Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Stop Stereotyping Super-sized Churches

In this recent article, Baylor University released a study showing that megachurches can often be a better place to make better friendships. Often the stereotype goes like this: people go to big churches because of the big show on Sunday mornings, but they don't really get to know anyone. People then go to small churches if they want to make real friends, and they have their priorities straight since they don't go to church to be entertained.

Of course there are real churches out there that support these stereotypes, but apparently they are the exception, not the rule. The super-sized church at its best keeps growing because it does a few of the right things right: people do make really good friends at large churches, which attracts more people looking to build great friendships, and on it goes. People do want to serve in a cause greater than themselves, and the larger churches often do a better job getting more people involved in more service projects that better align with people's gifts and schedules. They do this well, and then more people want to join them, and so it goes.

A small church ought not to focus on being small or large. A church ought to think of itself in terms of doing it's best to help build a strong community of Christians who love their neighbor, who worship their God with a whole-heart, and who are salt and light in every area of their world. The better a church does this, the more people will have life-change, and the more people will join the Way of Jesus.

What hurts small churches is their lack of commitment to doing their personal best/aka excellence. By taking a "relaxed" attitude, or overspiritualizing how a church grows, small churches sabatoge their efforts to make a difference in someone's life in the name of Jesus. The Spirit of God can use anyone anytime, but it seems throughout history that the Spirit likes to use humble hearts who do more than is required of them to do justice and mercy, who serve out of their giftedness and who work harder to get better at what they do.


Dennis Rowe said...


I agree that we cannot sterotype the larger church, or the supersize church. However, the opposite is true as well. The smaller church can do things with excellence, as well as impact it community for the cause of Christ in numerous ways as well, and infact many do, but because they don't have the huge numbers and in America we equate numbers with success and greater spirituality they are often sterotyped as being less spiritual, less innovative, less important. We need to focus on faithfulness, an being salt and light, working and praying together. Thanks for your thoughts

Kratz said...

I believe that the stereotype exists for a reason. While there are exceptions, in my LIMITED experience in attending 2 different mega-churches here in the Phoenix area, those 2 held up the stereotype rather nicely.

To quote the article: “We all know that megachurches have all sorts of flaws. They’re big; they have a wonderful Sunday service because they can afford a symphony orchestra. But they’re kind of cold, they have kind of, like, theater audiences,” said Baylor sociology professor Rodney Stark, the study’s lead researcher, noting common perceptions of megachurches. “All wrong.”

I completely disagree. Many people we talked to that went to these particular 2 churches thought that they were wonderful, but in my view and my wife's view, were incredibly "cold" and "theater-like" (I referred to the platform up front as a "stage"). Substance that should have been there gave way to cheesy "repeat 23 times" so-called praise and worship songs and shallow, watered-down bad theology from the pulpit.

I agree with the comment made above that the smaller church can do things with excellence. But it can also do things very badly. An extremely large church can do things with excellence (I have yet to witness it first-hand), but it can also do things very badly.

My question is: over the long term, can a mega church remain effective at what a church needs to do?

All we can do as Christians is pray that God will use us in our own unique situations.

(Tim - you had to know I'd weigh in on this one)

Tim Hallman said...

Kratz - as you noted from experience, there are plenty of megachurches that fuel the stereotype. However, I think it's important to notice that this article was commenting on the capacity of people to make friends at these churches. It's easy to stay lost in a large and small church - both institutions require the new individual to make an effort.

I was part of a 600member church for one year as a staff member, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Nothing about it was shallow, and it tried to get people connected. Yet I know people who felt it was a hard place to feel welcomed.

I don't think the question is whether a megachurch can stay effective - I think the real question is about time, not size. Can a church stay effective over the long haul? Can they keep ministering with high quality? Small and big churches have similar problems, just on a different scale: collection and allocation of resources is always "limited", quantity and quality of volunteers is a constant problem in both kinds of churches; focus on mission and community and care is a problem in both kinds. Can they find a "way" that works for them long-term? They key is this: can they get past the ten year mark? Can they follow a good ten years with a better ten years? Or will the next ten years be spent basking in the past ten years? You know what I'm talking about?

What do you think?

Kratz said...

I understand - but Amy and I aren't the type to sit there and expect people to come up to us and introduce themselves. We are pretty proactive in those situations. We don't expect churches to cater to us. One of the two mega churches we attended for some time was incredibly "cold". We would constantly introduce ourselves and just be our friendly selves, and almost always, people would just give us a cold shoulder. We just couldn't figure it out. The only theory I could come up with is that people had an attitude that they would never see us again anyways. I don't know. We tried to serve at the church, but the staff was incredibly rude while trying to get it set up and it kind of seemed like we were dealing with the driver's license bureau. Then again, Phoenix is not incredibly community oriented, per se, as everyone is in love with concrete block privacy fences in their yards. We are attending an very small church, but their volunteerism is very high and member involvement is high.

Large churches CAN be effective - but it seems like in my first-hand experience, that it quite often (over time) gives up on the little things. I think the mentality of running a church like a large, seamless corporation is taking its toll on the dynamics of a church. The large churches that I've been to do not take advantage of the fact that they are large. The things that these large churches did well could have been done at a small church as well.

As for the "time" issue - only time will tell - ha ha! Seriously though, I believe that a solid commitment to God's Word and solid theology will determine whether or not a church can stay effective over the long haul. A church cannot be built around what the people want (like Saddleback), but needs to be built around what God intends.