A meme on my Facebook feed the other day caught my attention and got me thinking: “Mega-church, or mega-ministry?”
The two are not mutually exclusive, of course. There are some excellent “mega-churches” that galvanize groups within their midst to do great ministry. But you don’t need to be a megachurch of 2,000 attenders or more to have a significant ministry in the community. In other words, your church can have “mega-ministries” without having mega-numbers.
In fact, at least some research suggests that, per capita, megachurches are by no means the best size congregation to release people for ministry in their communities or around the world. Indeed, Christian Schwarz—author of Natural Church Development —boldly states that, on the whole, smaller churches are healthier.
His research—covering eight areas of health including passionate spirituality, gift-oriented ministry, loving relationships and empowering leadership—was conducted in 32 countries on six continents. The conclusion? On average, smaller churches accomplish these criteria on a more regular basis. Instead, however, some authors even proceed from the opposite thesis, namely ‘The bigger, the better.’”
But back to the meme. I have friends who attend large conferences sponsored by megachurches in major cities, and often the inevitable outcome of their attendance seems to be their own depression. “Why can’t we grow like that or do the cool things they seem to be able to do?” they ask themselves, Sunday after Sunday.
To which I want to say, “Get healthy by releasing your people into the community!”
Leadership—that’s you, pastor, or Sunday school teacher, or Mom/Dad—needs to go to some desperate place in your area and find a regular place to serve. Then start sharing your experience….and inviting (or dragging) people along with you. Get a bias for action. Pour yourself out for the poor and disenfranchised whom Jesus seemed to take seriously.
And thus, your mega-ministry begins.
A church of fifty has a decent chance that 10 to 25 to 50 percent of the congregation (by the grace of God and leadership that leads) will become involved in significant ministry outside the four walls of the church. The megachurch is much less likely than a smaller church to make that happen.
My church is pretty involved in such places, regularly heading to the abortion clinic, the prisons, the nursing homes, a nearby public school, a half-way house, etc. In these places of need, we rarely run into megachurch laity engaged in similar ministry. But the laity from churches of 300 or less? Yes, we often find them making a Kingdom difference among those to whom Jesus adjured his followers to go.
So, mega-church or mega-ministry? You don’t have to have the first to have the latter.
Dr. Matt Friedeman is Professor of Evangelism and Discipleship at Wesley Biblical Seminary and pastor of DaySpring Community Church in Clinton.