Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Big Churches

In Glasgow we don't have any 'mega' churches. If I'm right, we have a couple of large churches (congregations numbering from 400-700), but thankfully none of Joel Osteen proportions. When I hear of churches in the US with congregants numbering in the 1000s, I scarce can take it in. Even the neo-Reformed (e.g. Driscoll - whose preaching abilities I admire greatly) seem to have bought in to the 'mega church' model.

In my opinion, it is near impossible for a large church to function as it should from a NT standpoint. First and most obviously, how do you administer communion in a setting with thousands present? How do you guard the Lord's Table from unbelievers? To abuse the Supper is to invite judgement upon your assembly, yet it must be nigh impossible for ministers/elders to be on their guard when giving out the Supper weekly to faces they've never seen before.

Secondly, how does a mega church 'do' discipline? I suspect that most don't. Nevertheless, it is easy for those needing church discipline to disappear into the throng. Hundreds could be involved in sin that would make Ted Haggard blush, yet they'd remain unaccountable, while swaying with eyes closed singing love songs to Jesus. That's not to mention those who need discipline for non-attendance. How do you even tell who is and who isn't there?

Third, what about mutual accountability and loneliness? Church is a place for the downtrodden, the low in society, the depressed, the socially awkward, etc. The kingdom of God is for such as these. How are people to form godly relationships, to be 'forced' out of their little shells into loving mutual accountability and to find loving support in such a massive crowd environment.

Fourth, what about the problem of the biblicists? Big churches attract wackos who've been punted or moved from church to church. Most big churches employ the use of 'house groups' to solve the relationship problem I mentioned in my third point. During these house groups, any Charles Manson with a Life Application Study Bible can voice his heretical/biblicist views.

Fifth, big churches create celebrity pastors. If I see another pastor on TV with a radio mike in his ear and fake tan rubbed around his surgically enhanced jowl's I'm going to, in true Elisha style, pray for some angry bears. I'll also pray for locusts and point them to the glossy church magazines. Large crowds feed the celebrity aspirations of many pastors and church becomes all about their 'performance' rather than a place where the saints are fed with the body and blood of the risen Christ.

In my opinion, churches start to lose their intimacy and ability to function effectively when the congregation reaches between 200-250. Imagine a church that planted another church every time the roll reached 200! I'd much rather have a city with 30 churches of 200 people than one with a mega church of 6000.


Anonymous said...

It's only in days of such smallness and gospel weakness (in the bad sense!) that 'mega-churches' impress us so much. I mean in the UK we get all starry eyed and flushed to hear of a church with 1000 or 2000 members - impressive? Well there was a bigger gate at the Ross County v Airdrie game last night (yes that's a Tues eve in March!) That's not to say that a church with a 1000 or 2000 members can't be good by it's a sign of the church's general insignificance that we get so bowled over by them.

Andy H

Dougie said...

Alright mate, I agree with many of your general concerns with one or two caveats....

When Paul gets back to Jerusalem in Acts 21:20 there are literally tens of thousands of Christians in the Jerusalem church. Most English translations use 'thousands' but if my dodgy Greek vocab is up to anything the word is 'tens of thousands, plural'. That means there was at least 20,000 Christians in the Jerusalem church. Of course we have little idea how they conducted the sacraments (was it house groups, temple, etc) but I was informed recently that this is a case for a biblical mega-church.

Point 2 I totally agree and its something they are very weak on.

Point 3 that leads to 4... well I can't speak for every mega-church but certainly the literature I've read about Willow and Saddleback don't allow just anyone to lead and they do put them through training. I agree this isn't as stringent as you would like, it's not total pastoral accountability, but it's a move in the right direction.

I am in total agreement with church planting at about 200-250. Who will lead all these churches though? especially in Scotland? Do we have the preachers and teachers?

Finally, do you think Scotland would ever have a mega-church given that if you get more than 200Scots in a room they start to fall out?

Dougie said...

let me also add, really enjoying your musings Nick, keeps me thinking.

Nick Mackison said...

Hey Doug, is that Mr Affleck? I thought you were just some wide-o coming on to mix it up. Then I realise it's my good buddie who is on the Lambeth way.

Regarding who would pastor these churches, if you look at Greenview, there are loads of able young guys. The young men of Scotland need to hear fearless and courageous preaching. When they hear it, they will come, I've no doubt.