“Megachurches are sprawling wastelands of Christianity. They breed heresy, they have abandoned the truth of the Bible and they care more about numbers and budgets than they do souls and eternity.”
You’ve probably heard that characterization before. I have. And a lot of the times that I’ve heard it, it’s come from someone who attends a small, rural church. The implication is that once a church reaches a certain number of regular attendees, it suddenly abandons the gospel or that there is no way to reach such a number without putting God and his Word to the side. If the people making such assertions were around during Jesus’ earthly ministry, they surely would have missed his feeding of the five thousand. You know, with there being so many people and all, it was obviously a man-focused gathering of people who cared more about food than good, solid theology. I’m sure that these folks would have been off to the side with a small group of faithful Pharisees, plotting and scheming.
I am the pastor of a small to medium-sized rural church. Nothing about us is mega. We aren’t cutting edge. We still do Sunday School, have a meet-and-greet, and have kids come down front during the Sunday morning service for a children’s sermon. I’m sure that there are things that we do that would make church growth experts cringe.
But we are still a part of the body of Christ.
And so is the church 30 minutes up the road where there are more people in the youth ministry than there are in our sanctuary on a Sunday morning.
We need to be very careful how we talk about other churches. I get it. There are megachurches that have abandoned the gospel and feel more like shopping malls than the body of Christ. But that isn’t the case with all large churches, not even megachurches. Yet, when we assume that it is, we participate in a form of soft persecution against the body of Christ, all the while assuming that our preferred brand of church is best.
I’ve been around a lot of small, rural churches. Some of these churches do all that they can to keep certain people out. They are led by powerful, shadowy men who have secret meetings. These churches look more like the Masonic Lodge than the body of Christ. As the pastor of a small, rural church, I certainly don’t want to be lumped in with the ones who get it wrong. But, for some reason, it’s okay for us to put the scarlet letter on all megachurches.
Much of this criticism is grounded not in theological fidelity but in self-righteousness. When we can point out the flaws of another church, it makes us feel better about the flaws in our church. And what better place to put our bulls-eye than the church up the road with 12,000 people coming this Sunday?
When I was in seminary I overheard two people talking about a church in our area which happened to be extremely healthy and theologically sound. The church also happened to be large and non-traditional. After one of the men stated that he attended the church and liked it, the other man responded with, “Yeah, but I don’t agree with their view of beauty.”
Their view of beauty?
Their view of beauty!
I don’t even know what that means so I’m sure that this guy would have a problem with my church’s view of beauty.
Here’s an experiment. Come to my church this Sunday. But don’t just come. Come with your spirit of discernment sharpened. Here’s what you’ll find:
Areas that need work.
And my church is pastored by a highly intelligent man, who is a splendid preacher and who only eats gluten-free bread. (Well, I do eat gluten-free bread; one out of three ain’t bad.) My point is that every church has flaws. Even our own. But it’s a lot easier to critique the specks at other churches than it is to address the rotten logs in our own.
By all means, do everything within reason to steer people away from the sprawling megachurch where the Bible is never opened and sin is never addressed. But don’t assume that all megachurches are that way. And don’t assume that small, rural churches are immune to the same errors. Many sermons have been preached in old country churches about getting back to the Bible without the Bible ever being opened. Many Sunday morning worship services in small churches have done more to get someone elected to the United States Senate than they have to exalt the name of Jesus.
God is sovereign. He is not confined to working only in tiny little churches that meet our attendance requirements just as he is not somehow bound to work only in large churches. It is Christ, not us and our numeric expectations, who is the head of the church.
And if we love Christ, we will love his church, regardless of the size.