UPDATE – March 5, 2016: There’s been a recent flurry of activity over comments made by Andy Stanley, pastor of Northpoint Community Church in Alpharetta, GA. You can listen to those comments here. Andy has since apologized in a tweet and is likely to expand that apology along with clarification via his expansive communication resources.
I like Andy. He’s a great communicator and leader. There are aspects of his comments that I understand, but would not have communicated the way he did. Unfortunately, the fallout has brought to the surface a lingering debate about church size. Both sides speaking of the other in caricatures and generalizations. It’s sad, really, since I believe we need churches large and small.
Below is a blog post from December 2015. I think it can offer a better way to frame the conversation…
December 17, 2015: I love the church. Like Bill Hybels, I believe the local church is the hope of the world. The church is the movement, entity, community, outpost, Body, place and people that Jesus called to reach the nations. Since there are so many different people, in so many different nations (including our own), one would think that while there is unity in Christ and his message of grace; a diversity in style, approach, emphasis, and size among churches would be a given.
One might also assume that the greatness of our commission would inspire those who make up the church to embrace such diversity as we labor to reach our world through churches big and small.
When ChurchLeaders.com published an article on why large churches continue to grow, the comments thread reminded me that my assumptions about diversity and encouragement might not be “givens” at all.
People in large churches assumed small churches weren’t doing outreach. People in small churches assumed churches only grew large because they watered down preaching and went to a business model … on and on the arguments went. It was sad.
So which church is best-small or large? I’ve served in small churches and mega-churches, and I’ve found they each have the same best and worst parts.
You know what’s right with both? Jesus.
You know what’s wrong with both? People.
There are pros and cons to churches large and small, and problems that are exclusive to churches large and small.
Large churches can lose sight of the importance of community if they neglect to think “small” regarding the development and deepening of community, providing opportunities for ministry, and holding to sound scriptural teaching. It can also be easy for mega-churches to become insensitive if they value efficiency over empathy.
Small churches that fail to think “big” can easily create an isolationist culture if they neglect Christ’s call to share the gospel with others not already like them. Those in small churches can become power-hungry as fewer numbers of people control larger numbers of ministry areas, committees, and boards. This can create a situation where there is an incentive to keep the church small in order to retain power; keeping new folks out of the leadership loop.
As far as preaching is concerned, there’s bad doctrine in mega and mini churches (snake handlers anyone?) It’s simply foolish to suggest that churches become large because the gospel is being watered down.
This is not an either/or issue (either big or small), but a both/and issue. The “Body” needs churches of all sorts and sizes. We do nothing but hurt ourselves and help the enemy when we tear down one another.