A Small Church or a Megachurch: To Be or Not To Be

September 12, 2017

Joel Osteen. To be honest, I’m not a fan. His water-downed version of the Bible is – for lack of a better word – annoying. Funny enough, Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church has a weekly attendance of 52,000 people. I hope the bible studies sponsored there are more far-reaching than the sermons because what I’ve heard so far on YouTube hasn’t impressed me.

 

There are times, though, where I wonder what our small church could do to grow. Not just grow, but grow fast. The only reason I occasionally engage this usually-fleeting though is that I want our church to continue forever. I fear the closing of its’ front doors. I fear the ending of something great – a fear I think most of you could identify with, right?

 

As soon as I play with that thought, I realize it’s probably not all it’s cracked up to be. With 52,000 weekly members, Joel Osteen has had to sacrifice a lot, and our church isn’t willing to do that. Most (and there are exceptions) megachurch pastors have sacrificed nothing personal, but a whole lot of spiritual. The Word of God is rarely mentioned by these people. It’s all happy thoughts. The Bible is one long, happy adventure. The Bible is a book of happiness, love, and fulfillment. (It is a book of fulfillment – I’ll give them that!) Do I think these pastors are bad people? No! They do amazing things, but I do believe there’s a conscious effort on many of their parts to put a positive spin (only!) on the Bible. I’m often struck by their sermons and their promotional videos. Some of their biblical application almost seems detached from reality.

 

Here are a few examples:

 

They say:

Jesus was led to the cross. Poor Jesus.

First Baptist says:

Jesus went to the cross according to the plan of His Father, and when His time came, He willed His spirit out of His body.

 

They say:

Jesus was a shy but loving leader.

First Baptist says:

Jesus was love. He was the embodiment of love. As for being shy, do you think walking into the Temple and admonishing the Pharisees for their blasphemy is Him being shy? I think not.

 

They say:

Don’t be like the apostle Peter! Stand up for Jesus. We would’ve stood up!

First Baptist says:

Really? Jesus, his rabbi, had just been arrested, and was no doubt going to be put to death. I believe (and this is just me) that there were Roman soldiers actively looking for the disciples. Can you imagine the fear, grief, and uncertainty Peter was experiencing? If you’re human like Peter (and I think you are), I believe you would’ve done the same thing. Despite this mistake, Peter went onto spreading the message of Jesus, and that’s his true legacy.

 

They say:

Faith is easy. The apostle Timothy showed little faith after Jesus’ resurrection. Today, we would’ve believed.

First Baptist says:

Again, we aren’t mega-humans! Just because we have the gift of hindsight, doesn’t mean that we would’ve acted differently. Timothy was a pragmatic man. Furthermore, he wanted to see the wounds on Jesus’ palms just like all the other disciples had wanted. If I was an apostle 2,000 years ago, I’d ask to see the wounds. You would do the same. You would!

 

They say:

Faith is easy.

First Baptist says:

No, it’s not. Faith is hard. As an American (as a Westerner in general), I want to be in the know. The process should be as follows: sit in office chair, receive a list of acts, analyze said facts, and draw the appropriate conclusions. There are some questions in the Bible that we’ll never be able to answer. And a lot of what we learn involves faith, and for logical thinkers, it’s a leap. Our church motto is faith precedes understanding. There are difficult moments in life where faith seems useless or impossible to keep, but of course, it’s a necessary predecessor to understanding. We must remember this.

 

They say:

Being a Christian is a piece of cake.

First Baptist says:

Are you nuts? For who? Becoming a Christian, for many, is easy, it’s being one that’s hard. Love your enemies? That’s not easy. Being a light for everyone else? Not a piece of cake! (Now I’m hungry.) Earnestly study the Bible? Not all its caked up to be! (With all the cake references, I think I’m developing a craving.) Trying to maintain the two great commandments: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor with all your heart? NOT EASY!

 

There’s so many more examples, but I trust you get the point. As a Christian, I love to watch the videos of the endings of these megachurches’ sermons where hundreds of people file into the front of the arena (yes, I said arena) and accept God as their savior. They take the first step of becoming a Christian. It’s an emotional experience; however, I’m more worried about their journey after becoming a Christian.

 

It’s great when you buy a new puppy, but if you don’t feed the puppy, guess what happens? It dies, right? At First Baptist, we are focused on feeding our puppies. Okay, the metaphor needs to change from puppies to sheep. We must focus on the sheep that are in our care. They’re our responsibility. What I’m trying to say is that the post-acceptance journey Christians take is the real test.

 

Furthermore, I think helping people with this journey is more difficult in a 52,000-member church.

I don’t want you to think that I’m shunning huge churches. The majority of believers in those places are probably studious church-goers – at least I hope so. I’m not saying they’re bad Christians. There’s no perfect Christian, but I worry for the sheep who aren’t being consistently fed. I worry about them; I really do.

 

Let me introduce you to my yet-to-be-patented revolving door theory. The revolving door theory sounds a little like this: as the population enters through a new church – a big church and a revolving door, they are often fed right back outside from whence they came.

 

There are smaller churches that do this, too. I see this theory coming to fruition in our little town of Blair. Churches focus so much on growing that they completely ignore the people who just walked in via the revolving door. The usher in more and more people, while the ones they just welcomed are already walking back out. So, you’re maintaining a large number of attendees, but you’re not actually growing. The sheep that deserved your focus got lost when you weren’t looking. Now, they’re gone.

 

This isn’t just a problem with the megachurches. This is a systemic problem in the modern church. We focus on numbers. We don’t focus on biblical growth. A lot of Christians know John 3:16, but do they know what it means? Do they know the amazing depth of that verse? Most people have memorized the first six or seven verses of Genesis, but do they understand the actual omnipotence that was on display in these verses? I hope so.

 

Many Christians have their toe in the pool, but they don’t want to go swimming. They turned the keys in the ignition, but haven’t pulled the car out of the lot. They have set down in a comfy chair to read, but forgot the book! They’ve done a bit, but haven’t gone all the way. When we recognize this is the state of the modern church, guess what? We can fix it. There’s a remedy for this ailment, and it’s called the Word of God. In fact, the Word of God is kind of the remedy for all your problems. I’ve found this particular grain of truth out the hard way.

 

So, to be a small church, or not to be a small church. That is the question I ask of thee. I’d rather be a small church any day of the week. We care about each other. We’re a family. We laugh. We argue. We eat. Isn’t that what families do? We pray. We study. We debate. That’s what church families do. We’re not a mega church, and for that, I’m thankful.

 

Because of our size, we focus on the sheep we have, teaching and equipping them for the world. Our pastor says that his goal is to equip us, and for that too, I’m thankful. We’re all thankful. The First Baptist Church doesn’t have a Joel Osteen, but we have the Word of God, and I’ll take that any day of the week. Because of the Word of God, we’re richer than kings.  

 

 

 

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