Big Church vs. Small Church~ Which is Better?

Recently, a prominent pastor of a mega church in Atlanta, GA came under some heat for statements made in a sermon. He shared that parents who take their kids to a small church (which he considers to be 200 or less) are selfish, because they are not giving their kids an opportunity to love church. He has since apologized for his statements saying that even he was offended by them.

But this leaves some lingering questions for the Church that are worth considering. Are bigger churches better? What makes a church successful? Are parents selfish if they take their kids to a small church?

Are bigger churches better?

Honestly, I think that this question is the wrong one. When we ask this question, we are forgetting the entire purpose of the Church. While individual, local churches have great significance, every church must consider themselves to be a part of something bigger. We are the body of Christ. Every Bible believing, gospel centered church is part of God’s Kingdom.

Sometimes I want to stand up and yell, “We’re all on the same team!!”. Instead, these debates over which is better- big church or small church- leave a fractured body, one that is focused on the wrong things. We’re not supposed to fight over these things or build our own arguments that are quite frankly based on preference and personal experience. We are supposed to be fighting with and for each other for the sake of the gospel.

I would like to submit to you that the answer to which is better, big church vs. small church, is neither. The only thing that matters is that Christ is preached and that his truth is proclaimed.

What makes a church successful?

This is an important question for the leadership of individual churches to consider. But we must be careful not to buy into the worlds idea of success. If we think that numbers or wealth are indicative of God’s approval, we are standing on a slippery slope. A former pastor of ours used to say, “If it won’t preach on the streets of Africa, it won’t preach”. We need to admit that the American standard of success has seeped into the church, but this is not God’s standard. By this standard, Jesus was a failure. The Son of Man has no place to lay his head (Matt. 8:20). At the crucifixion, John is the only disciple who is reported as being present (John 19:26).

While an increase in numbers and a healthy financial situation can encourage a church to keep being faithful, it is not what determines the success of a church. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus says this, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”. The success of a church is based solely on faithfulness to God. Success is based on a desire for God’s glory, for the sake of His name. Success is when two or three gather seeking His presence among them.

A church that is seeking to be faithful to God will be able to celebrate what God is accomplishing in other churches. A church that is able to rejoice with another church’s success is itself successful. Because that church realizes that it is part of God’s big plan to bring his gospel to a lost and dying world. God will be most glorified when His people understand that it isn’t about making a name for ourselves. It is all about making HIS name great and proclaiming HIM!

Are parents selfish if they take their kids to a small church?

To be honest with you, this question surprises me. As a lover of The Church, the first two questions are ones that I wrestle with frequently. But this one? I had never heard someone express this opinion. In my 41 years of life, there have only been 3 years in which I attended what would be considered a big church. Those 3 years made it clear that God was calling my husband and I to small church ministry. But I want to be very clear about this- our passion for smaller churches does not mean that we believe this should be everyone’s passion! It is simply where God has called us to serve. Are we being selfish? I don’t believe so! I’m not sure how we could be considered selfish when we are earnestly seeking to be faithful to what God has called us to do.

Likewise, I believe that God calls others to bigger churches. His plan in individual believers and churches is for His glory. We diminish his plan and his purposes when we say that everyone should serve him in the same way. Or when we try to force our calling on someone else. I don’t believe that we can say any parents are selfish simply based on what size church they attend. As the body of Christ, we should not be criticizing other members for where they choose to go to church. This goes both ways. While I prefer a small church for my family, many of our dear friends and extended family attend mega churches. I praise God for the way He is working in His Kingdom regardless of the size of individual churches.

Another question that was raised in the sermon previously mentioned was the belief that parents are not helping their kids to love the church if they take them to small churches. In my experience, this is not true at all. While the impact that a smaller church can have and the opportunities it provides might not be as extensive as a larger church, I do not believe that impact or opportunity are the key factors in loving the church. True love for the church is in direct proportion to a true love for Jesus. We can’t escape the truth that Jesus took on servanthood, being obedient to death on a cross and he invites his followers to take up their cross and follow Him. If our only concern in churches is to cater to kid’s wants, we are not portraying the truth of the gospel. And so they might want to go to a church that makes them feel good, but is this really the gospel?

Small church kids have different opportunities to learn important lessons. Small church kids learn that the church does not exist to make them happy, so when they get out on their own, they will not be searching for a church that is as good as the one they grew up in. Instead, they will be looking for the truly successful churches- the ones where Christ is preached. They learn to be a part of something and to serve others, not because it is easy and fun, but because it brings glory to God.

The irony for me of reading the transcripts from the sermon was that the same weekend, my 7th grade daughter performed in her middle school musical. On Friday night, her Jr. high youth group came to the show to support her and her friends who were also performing. On the Saturday night of the performances, 30 friends from our church came to the show (ranging in age from 5 to 75). Because she is in 7th grade, she is actually involved with three different groups- one for 5th-7th graders, her Jr. high group and service projects with the Sr. high group. As I contemplated all of these things, I was reminded that she isn’t missing out at all. Rather, she is blessed to have so many people pouring into her. She has more aunties and grandmas then we can even count, because our small church is family.

Again, this doesn’t make a small church better. We try really hard to instill this message in our kids. We don’t want them to be so focused on our church that they forget that we are The Church. We demonstrate the importance of this by serving along side other churches, by encouraging our kids to go to different VBS offerings, by being missions minded and by diminishing the differences in style and elevating Jesus and his work in his church. It is very easy for kids to have an unhealthy pride in their own church and this is something that we need to fight against as parents. One day, our kids will grow up and realize that there are other churches who love Jesus too. We will serve our kids best if we teach them this all along the way.

So which is better~ big church or small church? The answer is neither and both. What is best is a proper understanding that we are The Church.

5 Comments

  1. adam mclane
    March 28, 2016

    I’m with you. I think there are people who like being in a big church and there are people who like being in a small church. Big churches try to act small (small groups) and small churches try to act big. (over-producing, too many programs, etc)

    The comments of that person irked me for a lot of reasons, I’m glad he later apologized… but the damage was also kind of already done since he played his hand so strongly. I mean, it’s not like he made that up on the spot.
    That’s a hundred conversations with people coming out on stage… it’s a little riff… We’ve all been there and we all have our little riffs.

    For me, as someone who spent a whole lot of time on staff at churches but now has a different role in ministry life, I think Andy was trying to speak to something he just doesn’t understand. Literally, he’s never made that decision in his entire life. “Where do I go to church and for what reason?” Frankly, neither have you guys! It’s one thing to decide where you want to go for employment. Of course, you love your church and your kids grow and so on. But church staff will never understand what he was trying to talk about because it’s not the same. It’s an entirely different thing to decide where to go to church when you can literally go wherever you want or no where and no one really cares one way or the other.

    The question we’ve wrestled with again and again is… “do you go to a church that mom & dad love but has limited opportunities for your kids?” (e.g. small church) Or “do you go to the church with lots of opportunities for the kids and mom & dad just tolerate it?”

    We have tried it both ways now in San Diego and frankly we don’t have the correct answer. (Feels more like two incorrect answers.) In essence, we made the choice Andy was referring to. We landed where he landed… believing we were being selfish by putting our kids in a church they didn’t really connect with but mom and dad loved.

    But here’s the dirty secret Andy doesn’t talk about because he probably doesn’t see it. If mom and dad are just along for the ride, over time, the kids pick up on that. As they see us not really “drinking the kool aid” they start to see through it. And it just becomes a slow fade from there.

    That’s the problem with the question at all, which is what you’re referring to. The question is deeply rooted in sin. It’s asking the wrong question from the get go. Ultimately, the long-term commitment of being a part of a church is about faithfulness and obedience. It’s not about what you like at all. Going to a church because you like the pastor or the music or the kids program is consumeristic. You don’t consume church. Jesus consumes your life. Duh. 🙂

    Reply
    • Becky Daye
      March 28, 2016

      Oh, I love that- “You don’t consume church. Jesus consumes your life.” Exactly.
      And you’re right- picking a church for employment is different, but it has taught me a lot about stick-to-it-iveness. Every church will experience difficulty, so there needs to be a deeper commitment than simply looking for a place that meets your needs in that moment.
      When I was in high school, my Dad pastored two churches about a mile apart. One was bigger and most of our youth group went there. But our Dad had us go to Sunday school at the smaller church. He was in essence teaching us to be selfless in our approach to church- to understand that we go for God’s glory, not our own. It was a good lesson to learn.

      Reply
  2. Elizabeth
    March 29, 2016

    Great post!
    We never pastored a large church but our church has planted a church in the most challenging part of our city that is quite large now. We also have a big missions outreach. As one small part of the body, we feel our job is to be faithful to the unique call and purpose God has for us. I wish every church would do so, without trying to compete with, compare to, or put down other churches.

    Reply
  3. Sarah
    March 30, 2016

    I really liked this post, Becky. Thought you put it across so well.

    Reply

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