I have only been in ministry about 14 years. In that time, I have been part of two revitalization churches and two church plants. We have been graced with tremendous growth in all four churches. One church was a smaller church, but the other three have grown to be considered larger churches. I grew up in a large church. So, that is most of my church experience.
It goes through seasons, but periodically I will hear less than positive remarks from people about their perception of growing or large churches. Sometimes it comes from within the church — someone who may struggle as the church experiences growth — which always means change. The majority of time, however, the criticism comes from people outside the church making observations about the church.
And, those are the comments I’m addressing here. Comments from people who really do not have experience with larger or growing (especially fast-growing) churches.
These comments are usually well-meaning in terms of the person’s concern for the church. At least, I’m willing to assume. But, they are usually also generalized and often given without complete understanding about the specific church.
These type comments are easily repeated. Some people love to talk. If we are not careful, they become detrimental to the Kingdom. Because some of them — I would even say most — are simply not true. At least in the churches with which I’ve been affiliated directly. (Which are really the only churches we can definitively criticize. And, even then, the larger the church the harder it is to understand all that is taking place within in it.)
Here are 7 unfair criticisms of growing or large churches:
“All you care about is the numbers.”
This is always a funny one for me. Most of the time people who say this are in churches that also count numbers. I’ve been in some very small churches that even post their numbers on the wall in the back of the church. Numbers are important. In all churches. Because they represent people. For me, I don’t want to pastor a growing church where people aren’t equally growing in their individual walk with Christ. Every large church pastor I know personally feels that way. But, to know this one, whether you’re in the church or not, you’d really have to know the heart of the people in positions of leadership. I know this, however, it is certainly not a fair generalization of large or growing churches.
“You are just stealing people from other churches.”
I have found in my ministry a couple of things to be true. First, once someone is involved in their church it is a very difficult decision for them to ever leave. Regardless of the size of the church. Unless they are moving to the community or there is some major uproar in the previous church, it is fairly rare that a truly committed church member joins another church. Second, some people change churches frequently. If you look at their life over a span of decades they will have been in numerous churches. I have known some churches where their primary growth comes from conflict, church splits, or transferred growth. But, these are rare, in my opinion, and have not been the case in churches I have been affiliated with directly.
“You have too much flash and not enough depth.”
Again, this is a funny one to me. The people who are looking for depth – who know enough to be looking for depth – – it would seem to me would know that real depth; real maturity almost always occurs in much smaller settings. The worship service is only one part of discipleship. And, whether a church averages 40 or 4,000, there will need to be some smaller settings for people to grow deeper spiritually.
“People aren’t growing.”
I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard a comment such as, “the larger the church the more immature people you seemed find.” That’s a funny comment to me because I was always pretty good with math. It makes sense to me that more produces opportunity for more. More people — more potential for people who aren’t growing. Something tells me there are some immature people in smaller churches too. (Maybe even some of the ones who spread unfounded generalizations about other churches. Uh oh. Did I say that?)
“People aren’t cared for properly.”
That may be true. And, it might not be. Same would probably be true of smaller churches. In a large church you may not see the pastor every time you’re sick, but if they have a good care system you’ll be cared for in a Biblical community. I have witnessed countless stories of that in some of the churches in which I’ve been a part.
“You won’t get to know anyone.”
That would be like saying if you work at a large company you wouldn’t know anybody you work with. Not true. You won’t be able to just attend the large gathering, never speak to anyone, and expect to develop deeper relationships. But, something tells me, in every large or growing church there will be opportunities to get to know people.
“It’s all about the money.”
As with many of these, you have to think of things in a relative way. It is true that large churches require more money to fund the ministry. Again, that’s just math. But, all churches have a budget. It’s almost always proportional to the size of the church. I have loved watching some large churches that actually are very kingdom-minded and bless churches of all sizes. It’s been amazing to me, for example, to watch as our status church blesses smaller churches. This was something that was happening before me – so it’s not about me. But, I love it.
Here is my advice:
Be careful with generalizations. Look under the hood before you critique the engine. And, never throw stones at what you don’t know.
In fairness, people cast false impressions towards the church that isn’t growing. And, I certainly wouldn’t say that every church in decline or that has plateaued is “making disciples”. Some probably are. Some not as well.
People also make false impressions about small churches. Most of which are probably equally unfair. I have some good friends who are making huge Kingdom impacts in a smaller church. (I’d consider a well-written “7 misunderstandings of small church” guest post.)
Let’s be supporters of churches of all shapes and sizes. Let’s look for fruit, certainly consider the teachings, but take the entire ministry of the church into consideration before we offer generalizations — and certainly before we criticize someone with whom we are supposed to be on the same team.