our day are hindering the spread of the Gospel. Hang with me here, because I’m only stopping to consider some questions that have been troubling me.

Large Church

This is not an indictment of any church based solely on their size. I know of many good things being done by large churches across the world. As I study the New Testament model for churches however, I am struck by how far we have deviated from that original design.

As churches grow in number, the talk inevitably starts to be about buildings. It is not uncommon for churches to embark on building campaigns in excess of $10 million. Throughout the world, children are starving, people are dying of preventable diseases, and women are walking miles just to obtain clean water. All the while, we are drafting plans for comfortable worship spaces with beautiful windows, padded seats, air conditioning and indoor plumbing. Where in the entire Bible did we receive such a command? We were told to look after orphans and widows, not build organs and windows.

A 2010 report by the Leadership Network revealed that the average salary for a megachurch (defined in this study as churches having attendance between 1,000 – 14,999 people) pastor was $147,000. Salaries of all respondents reached as high as $400,000.  The number of staff at a typical megachurch numbers 50, with the budget of the same typical church running over $5 million. Personnel costs account for 40-50 per cent of the total budget. I am not against someone making money in the ministry of the Lord.  It is troubling however when we see how much of the money that comes into large churches is actually spent on the salaries of those in leadership positions within the church. Once one factors in the mortgage payments on the buildings and the utility, landscaping and other costs, you find that only 2 cents of every dollar given to the church actually makes it to the starving masses in other countries (See “Giving Research”).

Contrast this with the New Testament church that gathered in small groups (Acts 20:18-20; Romans 16:3-5; I Corinthians 16:19) and shared their possessions with one another so that no one was in need (Acts 4:32-35). They gave sacrificially to serve the needs of others outside of their community (2 Corinthians 8; 2 Corinthians 9:12-14). Large churches are known for their many programs created for the involvement of their members. However, even well-intentioned outreaches target only small areas of their communities. If instead churches were small and scattered throughout our cities, imagine how many more neighborhoods we could reach with the love of God.

When was the last time we as a body of believers took the time to stop and genuinely question if the way we are doing ministry is the most effective manner in which we could be engaging? Years of tradition can blind us to potential weaknesses and opportunities. Isn’t it at least worth examining our methodology to determine if we could get a better return than five cents on the dollar? Can we honestly say that we are being wise stewards of the resources with which God has blessed us when only a nickel from every dollar is going toward feeding the hungry, healing the sick and protecting the orphans and widows? I am not claiming to have all the answers here, but I am a person who has some questions. How might the world be different if we were doing church as the Bible defined it? We can do better than five cents out of every dollar. Let’s get honest with ourselves and start to ask some questions about the way we do “church”. I believe there are answers to be discovered that will release us to shake the world with the love of Jesus.

Question: What are some ideas you have to rethink the way we have come to define “church”?