Is Bigger Best?

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I was sharing lunch with a businessman and friend who chaired the board of elders at one of Southern California’s booming (at that time) megachurches.

They were launching into what would be over a 30 million dollar expansion which was to give them a building that would seat at least 5,000 for worship. The idea was to double the present size of the attendees from 5,000 to 10,000 and the 30 mil would allow them to do this.

He also admitted they were going this direction because they wanted to provide a bigger, broader platform for the senior pastor who was drawing more people than they could accommodate because of his charisma.

So I asked what seemed to be an obvious question:

“Have you or the church leadership considered the alternative of investing those millions into starting perhaps ten new churches of 1,000 each rather than expanding the present physical plant?”

His stare was blank. He admitted such a concept was not on the table. No one had even considered the idea of planting and multiplying, only of growing the present set-up larger.

The result: they built the building at great sacrifice and effort. The Sr. guy is no longer there. And the faithful in that part of Southern California continue to just circulate around to whichever megachurch meets their needs as consumers while the net number of unchurched people continues to rise.

While some may have considered bigger to be better, it is hard to believe it was best.

6 Responses to “Is Bigger Best?”

  1. Chad Says:

    Sam,
    I really enjoy hearing your thoughts on this subject. Thank you for being so bold about a subject so close to home.

    Chad

  2. Dave DeVries Says:

    Sam, you are right on! You are describing one of the biggest obstacles to missional activity: Mega-ism.

    Mega-ism is “the obsession with size as the measure of a successful church or ministry.” In America, size matters. Somehow we think that the number of people is a sure sign of fruitfulness and success. It’s not about size – it’s about making disciples who make disciples. A larger church should be the by-product of more disciples, not simply Christians transferring from another church.

    Your question is so obvious. How incredible it would be if more churches were committed to starting new churches that would start new churches!

  3. Mega-hindrance to growth « Corey Paxton Says:

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  4. Bob Middleton Says:

    Sam,

    This is an issue that has been on my radar for awhile now. As a pastor who has had experience with both Megachurches and small “local” fellowships I am not sure that trying to develop 10 churches of 1000 is necessarily the answer. I was part of a church of 7000 in which attempts were made several times to split off and multiply into smaller bodies but was never successful. While some of the local churches that split off still exist, they never rose beyond 100 members or so. Most of those who left to help came back to the original church usually because of familiarity and the charisma and teaching “ability of the Senior Pastor. Things didn’t change until the Senior Pastor left and some of the assisting pastors went to start churches of their own. The fact is, once a church gets beyond around the 150 person mark that Malcom Gladwell mentions in his book “Tipping Point”, most people in a congregation are there because of a connection with the teaching pastor or worship leader. It is difficult to make personal connections beyond that point. A Church may spend a lot of money developing a facility for a 10,000 member congregation but the same money would still probably be spent on 10 smaller facilities and maybe more.
    To me the issue is really the lack of Christian discipleship in the American church. It seems more and more American Christians are adopting a post-Christian lifestyle that is syncretic in function if not form. I think a lack of basic Bible teaching is partially responsible for this occurrence but it isn’t limited to it. Instead of following Jesus it seems more and more people in the leadership of the catholic (small c) church are more eager to build their own little fiefdoms in the Kingdom and the people in the pews sense this. Honestly, most Christians are just spoiled, and that isn’t limited to the “Mega’s”.

  5. Jenna Hedley Says:

    Hi there, I’m from the UK but understand what you are describing. I do, however, know of a family of churches that are doing the local church-apostolic-missional church planting thing fairly well. They have a few local churches in the states, but not many (yet). Here in the Uk, and in many other parts of the world they have planted from both small and larger churches pretty successfully. In their early days they faced some strong opposition, but through missional church planting and good solid biblical teaching they are really going for it.

    Anyways, check them out if your interested… http://www.newfrontiers.xtn.org/

  6. Brian N. Says:

    Sam – good post. I’m in a context where a 1,500-person church just had a very mess split. Carnage everywhere. But as Bob Middleton said, people came to this church for the senior teaching guy and the worship leader. Total consumers. Something drastic had to happen, and it did.

    Oddly enough, because we are fighting for our survival we’re not talking very much about the building! Who cares? For the first time we care about reaching out to our community, blessing and serving others! There a huge temptation to go out and get a superstar senior guy and bring in new consumers of the gospel, but we are trying to avoid the temptation.

    Tough sledding in the American evangelical church as we go through paradigm shifts from the mega movement to other new forms of church.

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