The Church

22 Aug

Inflatable Church!

OK, so now I have some discussion fodder for you all – not because I like arguements, but because I like discussion, and fodder.

Inspired by a Twitter conversation with some dear old friends….

Can churches be too big?

What is the ideal size of a church?

Should church “growth” be a primary indicator of the health of a church?

How does our theology of community and individual “relationship with God” influence our relationship to “the church”?

Should churches plant new churches after a point? What factors are instrumental in deciding to plant new churches?

What is good about bigger churches (1000+ for the sake of discussion)?

What is good about smaller churches?

What can one learn from the other?

I have my very opinionated opinions. 🙂 But I’m more interested in hearing from you.



15 Responses to “The Church”

  1. Rae Whitlock August 22, 2010 at 10:54 pm #

    Dear Michaela,

    Everything you think, I probably think as well.

    Love, Rae

    (But for real, I’ll get to answering this for real a little later tonight.)

  2. SillyJoe August 22, 2010 at 11:02 pm #

    I think the best answer I can give without getting too rambly and repetitive is this: If a church is growing in numbers but not in spiritual maturity/discipleship/relationships, it’s ignoring a whole host of Biblical mandates. If a church is growing in spiritual maturity/discipleship/relationships but not in numbers (and it’s satisfied with that), it’s ignoring the “go and make” mandate.

    Granted, growing in numbers can take a lot of different shapes.

  3. Bethany August 22, 2010 at 11:03 pm #

    I jumped in just because I have an aversion to making sweeping generalizations about churches based on attendance/membership numbers alone.

    Talk to me about setting a certain number that’s too big. Where does that come from/why is it important? (I’m sure I could put a number on how big is too big….but it would be MUCH higher than some peoples’. For example – look at the numbers posted on Rae’s fb post already.)

  4. Michaela August 22, 2010 at 11:15 pm #

    Rae: Why do you think I keep you around, friend? 🙂

    Joe: Looks like I agree with you there. Only thing is, I think most churches that grow past a certain point aren’t doing so because of the “go and make” mandate, they are simply “sheep-stealing” as my pastor would say….they have more “resources”. Though I find it interesting what kind of “resources” people demand of church that have no business being in church.

    Bethany: This is one of those things where I feel it’s okay to disagree. I understand some of my own aversions to large churches come from the large church I grew up in that wasn’t a healthy, gospel-centered church, from my experience. Those numbers on Rae’s page are far lower than what I would say as well!

  5. Matt Steen August 23, 2010 at 12:03 am #

    I would be careful on the sheep stealing assumption. I have grown tired by pastors throwing that out. If a person feels like they are going to be better cared for in a church down the street, great! Let them be cared for there! In my most recent context we needed more people who felt called to care for than came to be cared for anyhow.

  6. Charlie August 23, 2010 at 12:40 am #

    Wow – a lot here!
    1. No. It’s community, for Pete’s sake! Acts 2 – added about 3000 in one day! However big is not the goal, it’s only relative. AND one shepherd can only keep up with so many sheep.
    2. There isn’t. Are the sheep getting the grass they need to grow? Are they being protected from thingies that eat ’em and treated when they become sick? Are they all wandering around bleating or do they have someone they can trust that’s getting them to pasture and protecting them?
    3. No. A growing community of people will have growing churches (in numbers.) Small farming communities that are “dying” (less population) will not have sustained church growth. Spiritual growth, yes, but I assume you meant numbers. Areas where the Gospel has not been preached in a generation or so will have growth in numbers.
    4. Somewhat. Spiritual growth happens in relationship to God, grounded in Scripture and fellowship is a natural result, but many missionaries are by definition alone with God with no immediate church community. Many of Oswald Chambers best writings were done alone, in Egypt.
    5. Planting new churches is a normal part of a church. Healthy, mature sheep will reproduce. Sick, immature sheep will not.
    6. Almost all “larger” churches will have “smaller churches” inside of them. They all have multiple pastors and “small groups.” Trouble starts when pastors do not get involved personally and deeply in these smaller churches within churches – then you have people feeling disconnected and predators prey on the sheep and when a sheep becomes ill, they rarely recover.

  7. Michaela August 23, 2010 at 1:00 am #

    Matt, what makes you adverse to the “sheep stealing” phrase? I welcome it when in the context of “we don’t want to do that”. The problem is that many folks equate being “cared for better” for “having more of the stuff we want that we THINK meets our ‘needs'”.

    Charlie: I think you’re onto something on that last bit. On the same conversation on Facebook, someone mentioned the problem with having *enough* leadership that is being held accountable that can oversee so many people. We have 2 teaching elders and 5 ruling elders for about 100 folks. Once you get into the thousands, you would literally need hundreds of elders (or some form of shepherds that function on the same plane, rather than just doing their own thing) in order to be as effective concerning oversight and care of the sheep. I think it takes more than occassionally popping in and saying “hi” at a house church for pastors to be well-connected to people. (And I would agree with a pastor that once told me, in short, that his primary contact in the church was MORE time with FEWER people – and those people were the influential ones in the church, that ministered to others. I’m summarizing, of course.)

    I don’t get the impression that the church in Acts 2 functioned the same way our churches do, their 3000+ meeting in the temple every week (though I could be wrong?), but that the key part of that was their meeting in homes and breaking bread together. (I’m not neccessesrily advocating for the “cell/house church only” model either, just the closer discipleship/leadership/oversight. But then, I’m presbyterian. :))

    There are lots of exceptions either way concerning “healthy growth”. Lots of churches grow because they are “feel good” churches that are “attractive” to certain demographics. Then, lots of churches don’t grow in the same numbers as some, shall we say, “cool churches” because they don’t have the “cool” worship band or the pastor is “too” exegetical, or there’s no kids church or (blah blah blah)! The Gospel is still “foolishness” to many……

    Course Charlie, you and I both know of good, healthy small churches that many be growing slower than we would like, but they still grow (in spirit and size)!

  8. Matt Steen August 23, 2010 at 1:20 am #

    Two takes on the sheep stealing thing:

    First, I am just sick of pastors launching that grenade at other churches as an excuse to not think critically about what is going on in their own body. That probably comes across as harsh, but I have seen too many pastors turn the church number thing into a urinating contest, and when they get beat they have two go to lines: 1. Sheep stealing, and 2. Entertainment church.

    That soapbox taken care of, there are churches that are far better able to holistically care for people better than others. While we were in Baltimore we were incredibly underequipped to care for families with special needs kids. There was, however, a church that was far better able to care for the entire family in these situations. I was more than happy to do everything in my power to ensure that a family that was in our body could worship there (please don’t read that as us refusing to allow them to worship with us). There are plenty of cases like that, I am sure that you have seen them, and I doubt that you have a problem with that kind of thing.

    Now, the other crowd: “having more of the stuff we want that we THINK meets our ‘needs’”(your phrase). I honestly have no problem with them going wherever is most comfortable for them to be. I feel this way because it is my hope that when they get to that comfortable place that they will resonate enough with what is going on that they will engage in some kind of service capacity. When that engagement begins, I trust that the church will have the systems in place to ensure that they will be discipled. Chances are that the sheep being stolen are not very mature, which is why they are easily stolen away. It is when the mature people begin to leave a church that I begin to have concern, and in those cases the concern is not about sheep stealing, the concern is about the health of the church that they are departing.

  9. Michaela August 23, 2010 at 1:31 am #

    Matt, “comfort” at what cost? And why does comfort trump any other reasons for going to church in this instance? As a “young married” person, I couldn’t justify going to a church with “young marrieds” because I’m more comfortable with “my peoples” at the expense of other things (like going to a church that is local, for example). In your opinion, what should be the top three determining factors for choosing your church?

    And I’m still not sure what your problem is when pastors are saying they DON’T WANT TO sheep steal. The only context I’ve heard it used in my church is: “They go to a good local church that is closer to them, that is a good thing, we don’t want to sheep steal”, when there may be some reasons people might leave said “other church” like the worship team, the service times, etc. I’ve never, in our community (I say “community” broadly, meaning the several churches of various denominations that we are friends with in are area) heard people bitch about “so-and-so church stole sheep from us.” Maybe I’m just not hearing it, but I think it’s a healthy thing to keep in mind, when, as often happens in America, churches seem to be practically planting on top of each other, just because they think they can do a better job at church than the folks next door.

  10. Matt Steen August 23, 2010 at 1:48 am #

    I misread your second comment about sheep stealing which sent me off on my soapbox tangent. I have no problems with people having the attitude that encourages people to be in the church that they are connected to.

    I would agree with you that comfort should not be a determining factor for where a mature believer in Christ should be worshiping. I believe wholeheartedly that those who have a deep walk with Christ will feel a calling to worship where they are supposed to be. Theresa and I went through this over the past six weeks. We felt called towards a church that neither of us would probably have chosen were it up to us, but we feel that this is where God is calling us to for this season. When I am talking about comfort driving a decision to attend a church I am talking about immature believers and non-believers… I want them to be somewhere that they are comfortable. Somewhere that they feel resonates with who they are so that they can begin to engage in the church in some capacity. When they start to engage, and when they start to be connected with other people is when they start to be pushed to really wrestle through what faith is, and begin the process of graduating from milk to meat.

    • Michaela August 23, 2010 at 2:25 am #

      Hmmm. I think I’m with you on that. 🙂

  11. Joshua Blankenship August 23, 2010 at 12:18 pm #

    So I’m on staff at a church that runs counter to All That You Hold Dear (methodologically-speaking). It is, as the kids say, way mega. It isn’t perfect, nor do I feel like our methods are the “right” methods or that other models are inferior.

    I’m not sure questions of size are all that important as ends unto themselves. At some point those types of hard edges break down. e.g. “Churches bigger than [insert number that makes you cringe] are bad, churches smaller than that are good.”

    I think we can all agree that churches who consistently preach the gospel, effectively encourage/spur one another on, serve, evangelize, disciple, etc. are good. Does body size matter so long as said body is healthy and effective?

  12. Maurice Broaddus August 23, 2010 at 11:26 pm #

    i used to have an aversion to mega churches, but i’ve come to realize a few things:

    1) small churches can wound/not care just as easily as mega churches

    2) there are many expressions of the body, each with their own particular giftings and we should appreciate and embrace that

    3) a lot of the time, while i believe smaller churches do better with community (as i try on my sweeping generalizations hat) – at least in the sense that you can get to know the entire community – larger churches tend to have more resources. which isn’t a bad asset to have when teaming up to do kingdom work.

  13. Maurice Broaddus August 23, 2010 at 11:28 pm #

    as for your other questions, oh, i got opinions … i just didn’t want to eat up your whole comments section. 🙂

  14. J August 26, 2010 at 7:05 pm #

    Potentially a lot to cover. Let me see if I can compress:

    Can churches be too big? Yes. See below!

    What is the ideal size of a church? Where it’s possible to know and name each individual and have a substantial relationship with them.

    Should church “growth” be a primary indicator of the health of a church? Not in and of itself. Better is sustained discipleship, exhibition of gifts, common purpose, generation of offshoots, blessing others when members move on.

    How does our theology of community and individual “relationship with God” influence our relationship to “the church”? Focus on the former: Church is family.

    Should churches plant new churches after a point? What factors are instrumental in deciding to plant new churches? Absolutely. Divine leading, a marked absence of a local church in an area, a missional heart in certain members, avoiding becoming a private ghetto.

    What is good about bigger churches (1000+ for the sake of discussion)? I was going to say financial clout, but there is in fact *nothing* that a bigger church can do that couldn’t be done co-operatively with a number of smaller, like minded churches.

    What is good about smaller churches? Intimacy, familial, accountability, less chance to be a passenger.

    What can one learn from the other? Learn – lots. Implement – not much. Many of the benefits are intrinsic to the operating size.


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