What’s Right About Megachurches

As the saying goes, “The world is going to hell in a hand basket.” There’s never been a greater challenge for world evangelism, there are plenty of social problems like hunger and homelessness we face here in the United States, Christians are being marginalized more than ever, religious persecution is rampant on a global basis, and that’s just the beginning. But what are we still debating in the Church today?

Megachurches.

Hard to believe but I sometimes think we Christians spend more time criticizing large churches than anything else. Are there problems in 2,000+ member churches? Of course. But I work with churches of all sizes for a living, and I can tell you that for every case of shallow teaching, bad theology, leadership failures, financial improprieties, or whatever the criticism du jour happens to be, I can point to a long list of 50+ member churches guilty of the same things.

From the perspective of a person passionately interested in how Christians engage today’s culture, here’s some reasons I think it’s time for a moratorium on megachurch criticism:

1. You had a bad experience at a megachurch? Grow up. There are plenty of bad experiences to be had in small churches too. Size doesn’t make for bad experiences, people do, and I have yet to find a church without people. In the last month or so, there’s been a rash of negative stories of pastors screwing up. From what I’ve read, none have come from a megachurch; in fact, they were all leading very small churches. Fallen humanity is no respecter of church size.

2. Megachurches are not as shallow as you think. As Roger Olson writes on his blog, “Baylor sociologist Rodney Stark’s (research study) ‘What Americans Really Believe‘ lauds the strengths of megachurches as compared to small churches. “Those who belong to megachurches display as high a level of personal commitment as do those who attend small congregations.” In fact, much of the pioneering work on the most respected Bible study resources and materials are coming from the leaders of large congregations.

3. Megachurches make a dent in communities.  America has cities and towns where it seems like there are tiny churches on every corner. But a single megachurch in that same town gets far more buzz and word of mouth. That’s not to downplay the importance of small churches, but when it comes to sharing their message outside their walls, most might as well be invisible. Large churches generate publicity, which generates conversations, which generates more opportunities to share Christ with friends and co-workers.

4. Megachurches engage the media. Like it or not, we live in a media-driven culture. Yet most small churches don’t have the resources, know-how, or interest in using media to impact their community. Larger churches have the financial resources, talent, and expertise to use media effectively. Their websites, video presentations, printed material, and social media campaigns are far more effective and well executed. Most do an excellent job of sharing the message of the gospel through media channels which reach enormous numbers of people.

5. Megachurches are making a global impact. Most leaders of large churches I know are remarkably innovative when it comes to effective mission outreaches. Plus, they send enormous amounts of money to fund missionaries in countries around the world.

6. Finally – megachurches plant other churches. Megachurches are motivated and aggressive about planting new churches. Throughout inner cities, suburbs, remote locations, and more – megachurches are raising up new congregations in amazing numbers.

For these and other reasons, I think it’s time to remember we’re all on the same team.  After all, what pastor in his right mind is going to turn away potential worshippers? If people want to attend a particular church, let them. Besides, what’s the right number of members anyway? If you want to worship in a small community, great. But give the same freedom to others who want to worship in a large community.

I recognize that some people may just have an irrational beef with large churches, so I probably won’t change their minds. But problems are problems, and being a preacher’s kid and spending my life inside churches, I can report that many large congregations are doing some amazing things. And by the way, if you’re interested, here’s a good look at the state of megachurches in the U.S. at the end of 2013.

So I say it’s time to celebrate and support churches of all sizes, because the most important thing to remember is that the Church is the hope of the world.

Whatever size a particular church happens to be…

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I love this, Phil. My ministry supports small churches, so some people assume I have a problem with megachurches. But churches of every size have something to bring to the mix. Why can’t we support one without dissing the other? You did that really well in this post. Thanks.

  • Josh Reid

    Yep. I work with small churches every day and there are plenty more scary stories about things gone wrong in these, than you will ever hear about from Mega-churches. Which is scarier – the sins of Mega-churches that you know about, or the sins of small churches that you will never hear about?

  • Anthony Peterson

    There is no shortage of space in Heaven.

  • Luke 9:49,50 – Disciples: “Lord, they’re not doing things like us, they need to be stopped!” Jesus: “Leave them alone, if they’re not against us, they’re for us.”

  • Dave

    Hope is the belief that change is possible. Good luck Phil!

  • Being in a small town where we don’t have any megachurches near us, I rarely hear anything negative about megachurches, because people just don’t talk about them. So most of what I hear about megachurches is from blogs, and the impression I get from blogs is “be like these megachurches; they’re making a difference.” I’m not arguing that fact, but I’d just like to remind us all that small churches are making a difference, too. And we usually can’t be like those megachurches (nor should we try) because small town church culture is very different from megachurch culture. If megachurches have the resources they need to reach their communities and the world, shouldn’t we give a little more attention to small town churches so that they can be more effective as well?

    After reading what I just wrote, I sound angry lol. I’m really not. But I just think that there’s a disproportionate amount of attention given to megachurches, which only account for .5% of churches in the U.S., while 60% of churches have less than 100 members.

  • Well said!

  • David

    Megachurches started out as a small church.

    The megachurches must be doing something right in their evangelical outreaches or in their sermons

    Slamming them will never help your own congregation grow.
    My church has a saying, that we must grow larger and smaller at the same time.

    Larger in numbers, smaller in relational gaps

  • Tony Ares

    I lovingly disagree. 1.) How did the church initially grow? Was it a megachurch, or was it small UNIFIED house churches? They occasionally had large gatherings but they had small intimate settings. 2.) I have supported the MegaChurch format in very limited circumstances when a.) small group leaders are united and well trained. and b.) its not about a central charismatic character. When people are not coming for one teacher and they realize that the small group leader is their true pastor. Regardless of what the writer of this article says….that is not the NORM. 3.) To use an analogy, this is why many people prefer States Rights over a strong federal govt. When something is being done wrong at the fed….its hard for the little man to fix it. I can get ahold of my state senator today if I wanted to though. The MegaChurch is what is wrong with the American Church.

    • Actually Tony, nowhere in the article do I say it’s the norm. There are a wide variety of churches of all different sizes doing remarkable work out there. Also, in many mega-churches today, the trend is multiple pastors, and the ones I recommend all have vibrant small groups which are really the core of the church. All I’m writing about is that we shouldn’t discount large churches simply because they’re big.

      • Tony Ares

        First of all thanks for the QUICK, thoughful reply and not being atypical angry. Secondly…lets find some common ground…people should be more precise/thoughtful in their criticisms. They shouldnt be like, “AARGH hate BIG CHURCHES…HULK MAD!” But sadly, we are not the most thoughtful bunch(American Christian Community). We are emotional and reactive typically(Phil Robertson). Here is why I felt led to write a response: The American Church needs alot of adjustments(i.e., anti-intellectualism, lack of apologetics) and it has to start with some of our BIG ministries. As a whole, your article seems to cover for them. The only way I see things changing is a small church revolution.

        • I don’t disagree Tony, but I’m not sure why it has to start with big churches. All of those issues are just as present in plenty of small ones as well. I encourage what you’re doing with small churches. Keep it up, and others can do the same with the big ones. I think we need both if we’re going to impact this culture with the gospel. Thanks for commenting!

          • Dan Kimball

            Great post Phil! I am going to repost it on Facebook. I understand what Tony is raising up, but I totally agree with you that you can find the same exact type of problems in house churches or small churches as megachurches. I have had this happen multiple times too where I speak to someone who is critical of megachurches and ask them about conversion and evangelism in their own church. usually very minimal. I think we see more conversion growth in megachurches than house churches which seem to be made of Christians who don’t like megachurches. I also think the argument about mega not how the early church did it, isn’t really valid or we shouldn’t then use web sites, or cook with microwaves or other things the early church didn’t do. I am all for churches of all sizes. There are great house churches and great megachurches and stinky house churches and stinky megachurches. The bigger question is whether disciples are being made, and new life and healthy growth to the best we can measure it. I am writing this not being part of a megachurch but a medium sized church, so this is not a defensive email from a megachurch person. Thanks for this discussion!

          • Great points Dan. You’re a great example of a big church that’s accomplishing great things. Thanks for the comment!

  • Matt Sutman

    I only have issue…and it’s not really issue…with number 2. Of course a lot of material comes from these leaders! That’s because they’re usually not shoveling the walks, taking out the trash, going to the nursing homes and a myriad of other chores in addition to their scholarly pursuits…that most of us small church guys have to do.
    Don’t get me wrong. I AM jealous!

    • Ha! Great point Matt. I’m jealous too. I’d love to have a research team to help me with my books. But hey – I’m thrilled they have it. Keep in mind that at least 90% of them started out small and took out the trash and shoveled the sidewalk for years and sometimes decades. Now, hopefully they’ll have more impact working with a team. Thanks for the comment!

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  • Barbara Robbins

    Great article. we are members of a megachurch, and the focus of our church is being “Living proof of a loving God to a watching world.” This is an idea that is lived out in the community and around the world.

  • Ian

    Well said, Phil. We’re all on the same team so let’s keep encouraging each other in the growth of the church to glorify the King!

  • Oengus

    This was an interesting article, Phil, if anything because it goes so contrary to the usual rotten tomatoes that get hurled at “mega-churches” by everybody, both inside and outside the Church. To see what I mean, just Google on the word “mega-church” and some additional disparaging term (such as “heresy”, “scandal”, “ecumenical”, etc.) and see what churns up. It is amazing.
    But I would submit that you are already behind the times. Things have already gone beyond “mega-church”. It is now “giga-church,” and at a scale that dwarfs what has come before. In giga-church, the one big thing has now gotten split up in to geographically dispersed “campuses”. And the congregants drive miles to go to one of these “campuses” to see the celebrity pastor preach projected on a big screen, and then they drive those miles all the way home. They never get within ten miles of the flesh and blood person, let alone within ten feet.

  • Darian G. Burns

    Do they best represent Christ? Do small churches? Do small groups? Thats the question and its a shame but as Americans we have become so success minded and comercialised that no one is asking the right questions. With Christ it is never about the result or even the way we go about church. With Him its about the heart and there lies the modern church’s problem.

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  • History Buff

    Great article Phil. A breath of fresh air to be honest.

    I just finished speaking on the phone to a friend of mine – a senior minister of a small-ish church (250+ members) – it belongs to a global denomination of good repute.

    The pastor & his wife had just completed their initial 5 year tenure and were due to be re-contracted for another extended term. Sadly, this small-ish church has in its constitution that to be re-contracted, a senior pastor must attract 80% of the member’s votes. (#madness)

    A small minority gathered dust and drew in many non-attending disgruntled members (they had left but were still legally had voting rights -#madness) of the church. And…as usual…some good people in the church didn’t attend the vote meeting. As a result, the pastor only attracted 78% of the vote.

    HE WAS VOTED OUT and finished at the church last Sunday!

    The leadership team all resigned in disgust at the result – in support of their loved senior pastor and many of the pastor’s supporters have left the church. Sadly, the new Christians in the church, on a discipleship pathway, are now dropping like 9 pins, disillusioned that their “pastor” has been fired.

    The church now has no senior pastor, no leadership team, many of the good people have left and the new Christians are also on their way out. AND…the church is now in the hands of Alexander the Coppersmith and his friend Hymenaeus! #madness

    This travesty wouldn’t happen in most larger churches that have in place more transparent & trustworthy staffing procedures.

    Heck, if congregational voting like this was Biblical, Israel would have murdered Moses & returned to Egypt; and Jesus wouldn’t have gone to the Cross…He would have been forced to become senior pastor of Capernaum First Christian Church!

    • Great perspective. Bureaucracy will destroy any organization of any size. Thanks for posting!

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  • Nate

    There is a red herring about much of your case here. We shouldn’t be comparing the impact of 1 megachurch to that of 1 small church, and then drawing conclusions about size.

    The epistles were largely written to churches; and by “churches” we mean “the body of Christ in a given city (or region).” They are addressed in ways like “to all in Rome who are loved by God….” and “to all the churches in Galatia…”

    The point being that Biblically, a given body of Christ is considered as the community of all of the disciples (or churches) localized in a particular area. Not as individual meeting places, or particular gatherings.

    So it misses the point to try and argue for a greater impact in large churches as a function of their size. Of course a given megachurch is having a greater impact than a given 50-member church, at least in empirically measurable ways (which is not even the all-important measure of impact.) But the real question for a megachurch is: “how would that same number of disciples effect the community/city/region if they were distributed throughout several small churches? Or, to put it another way, how does the aggregate impact of all of the small churches in a region compare with that of a few megachurches when the numbers of disciples in each scenario are roughly equal?

    I don’t think there’s any evidence for the assumption that larger churches are having a greater impact on their communities, or globally, put this way.

    It’s a question of “economy of resources” across a region. How well is human capital being used, and how would it be used differently (region-wide) if the model for individual churches across that region were different?

    • Great point Nate, but I’m not arguing 1 big church against 1 small church. I think if you aggregate the impact of a megachurch versus a number of smaller churches in the community, it will often still have a great impact simply because it’s unified in it’s focus. One of the biggest challenges we face trying to impact our communities is getting all those little churches to work together. Ask a pastor who’s tried to make it happen and you’ll see it’s often pretty tough.
      Most of all – I’m not arguing that either one is better. I think BOTH are needed. I’d just like to see less reflexive criticism of the megachurch because most are doing very positive things for the Kingdom. But either way – thanks for your perspective!

      • Nate

        Thanks for the clarification, Phil. I’m tempted to ask whether this phenomenon (small churches not being unable to work together) is a product of the spirit of our age, rather than their size. The operating assumption among the apostles seemed to be that all the churches in a given area were one by nature, and that these “communities of communities” operated with a unified focus by virtue of their serving the same King, not by virtue of programmatic unity.

        I suppose this ends in a critique of the fundamental “protestant problem”- endless fracturing and considering of one’s church as separate from (or at least considerably different than) all the other churches on the block. I currently attend a PCA church (i’m new to that denom) and so far it appears to me to be a sound ideal for organization – all the churches in an area are “sister churches,” and are relationally (and thus operationally) close, offering each other support.

        I don’t think a megachurch is intrinsically compromised because of its size, but I also don’t think the net Kingdom effect of a church should be measured by its in-house resource efficiency. That tends to be a more business-like approach to a church, whereas I think I would support a more inspiration-centered approach to impact I.E. the church does/is something inspiring to the other local churches, or even the wider community, such that they offer resources and support for what is clearly the cause of Christ. The enterprise then ceases to be “of or from that church” and ownership is assumed by the Kingdom people who are committed to it. Thus the unified Church (not this or that local body), prunes and stewards it.

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