And, like it or not, there is often a rift between the small churches and the mega-churches. The big churches have more money and more ability to reach the masses. Smaller churches promote the idea that they are more able to impact lives on an individual level, helping mature people in genuine Christian discipleship.
So you can imagine the hubbub in church circles when mega-church pastor Andy Stanley said in a sermon:
When I hear adults say, “Well I don’t like a big church, I like about 200, I want to be able to know everybody,” I say, “You are so stinking selfish. You care nothing about the next generation. All you care about is you and your five friends. You don’t care about your kids [or] anybody else’s kids” … If you don’t go to a church large enough where you can have enough middle schoolers and high schoolers to separate them so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult. Get over it. Find yourself a big old church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people and grow up and love the local church.
There was a large outcry from ministers and ministry workers across the country. To his credit, Stanley apologized and said:
“The negative reaction to the clip from last weekend’s message is entirely justified. Heck, even I was offended by what I said! I apologize.”
But he went on to explain that he was so proud of his church’s youth ministry reaching 4,600 teens. Just imagine if every teen could experience that kind of connection!
Sure, reaching teens is great. And I appreciate Stanley’s attempt to pacify the little guys, those of us who minister to groups of fewer than 100 people, but his apology doesn’t really do much for me. It’s an “apology, but….” He’s sorry to offend, but if you really understood his heart then you would see why he said it.
You drag your kids to a church they hate, and then they grow up and hate the local church.
Did you catch that? If we can’t give kids an incredible, big-church experience then they’ll grow up hating the church. You owe it to your children to attend a mega-church with the mega-church resources so that they don’t hate the little church that can’t provide as much.
I don’t believe parents ought to relegate the spiritual development of their children to the church (mega 0r small). Parents ought to be the PRIMARY source of spiritual development for children. And when children are raised seeing their parents engage in authentic Christian community, they will grow up belonging TO that community. What Stanley is really saying is that his church is full of parents who have abdicated their responsibility to spiritually lead and direct their children.
But what about the Bible? What does the Bible say?
Actually, it doesn’t say anything about church size. There are no directives, just examples. The example set in the Bible is that outreach and evangelism events have HUGE reach (in the thousands) but that the local church was small enough to fit in homes and local synagogues (the early church was made up of Jewish converts, so the synagogue was the natural place to meet).
The church is about Christian community. Acts tells us that they got together daily in homes to eat, worship, and listen to the apostles teach about Jesus. I get the sense that kids would have been part of this early community.
No youth ministry.
No separate area where parents allowed others to do their jobs for them. The family was involved in worship together.
Since the Bible doesn’t say anything about church size I won’t condemn mega-churches. They do a lot of good work. but Stanley is WAY off-base in his beliefs and comments. Stop worrying about the church raising kids. How’s about the church worries about making authentic disciples of the entire family unit? How can we raise mature parents in the faith so that they in turn can rear godly children?
And this is something that any sized church can do.
How about you? What size church do you attend? What are the merits of the small church? Of the large church?
Chris Linzey is husband to Tené, father to the three most beautiful children in the world, movie addict (seriously, if it’s on a screen he'll watch it—doesn’t matter how crummy or low-budget), and a Navy Chaplain, currently assigned to Naval Air Station, Meridian. Chris has a deep desire to help people live lives of faith where the Bible is more than mere words on a page, but the way we live everyday. His undergrad and Master’s studies were in Biblical Studies and he focused on the New Testament (his mentor was a Gospel of Mark scholar). He went on to get a Master of Divinity (MDiv) in Pastoral Preaching. Follow him at @chrislinzey.