Do I Really Hate Mega Churches?

Related Post (and update of sorts): Revisiting my Mega Church “Feelings”

Over the past several years, I have developed a rather negative opinion of mega churches. Much of my negativity revolves around what I have perceived as mega church self-importance. Further, the resemblance to our “super size me” culture has stigmatized mega churches in my eyes.

After a late night—and rather intense—conversation with Ann, and after some thought, I have come to the conclusion that my general dislike of mega churches is based on a stereotype that needs to be unpacked and examined.

Sheer size.

Assumption: A congregation with thousands of regular attenders cannot have the sort of communal feel shown in Scripture.

In his book, The Search to Belong, Joseph Myers describes four relational spaces: public, social, personal, and intimate. While it is true that one cannot have intimate or personal relationship with a gathering of thousands (or even hundreds), one can have social or public relationships in such a church. What I object to in ANY church is the assumption that public or social space is sufficient. It is not. Churches of any size must actively and programmatically encourage regular attenders to have healthy relationships in all four spaces.

Maintenance mentality.

Assumption: The size and complexity of the institutional structures of a mega church require too large a proportion of the available resources.

Maintenance mentality can be found in all sizes of church, from smallest house church to largest mega church. This is, therefore, not a mega church problem, but a church problem. A maintenance mentality does not merely refer to proportions in the budget. It more accurately refers to the ends at which that budget is directed. The question is whether programs are focused on maintaining a comfortable refuge from the world or on equipping Christ-followers for mission. The budget (and other) proportions may appear exactly the same in a maintenance church as in a missional church. The most important difference is not found in the budget nor on the calendar, but in the daily lives of the people: are they proclaiming God’s reign 24-7 or are they soaking up religious goods and services?

Imitate me.


Assumption: Mega churches hold themselves up as formats to copy.

Materials produced by some mega churches (on the pretense of helping the little sister) do seem to package the “mega church method” for smaller church consumption. Smaller churches are equally at fault in that they purchase the “method” rather than doing the hard work of seeking God. Of the three critiques (size, maintenance, and imitate me), this critique remains—but it is as much a critique of the imitators and it is of the imitated. Size is only one criterion of success, and then not the most important. The most important criterion is how well the local church fulfills its mission to proclaim God’s reign in its community. It must not be the programs or methods that are imitated, but their obedience to God’s command and reliance on the Spirit.

So, what is the bottom line? I am finding that I do not object to the mega church, per se. What I object to is the human tendency to equate size with success, self-protective clinging with faithfulness, and rote imitation with God-following. I willingly admit that there is nothing unbiblical about the mega church. On the other hand, given our “super size me” culture, leadership teams in mega churches (and, in fact, in all churches) must take special care to create room for all four relational spaces, must intentionally—and repeatedly—focus on God’s mission, and must actively pursue God’s ways for their particular community context.

About Laura

My name is Laura and I am on a journey, pondering the implications of God's glorious design of humanity and integrating every aspects of this design into a description of whole life health.
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3 Responses to Do I Really Hate Mega Churches?

  1. carl says:

    I have been in churches of varying sizes, from about 50 people to 2500. Just thought I would post a couple thoughts from my experiences:

    Assumption: A congregation with thousands of regular attendees cannot have the sort of communal feel shown in Scripture.

    Small churches have clicks also. It hurts a lot more when you are not invited to a party when the church is small. When the community is larger, it is easier to find a group of people that you gel with and enjoy their company. This is not true in a small church.

    Assumption: The size and complexity of the institutional structures of a mega church require too large a proportion of the available resources.

    In the churches I have been a part of the proportions are about the same. Half the budgets go to salary, the other half to program (including meeting facilities). My current church (mega) is starting a building program so that may shift but my last church (tiny) had a building drive that was never ending while they rented a facility.

    The question is whether programs are focused on maintaining a comfortable refuge from the world or on equipping Christ-followers for mission. … The most important difference is not found in the budget nor on the calendar, but in the daily lives of the people: are they proclaiming God’s reign 24-7 or are they soaking up religious goods and services?

    Herein lies the major difference. Most small churches provide no refuge from the world for those who desperately need it. When I got to my current mega church my wife and I needed a ministry break quite badly. We were able to receive ministry without feeling guilty for not carrying our share of the load. When it was time, we were then able to step up and serve.

    When it was that time there were ample opportunities for us to serve. Big churches are always looking for people to minister. Because they are looking for people who need the refuge of the church, there are lots of programs that need people to run them and lots of people who need (and want) ministry from lay leaders. My experience has been that most people in small churches will not go to lay leaders for ministry because the ever present spiritual pecking order. This gives very little room for leadership development. So people go to ministry school (which is a type of mega church) to learn these things that the local small church cannot provide.

    Assumption: Mega churches hold themselves up as formats to copy.

    True with one caveat: Many big churches hold to the belief that one of the main goals of a church is to grow. And in that case they are correct in believing that those who are like minded should copy their efforts. But this is often done with the mindset that they are helping other congregations achieve the same goal, growth. Large church leadership has no ability to understand the concept of growth no being a focus. I mean that not as slander but it is a focus of church for them. A church that is not trying to grow is like a car wash without water, pointless.

    Small churches are like extended families. This is good and bad, depending on your family. Large churches are like communities. Again this is good and bad. If you want to hang out with the senior pastor, you have to attend a small church. If you want to be part of a journey, the small church is better.
    The pastor knows what you have already been taught because the people have not changed. No so in the mega. This causes the sunday sermon to be less than deep because the fundamentals have to be taught and retaught to an ever growing (and changing) group.

    Sorry bout the long post. Not sure I added anything but I’ll post it anyway.

  2. Laura says:

    Good thoughts. My thinking about megas, smalls, and everything in between is in quite a bit of flux. Honestly, I do have a near immediate emotional reaction to megas–mostly because of some practices of a particular mega in my area. I fully intend to think about this more and help my emotions to eventually following the thinking. You are quite correct in saying that there are issues in churches of any size–after all, there are humans there.

    I think–for now–that the best of all worlds would combine the best of small with the best of large. Churches with thriving, missional small groups and challenging large group worship opportunities are probably doing this.

    [i may respond more later…you’ve given lots to think about]

  3. Carl says:

    Jesus is alive!

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