In America today we want everything “supersized”—-from our french fries at McDonalds to our huge houses where only two people reside.. We seem to live by the slogan: “Bigger is Better!” But is it? I’d like to examine that question in relation to the size of churches. Are megachurches more successful than small churches?
Those of us who have attended church conventions know that the featured speakers and most of the workshop leaders will be pastors from large churches. Somehow the “rank and file” seem to think that because they are large megachurch pastors they have all the answers and are personally successful as well as leaders of successful churches, and so we come to see what crumbs of wisdom they might cast our way that will help us and our small churches be”successful” like they are.—meaning having large membership numbers and a campus of buildings. That these pastors are good administrators is a given here. That they have a good deal of charisma and are deliver good sermons is usually true. That they have answers to the question of how to build a megachurch and manage it is also true. Their churches offer tons of programs for children and adults—from support groups for people with various problems to children’s ministry and everything in between. But are a variety of programs offered to attract large numbers of people to their church a measure of success as Jesus defined success? I’m not so sure of this—and that is the question we examine today.
I’m leading a Home Fellowship Group in a Bible Study of the Gospel of Mark. At our last session we discussed this question of “supersize” as Jesus seemed to see it. He accepted the large crowds he attracted—some so large along the Sea of Galilee that he acquired a boat to get in so he would not be crushed by the crowds seeking to touch him and be healed. But Jesus tends to see those crowds as no reason for gratification. He feels that many of them are there for the wrong reason, to be healed of their infirmities and to see the miraculous. Jesus heals them and has compassion for them, but proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God is his main mission. That proclamation is his main mission because it has the power to transform people’s lives, and sometimes people who are only seeking physical healing and entertainment can get in the way of that proclamation.
I think the Parable of the Sower in Chapter 4 of the Gospel of Mark shows the way he feels about the crowds he attracts. You can read it in Mark 4: 1-9. Sowing grain in that day was done by throwing it from right to left by hand. Because of that there was no control over where the actual seeds landed on the ground. Jesus says some seed fell on pathways and the birds came and ate it. Some seed fell on rocky ground where there was not enough soil to support it and when it came up it had shallow roots and the sun scorched it and killed it. Some seed fell among thorns and weeds and they choked it the plant out before it could get established. But some seed fell on good soil and it brought forth grain that multiplied it one hundredfold.
Jesus saw the crowds to whom he sought to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God in the same way. Only a small portion of the crowd would actually be transformed by the good news of the Kingdom of God. The rest would let other things choke it out of their lives and die unchanged. Thus I feel Jesus was not impressed with numbers but with changes in the lives of people who heard him.
With the above in mind, now we need to look at what makes a church successful today. I think the answer to my question “Is Bigger Better?” as it pertains to churches is this: it is not size alone that leads to success of any church, large or small, but it is its ability to follow Jesus and in doing so transform the lives of those who are a part of that church and those who that church reaches out to. The measure of a church’s success is the number of lives that have been changed and transformed due to its proclamation both in word and in deed of the Kingdom of God. The successful church is the “good soil” in the Parable of the Sower” that brings forth transformation of people’s lives and nurtures their growth in relationship to God and God’s Kingdom.. A successful church, regardless of the names on the roster, changes people into devoted followers of Jesus and his teachings as they live their lives each day. Small churches can be just as successful as large churches in changing people’s lives as they live the great commandment to love God and neighbor as yourself.” Sometimes because small churches are more personal, they are able to live this better than those with thousands on their membership roster.
It is not the numbers, but what happens to the lives of the people who are the numbers that indicates success for a church. The early church was made up of house churches with small numbers—but they changed the world by living their faith every day, even in the face of persecution and death!