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The Problem with Programs (or Bigger is No Longer Better)

One of the great lies of modern society is “one size fits all.” With the disparity in people’s sizes increasing (read: many of us are getting bigger and bigger), “one size fits all” is becoming less and less true.

The same holds true for the church.

For years, in addition to buying the specious “bigger is better,” we have been addicted to a one-size-fits-all mentality in the church. It’s called “programs.” The problem is, people aren’t “one size fits all”… and that’s why programs are so awful. They assume just that.

Here’s the way to enter our community. Here’s the way to work into leadership and grow in your relationship with God here.

Whether I am a young suburban/middle class, well-educated female, or a Vietnam vet from inner city Detroit, most churches tend to assume that my spiritual needs and progress will be strikingly similar.

And what other way is there to do it? When you are shuffling 3,000 or 10,000 or (good Lord!) 25,000 people (darn that Joel Osteen!) around the bases, you have to standardize. Everyone gets pretty much the same thing, regardless of whether that’s what they need or not.

True story: I had just become the youth pastor of a church here in Portland, when I attended my first “business meeting.” At the first vote, I raised my hand in affirmation. The church clerk looked at me and said “What are you doing?”

Voting!” I said.

No you’re not,” says she. “You’re not a member.”

I’m…uh… but… I’m a pastor.”

Doesn’t matter,” she said. “You haven’t taken the membership class.”

Structure can be helpful or it can stifle and kill the very thing we hope it will bring- individual spiritual growth and vitality. My hope is that in this emerging context, pastors will be able to stop trying to program spiritual formation, stop trying to be so many things that God has not called us to be and start being the thing our people really need us to be… shepherds.

But if pastors are ever to be able to abandon the role of CEO, programmer, manager, game developer, party planner, ad nauseam and get back to the business of being shepherds… of being spiritual directors… it’s going to mean some hard choices and the slaying of certain sacred cows.

The first (and biggest) is the sacred cow of size. If 100 people in your church are good, then 1,000 must be great, and 10,000 must surely be a sign that God is blessing.

Well, that may or not be true (I know cults that have had churches in the thousands), but if the biblical principle/example Christ set for us is that a shepherd knows his sheep and calls them by name, how in the world can that happen when our community gets over a certain size? I’m still haunted by a phrase I heard a pastor say once: “You look familiar… am I your pastor?”

No- I can’t share intimate space with everyone in my congregation. I can’t even relate personally to all of them.

But when we allow things to get to such a size that we have to standardize the relationship of the community to the person (and that’s what a program does), that we no longer have the ability to be spiritual directors who have time for people… something’s wrong. I was just talking to a friend who’s leaving a big church where he’s on staff to plant one near us… he had to wait two months to get on his senior pastor’s calendar. This is the same pastor who once related to me that he told his staff not to spend too much time in pastoral counseling because “We pay you to run a ministry, not be with people.”

Not everyone needs Class 101, Class 201, Class 301 in that order. Some don’t need them at all. What some (most?) people need is someone in their life who understands shepherding, who understands spiritual direction: listening to someone’s story, hearing the threads of what God is doing in that person’s life and then helping them to see and take the next step in their spiritual growth. Obviously, this will look very different in each individual’s life. But how in the world will we ever know, unless we know them?

And how will we know them if we get so large that we make it a practical impossibility?

Doesn’t it make sense to stay small through continued growth and the planting of new church communities? To at least make it possible for everyone in a community to be known, and known well? To make it possible for the pastors and elders to do the actual job entrusted to them- making sure that the spiritual care/nurture/and teaching of the individuals in their church is happening?

I think a lot of sheep are tired of being processed through the system. I think they are crying out for someone to bring some individualized spiritual nurture to their lives.

I’m not saying this is an impossibility in a big church. But don’t tell me it’s not harder! Because I know from experience that large church size makes individual spiritual direction a heck of a lot harder… and here’s what it comes down to: is that shiny new building really worth the spiritual cost in the lives of our communities? Is it really worth the people who inevitably slip through the cracks and out the back door? And isn’t it true that the bigger the church, the bigger the cracks… the bigger the back door?

But big churches can “do” so much more than small ones! Not if the small ones stay connected. Can’t 10 churches of 200 together do the same kinds of things (run a free clinic, a food pantry, etc.) that 1 church of 2,000 can do? And with less overhead, debt, etc?

I know a church who’s in a $40,000,000 building project. The pastor and staff are weighed down under the strain of debt, fundraising, people leaving, etc… The “Largest Church in America” (not Willow Creek) which is buying and relocating to their city’s sports center has this on their website: “Q: What was the total project cost? A: The initial project cost will be approximately $75 million. We anticipate $40 million to be raised from the current church family and $35 million from future growth and friends of the ministry.”

Aye Carumba! That money would buy a lot of AIDS medicine, feed a lot of people… Anything but buy a sports center so we can be the biggest dog on the block- a church of 25,000.

I may be totally off base here. And yes- I’m cynical and my brush is exceedingly wide.

But we all believe in church planting, don’t we? Those of us who are called pastors would like to actually be pastors wouldn’t we? We’d all like to know the people sitting in the pews (or chairs or couches or bean bags depending on where you are at in the spectrum of pomo-ness) wouldn’t we? We’d all like to know that if the people in our care need an individualized approach to spiritual growth that’s a possibility, wouldn’t we? We’d all like to make those “cracks” that people fall through as small as is humanly possible, wouldn’t we?

So… why is this so hard? Stop trying to find the program that will help your people grow and give them what they really need- your attention. Grow continually. Stay small. Share resources. Plant churches.

Bob Hyatt : the evergreen community. http://evergreenlife.org

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Healthier is Better

First of all thanks for this article Bob. I agree with many of the things you said but I think we need to balance this a bit. I am a pastor at a very large church. Yes it is true I don’t know everyone who comes to my church. I see my role as one of pastor/shepherd/equipper. But I don’t think that I am the one who has to minister directly to each person in the church as I believe that every member of the church is a minister and I need to equip and facilitate that. So spiritual nurture is not limited to my ability to know the spiritual lives of every person in my congregation. That would definately make the whole ministry dependent on me and put a cap on the number of people that could join the community. Rather, I believe that as I build into a few they build into a few, etc. and spiritual nurture happens through smaller groups of people.

Customized Spiritual Growth
I am so thrilled you mentioned the fact that everyone grows in different ways and we are all different “sizes.” I could not agree more!! Too often we assume that there is one path for everyone. Where I do want to push back though is this idea that seems to be creeping up in emerging movements as a reaction against modernism and that is that all programs are evil or bad. I don’t agree. How are we to nurture someone’s spiritual health without laying out the elements of what health looks like? Is it merely a feeling? Or are there characteristics or elements that should be balanced in someone’s life so they will know how to grow? No matter how you define it or categorize it, it is a program of sorts. So I think the reaction is not against all programs but against bad programs. You mentioned the bases and Class 101-401. The big misunderstanding here is that those classes are the discipleship “program.” They are not. They are a way to educate people on what the purposes are as a way of helping people see how they are lived out in the life of the church. To help people grow spiritually after that, they get involved in a small group, do life with other people and receive tools and resources that they can tap in a customized fashion to help them balance those five things in their lives. All that to say, I agree that spiritual health is different for each person, but I think there are some common things we are growing toward and no matter how you define them, you have to put some definition to those things.

Church Planting
I do agree with you that church planting is an important part of how churches should grow and I think we can get too focused on how many attend on a weekend and make that the main goal. And you are right about people not being able to really connect and be spiritually nurtured in a crowd like that. I do think, however, we need to get away from viewing church planting as something that involves a trained pastor who does all the teaching live, himself and then he personally gets to know 200 people (way too high of a number if you are talking spiritual nurture). I think any member of the church plants a church in their home when they decide to lead a small group and take the dna of the church into that group. We have to get away from thinking the gathering on a weekly basis is what church is all about. That is a part of it and corporate gatherings are important for people to catch a bigger vision and move in the same direction (and as you said have a bunch of churches come together and make a bigger impact together than they would apart). But, the small groups or churches is where life change takes place and where care and spiritual nurture take place. I think pastors need to do more to equip and get out of the way then have all spiritual nurture come through them. If I can equip 1,000’s of small group churches to care for and nurture each other spiritually, then I don’t limit growth to how many people I can handle. Just a thought.

Thanks again for this article. One thing I want to make clear: size is not the issue in any of this. It is the health of the people and the church that should be our focus. Then if God decides to grow the church numerically so be it but that should not be the main focus. If you grow a healthy church you grow healthy people who reach other people. You definately stimulated my thinking and helped to crystalize some things I have been thinking about. Thanks again for posting this.

thanks for the comments...

Hey man-

Thanks for the comments and the encouragement. I’m glad things are going well for you guys! I’m not arguing with you, but I want to reiterate… I see size as an issue for the Church, and I think it’s a discussion we have to have. Simply assuming that God is blessing so bigger must be better may not be the best thing for the future of the church. It’s a discussion that deserves to be had.

I know for me, in thinking about this whole issue, I am coming to some conclusions that are polar opposites from my medium and mega church past…

I do see size as an issue (as my article stated). I don’t believe (as I said) that even in a small church I can personally shepherd every person… but to me the key issue here is when size becomes such that the relationship of the community to the person has to be standardized (as opposed to individualized) in the form of programs.

Yes- others besides the lead pastor are involved in shepherding. But I believe churches should remain at a size where it’s possible to be known, to be shepherded, where the “cracks” don’t become so large that whole families fall through without anyone knowing.

And while I agree that health is the issue, I’m still thinking that even in that equation, size plays into it. If our size means that we define health as the absence of conflict, as the presence of large numbers of people moving around the bases, then it becomes self-fulfilling. In a large church, conflict is minimized- people don’t feel as though they have a voice. They tend to simply leave rather than make waves. And in terms of spiritual growth, when the benchmarks for spiritual growth become the numbers of people who have taken the classes…
Programs aren’t bad or evil- they have simply become a replacement for relationship. We have no “membership” classes, no bases to run. When people come to our community, we connect them to others for coffee, dinner, dessert, etc for a conversation where we hear someone’s story, tell them ours and share the values of the community. We’re trying to get back to doing in relationship what the church has come to rely on programs to do.

Let me reiterate… I’m thinking size is an issue. It’s possible to get to a size that as a pastor you spend most of your time with staff, talking about administrative details, dealing with events… manager, administrator rather than pastor.

I don’t think it all has to depend on me… I give away most all of the ministry details of our community. But God has called me to a certain role in the lives of my people. I just can’t for the life of me see how that works if things get so large I can no longer do that.

I know this is a sensitive issue… I know I step on toes when I talk about it. I just want us to consider that between the home group and the mega church might be a more optimal size for a church community… it’s something we need to talk about.

thanks again for the comments- these are some of the defining issues in emergent thinking…

bob hyatt
lead pastor: the evergreen community

Size and Spiritual Growth


Thanks for your heart in this and I too think that if size is the measure of success we are off course. You are right that size does make it more difficult to do the sorts of things you talked about (meeting at the pastor’s home, etc.) but it does not make them impossible. One of the things we have found is that we can connect people to groups in their community and form lasting relationships and facilitate spiritual growth.

I think we may be dealing with two issues here: Size (which the real issue isn’t size but being known) and Spiritual Health (how is it defined and is program a part of it).

I think the issue of size has more to do with the abuse of size than size itself. When size becomes the primary driver of all that you do as some kind of corporate measuring stick for whether your church is doing well or not, then you are off course. But I would not say we should just abandon anything that has size because of the abuses of some churches. It is going to take many different sizes, styles, etc. of churches because each of us lives in a different context with different sets of issues. I also think that at some point we all want to grow the church through new people deciding to surrender to Christ and we can’t limit size So there is a definite tension with looking at size and it has alot to do with motivation (size for size sake or size through). I agreed with your earlier comment that the church should be a place where people are known. I happen to be in a place where that is happening. Not perfectly but people are known in this place if they choose to be. There are some who could hide but I think we need those spaces for people to explore in anonymity. If those places disappear then we are saying that one size should fit all and I don’t think we want to make that point. I grew up in a small church of around 200 that grew to 700. I knew people and I was known. I have been in a few larger churches 1,000 to 3,500 before and I was known there. So I don’t think size in itself is the issue I think it has to do with the focus and heart of a church in deciding to major on attendence figures. Also, I don’t think it is up to us to say how big our church will get because we won’t turn anyone away. The issue is how do we organize to make sure every person is know no matter what the size of our church is. We can get so cynical sometimes (not saying you are just making a general comment) about numbers because of their abuses that we forget that behind each number is a person with a story.

Spiritual Health
Spiritual health is a facinating one to tackle because of the customizable piece you mentioned earlier. I think one thing we have to be cautious about is reacting so much to size or modern methods of defining or program that we dont’ define it at all. One of the biggest issues we see is that more people see the church is irrelevant and people are looking for practical spirituality. So where we choose not to define and equip people to live a christian life we are not helping them to grow. So I guess I just want to be careful that we don’t let our reaction against programs drive us to being irrelevant on the other side. That said, I think there are ways to define the spiritual life that help people see the direction and begin to move toward Christlikeness. Our church happens to use 5 purposes in helping people seek balance in those areas. I have seen others use disciplines, etc. I think it is vital that we are able to contextualize the faith to our community and describe what it looks like in a practical everyday sense. It doesn’t mean these things have to be wooden as they will overlap in many ways. But it does mean we have to do the hard work of contextualization and create tools to help people work through these issues in their own life. Just like our teaching of people is a tool (we hope) to helping them look at the scriptures in a new way and integrate them into their everyday living. So customization is good as long as we know what we are aiming at to make the customization effective (I hope I am making sense :)).

Bob, Don’t feel like you are stepping on my toes, offending me, or anything like that. I love these kind of discussions because they stretch my thinking and keep me in change mode which is how I grow. I know from the outside, people may think the church I serve at is an institutional church entrenched in what it does. But we are not that good :). In fact I have found the only thing that does not change here are the purposes. I have been here two years and have seen 2 reorganizations based on what the needs of the community are at the time. Changed lives is what drives this place not number of attenders. Unfortunately whenever something is put into a book it is seen as crystalized from the outside instead of principles to be contextualized. These are exciting times. Thanks for the conversation so far. Maybe we should start a new thread on defining the christian life or spirituality in a practical way for today. How are you doing it?

size matters

Hey man-

sorry- busy christmas season, so it’s hard to give dialogue its due, but I wanted to respond to one statement.. you said:
“I think the issue of size has more to do with the abuse of size than size itself. When size becomes the primary driver of all that you do as some kind of corporate measuring stick for whether your church is doing well or not, then you are off course. But I would not say we should just abandon anything that has size because of the abuses of some churches. It is going to take many different sizes, styles, etc. of churches because each of us lives in a different context with different sets of issues. I also think that at some point we all want to grow the church through new people deciding to surrender to Christ and we can’t limit size”

I’ll agree the abuse of size via the sin of being concerned primarily about numbers is bad. What I’m also proposing is that over a certain size, the trade-offs you make in terms of attention that can be paid to individuals, real spiritual formation as opposed to programatic base running and seeing larger and larger “cracks” appear for people to fall through are simply not worth an increase in resources (which is the only benefit I see to size)… especially when small churches staying connected can resource the same ministry that a large church can.

You say we all want to grow churches and we can’t limit size… that’s exactly what I am proposing! Grow and plant a church. repeat. repeat again. repeat yet again :)
Limit size through continually multiplication. We ask our people to do it. We even ask small groups/home groups to do it. Why can’t we ask our churches to do it???

I’m asking if we should consider admitting to ourselves that spending 30 million dollars on a building is poor stewardship of money and resources… admitting that when we exceed a certain size, pastors of necessity become more managers and administrators than shepherds…admitting that 10 churches of 200 might be in some sense “better” than one church of 2000.
That’s a dialogue I really want to see…

bob hyatt
lead pastor: the evergreen community


Hi bob,

Like what you’ve written so far - yeah, you’re right, dude: spending $75,000,000.00 on a building project is kinda obscene!

It’s wierd - but the culture of church we get saved ‘into’ hasn’t departed that much from the Temple-Building mentality of the Pre-Incarnate people. Conmversely,I was in a church here in the UK (evangelical independent-ish) that went the way of the ‘Cell’ group basis /committed to growth/divide and multiply but it only ever succeeded in one church plant and was eventually re-absorbed into the parent body. The reason?

I no longer fellowship there so absolutely nothing I offer can be authoritative (it may not even be constructive!) but my gut feeling is that the ‘large’ environment or ‘phenonenon’ that is CHURCH monopolizes the skills and resources that we all need but probably (more to the point) covet as well (xclnt musicianship in worship/pastoral wisdom/counselling/teaching xclnce…love?). I wonder how ‘Christ in us’ would grow and reach out if we were robbed of these things a la 70 AD or whatever?

If I’m meant to grow (PS I’m no leader of men of any description!), how can I if I’m mired in some umbilical tie to the ‘mother ship’?
Your task is unenviable but honourable nonetheless and if that Ephesians quote has any merit (4: 11 - 13) then the manifesto remains - to prepare the likes of me so that the Church may be built up: do programs err by attempting to define what the end focus of being ‘built up’ should look like?
Who knows where I will end up?
Where/Whom I shall serve?
Do those two statements assume it’s going to resolve in a static appointment for the remainder of my 3 score years and ten? If so, why?

I love it that you want people to grow: treat ‘em like you won’t see them again after 36 months - ever! (attempted Acts reference :o)

Churches & Accountability

Bob said: [large churches are] “simply not worth an increase in resources (which is the only benefit I see to size)”

Hi. I am new to this group, and wanted to jump in somewhere, so I figured this would be as good a place as any.

I appreciate your comments and find some agreement with them, Bob. I especially really liked your vision of smaller communities of faith banding together to accomplish things that big communities can… things like social service clinics and whatnot. That is a beautiful vision, and one that really excites me.

But for the sake of argument, let me thow out something that large churches arguably do better than smaller churches: accountability. In all sorts of areas, large churches can leverage their size to make sure that individuals and the organization don’t rip people off. I’m thinking specifically in terms of financial accountability, but dishonest behavior of church leadership may also be more quickly dealt with in an environment with more oversight and distributed leadership than in small communities with passionate and dynamic individual leaders.

Anyway, that is just my .02 cents of thoughts. I look forward to reading more on this dynamic site and participating in the future!

—Dave Dyk

In defense of bigger churches

Hi Bob,

You make a good case for intentionally keeping churches small through multiplication, and I agree with much of what you wrote. I just want to offer some rhetorical support for larger churches, since “one size doesn’t fit all” applies just as well to small as to large.

First, I for one am not bothered if a megachurch spends $75M on a facility. Assuming that’s a church of about 25,000 people, it’s equivalent to a church of 200 people spending $600,000 on their building. That sounds reasonable to many people. The issue here, if anything, might better be whether churches “should” have dedicated buildings at all. If it is legitimate for a church to have a building to enhance its ministry, then it is reasonable to expect a church of 25,000 souls (entire towns are smaller) to need a more extensive facility.

Second, while recognizing that programs can be used in insensitive and cumbersome ways, I would highlight what you have already acknowledged—that large churches can offer programs that are beyond the means of smaller churches. A new church is often limited to just one “professional” of any kind, and must rely on a small pool of members for such things as teachers, musicians, or janitors. Many church planters prefer teams for this reason, but then “have to” reach a certain size to be “viable,” or else deal with other limiting factors. A small cell group can make sure someone carries a handicapped person upstairs to the Bible study, and a megachurch can install all the elevators and special facilities people in wheelchairs need, but many churches in between have areas that are just inaccessible. A small cell group can reach the neighborhood; a megachurch can reach people groups.

10 churches of 200 working together can do a lot that any one couldn’t do, but I think there’d still be more overhead between them than a single church of 2,000. If each 200 church had a preacher, a secretary, and one other staff member, that would be 30 paid positions for 2,000 people; that church of 2,000 might have 25 paid positions, but they’d probably include a wider variety of specializations. Also, once the smaller churches are working together, we’re right back at the problem of the pastors not knowing all of the 2,000 members (of the 10 churches) working together.

Third, rather than having a harried pastor who has no chance of connecting spiritually with thousands of members, large churches just as often have dozens of pastors who can focus on shepherding groups of people that they can name. The preacher may even be one of them. In fact, quite often it is easier for a pastor in a large church to engage in spiritual care/nurture/teaching than for the pastor of a small church. That large-church pastor has a personal secretary, a staff person to worry about the bulletin, a maintenance team to change lightbulbs, a nursery to look after the baby, and a facility designed to enhance whatever ministry task he faces. Many small-church pastors must engage in spiritual care/nurture/teaching after working an 8-hour day, calling around to let everyone know the meeting this week is at the Smith’s because Mrs. Jones is sick, making sure George gets a ride, and filling out some sort of form the government is sure to require.

You mention your calling in this regard—I think that’s a separate issue than programming or church size. Of course, if you’re called to minister to people personally church-wide, then it doesn’t make sense to retain control of a church that keeps growing and growing—but it could still make sense to have a restricted role within such a community if you could look at those you don’t know in the same way you’d look at those you don’t know in 9 other churches of 200 with whom you’d network.

You mention a friend who had to wait two months to get a meeting with his pastor. I would just say I doubt that pastor was “his” pastor—it looks like a case of confusing title with function. “Senior pastor” is not a biblical term, but rather a reflection of one cultural expression of “church.” Using “pastor” they way many do, to refer to the guy we pay to preach and lead (or the guy we found preaching and leading) is also a cultural use. We tend to equate “trained professional church person” with “pastor.” I think that if we equate “spiritual shepherd” with “pastor,” we’d find many unrecognized, not formally trained, unpaid pastors at churches large and small.

Fourth, while people fall through the cracks in large churches, they’re often just different people than those who fall through the cracks in smaller churches. In a home church, it may be a certain age group that can’t relate to what everyone else is doing. In churches of 100, it may be teachers burning out or always giving care and not as often receiving it. In churches of 200, it may be people who work on Sunday mornings. One could make the case that there are more “slots” a person could get plugged into in a larger church, more potential friends, etc.

Regarding the measure of health, many proponents of larger churches define health, in part, by the involvement of their members in small groups where they can get their individual spiritual issues addressed. Numerical growth is also often considered a measure of health, under the theory that churches should naturally grow. (Hiving off members to start new churches, or sending out members as core groups, would factor in here.) Bigger churches are more susceptible to some health risks than smaller churches, but the reverse is also true. It is best to compare ideal big churches with ideal small churches, or dysfunctional big churches with dysfunctional small churches, rather than dysfunctional big churches with ideal small churches.

In conclusion, I probably agree with you more than this response seems to indicate. I led one church-planting team when several of us were feeling pretty burned-out, and our way of dealing with that was to reject being program-led. We vowed not to have any program (be it Sunday-school, worship team, youth group, etc.) unless God provided workers and ministry leaders. I’ve networked with other church planters to pool resources such as trained counselors and specialized, er, programs. And the churches I’ve helped plant have supported missionaries and church plants at the expense of their “own” programs. I guess I just don’t think there’s a single “optimal” church size. I disagree that large churches use more resources (human or financial) than a network of small churches adding up to the same number of people, but I agree that (if I had to choose) multiplying churches is more important than growing my church ever bigger.


good points, but...

Hey Chris- thanks for the well-thought out response…

just a thought- you said “A new church is often limited to just one “professional” of any kind, and must rely on a small pool of members for such things as teachers, musicians, or janitors. Many church planters prefer teams for this reason, but then “have to” reach a certain size to be “viable,” or else deal with other limiting factors. A small cell group can make sure someone carries a handicapped person upstairs to the Bible study, and a megachurch can install all the elevators and special facilities people in wheelchairs need, but many churches in between have areas that are just inaccessible. A small cell group can reach the neighborhood; a megachurch can reach people groups.”

I think that’s my point! When we get to the point as a church where we no longer have to rely on the community to do the work of the ministry, when we can afford to hire professionals for everything, at least to me, that’s a sign we’ve gotten too large. There are people in my town who make a living playing on the worship teams of various large churches- paid guns who “lead” the people, even though they don’t know the people. I would literally rather our community had 1 musician who “belonged” than 10 pros who were there for the paycheck.

I’d rather be in a church who can’t afford an elevator, but has people willing to carry others… I’d rather be in a place where ministry happens because the people want it, own it and nurture it, rather than because paid staff push it, recruit it and manage it.

I do disagree on the overhead… I know the debt incurred by large churches to build their multimillion dollar facilities… Smaller churches don’t take the upkeep that large ones do- including staff. We currently pay $75 a week to rent our space. That’s low, but it can be done.

My main point is simply that there are so many downsides to getting big… that even though we could, the real question becomes why should we?

bob hyatt
lead pastor: the evergreen community

Questions about size


Sorry I haven’t posted a reply in a while. I have kind of been on a discussion list break for a while :). I was reading some of the comments and your response and it got me thinking about size as a value for a church. Is the structure (including size) the driving factor or is multiplication the main focus? And if multiplication is the focus when should a church spin off another one? And (I know too many ands) does church have to consist of a building or big meeting, a trained pastor, a certain size and/or format? Or, could a church be a small group of people who gather in their own faciltiy (their home)and receive teaching in non traditional ways (video, shared resources) and are networked together as a large group? If money going to facilities wasn’t an issue and people were cared for and known and using their gifts in their own church, would size be bad? Also, what do you see the relationship being of these small churches that are planted at a certain size thresh hold? Do they still stay connected? Do they stay on the same track together? Or, do they go separate way? Do they try and tackle the big issues in a community like poverty or disease piecemeal? Or would the size of their network together have a bigger impact in a local community?

I know these are a bunch of questions and I am typing stream of consciousness here but I think there is value to both big and small so the question should be not why should we be big or small, but how can we have the good or high points of both?

misguided spending

there are clearly tradeoffs between psycho-huge-mega-churches and small places. i tend to think that mega churches feel impersonal, but at the same time i have to admit the possibility that some people really like that atmosphere, feel comfortable there. no equation for everyone.

however. much of what was said about churches, for lack of a better word, blowing lots of money on stuff… that resonated a lot with me. this megachurch in my area, north of cincinnati, ohio, recently built this big jesus statue. they spend $250k on it. the church says that it’s been beneficial to a lot of people who drive by it and get inspired and encouraged. i won’t dispute those claims.

i guess it’s like, it’s a little disheartening that someone sat down and said ‘hey we have this $250k sitting around, why don’t we build a large statue of jesus’ instead of ‘let’s help some homeless people find a place to live, or jobs, or help in disaster relief somewhere in the world, or start a church in the ukraine, or buy medicine, or build wells in 250 towns in starving nations, etc’. what leads us to this point? i can’t see jesus saying ‘hey go build a statue of me’ instead of ‘hey go feed some people.’

so it’s refreshing to know that maybe i’m not a lunatic for feeling how i do about that statue. and about where a lot of churches/organizations are pointing their financial guns.

extravagant worship...

i guess it’s like, it’s a little disheartening that someone sat down and said ‘hey we have this $250k sitting around, why don’t we build a large statue of jesus’ instead of ‘let’s help some homeless people find a place to live, or jobs, or help in disaster relief somewhere in the world, or start a church in the ukraine, or buy medicine, or build wells in 250 towns in starving nations, etc’. what leads us to this point? i can’t see jesus saying ‘hey go build a statue of me’ instead of ‘hey go feed some people.’
End Quote

Not disagreeing with you, and I think your point is important. But let me throw this into the mix…

When Judas questioned the cost of the oils used to annoint Jesus because it could have been given to the poor, Jesus corrected him (Mark 14:3-9). We also see a similar pattern, not monetarily, but in the story of Mary and Martha and serving in the kitchen vs. worshipping Jesus. (rough summary) So somehow there has to be room for both - extravagant worship that seems incredibly wasteful, but also living out of kingdom values. I don’t like distinguishing between these two because they are one and the same, but hopefully it is clear what I am trying to get across.

If one takes a completely pragmatic approach to our use of time and resources, I think this somehow misses the mark as well. There is definite value in spending our time feeding the poor - this is a necessary thing. But there is also value in spending time as a church worshipping and praising God in song, or in prayer.

Saying this, $250 000 does seem like a lot to spend on a statue. But maybe that is what God called them to do. Let’s not be too quick to judge on this.

Ian MacLennan
Ontario, Canada

"Instead of" or "in addition to"?

You imply that the megachurch built a statue “instead of” helping the homeless, providing disaster relief, planting churches, etc. Is this really true? I would be amazed if a megachurch truly built a statue at the expense of such things. Chances are, being a mega-church, it is involved in more ministry than most churches not erecting giant statues.

Let’s compare a megachurch of, say, 3,000 people with a small house church of, say, 20 people. If the house church spent $1,750 on some sort of display to inspire and encourage people, that would be equivalent to more than $250,000 for the megachurch (figuring things on a per-capita basis).

I guess my point is that sometimes we are blown away by large figures, without always considering the whole picture. If we considered the whole picture, we would hear just as many of these kind of comments, only talking about the church that re-seeded its lawn or that built a $237 signboard.

Let me add also that it’s more common, in my observation, for very small churches to do things for their own benefit (such as buildings or landscaping) at the expense of ministry than for mega-churches.

Thank you all

I just want to thank you all for this dialogue. I am learning alot and reworking some of my own concerns. My fellowship is at a critical point where I think the choice is between spending $2,000,000 on expanding our existing structure due to growth and building limitations or, as I see it, expanding our ministry into the neighboring, poor, ethnically different area through actual presence and relief. I know I’ve been vague and haven’t given much information, but I just wanted to thank you all and to ask you to pray for us and our leadership as these decisions are being made. And for me—I really don’t want to end up more disillusioned than I already am!

Growth without buildings


Thanks for your comments. I just prayed for you and your church in this decision. One thing to think about when it comes to facilities is the fact that you have as many facilities as you have people in your church (their homes). So if you moved the “class” type stuff out into the community through smaller groups of people meeting in homes you have just created the potential for your church to exand without needing more buildings. Also, if you needed more space for the bigger gatherings, you could add more meeting times or think about smaller gatherings around the community. I don’t know if this helps at all but maybe some of this will help you as you talk with your church fellowship.

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