The million dollar question: Should I attend a megachurch? I’ve even asked this question myself. I’ve seen people on both sides of the debate. We begin with a definition. Most define a megachurch as a church with more than 2,000 members. Based on this definition, there are over 1,300 megachurches in America. Megachurch proponents cite the size of the church as a “practice run”, as we are sure to worship with millions of folks in heaven. One cannot overlook the impact of aggregate finances (when used properly) for missions work. On the flip side of the coin, smaller congregations offer intimacy that many believe makes for authentic, real relationships. On top of that, many believe that smaller churches are less political than larger congregations.
I attended several megachurches over the course of my ministry experience. I currently attend a house church. So I’ve seen both sides of the coin. I’ve seen things go right and I’ve seen things go terribly wrong in both environments. I’d like to offer four
possibly misguided reasons I’ve found that many refuse to step foot in a megachurch:
Nobody likes a hypocrite. It rubs people the wrong way when someone talks out of both sides of the mouth. Over the past several decades, we’ve seen numerous scandals play themselves out in the media (including social media). In most instances, the scandals are attributed to pastors of large megachurches. The truth is, media outlets are really not as interested in small-town scandals. When they get wind of a larger, more prominent pastor’s moral failures…obviously they prefer these stories (and usually run them into the ground).
Here’s the problem with this approach. We tend to attribute the actions of one person to an entire group. That God entrusted his Church to men and women can be both a blessing and a curse. We are blessed to be vessels of God’s grace, but sometimes those vessels are jacked up, flawed, and fall short of his plan for our lives. Truth be told, for every scandal in a megachurch, I know of countless others who operate in integrity and hold themselves accountable. Don’t let the vices of a few cause you to place all others in the same category.
2. Biblically “Un”Sound Teaching
I’m a stickler for this, so this would be #1 on my personal list of potential large church flaws. Having attended seminary, I find myself consistently evaluating sermons for biblically sound teaching. There’s a fine line here. I wouldn’t want to hinder revelatory words spoken through God’s Spirit. At the same time, I don’t appreciate when passages are used out of context. Again, media/social media has (in some instances) caused many to doubt the teachings of many megachurch pastors. I remember clearly a 20/20 story that ran several years back on Fred Price. It purported that one of Price’s sermons bragged about his lavish lifestyle, when in fact it did not. You can see the rebuttal report (which includes the entire sermon) here.
Not saying there aren’t some who teach wrong doctrine, but I do have a problem with pastors being “roped into” a certain category based on a few sermons they preach. If someone preaches on stewardship four weeks a year, does it make him/her a prosperity pastor? Certainly not. While I question a lot of “Dr.’s” who have not completed required coursework to attain a Doctorate level degree, I make sure I withhold judgment of their preaching/teaching until I have heard their entire message or more than one or two sermons.
3. Financial Irresponsibility
Several years ago, the Senate launched an investigation requesting financial information from several prominent televangelists. The investigation concluded with no definitive findings of wrongdoing and no penalties imposed on each. It’s not surprising that the results of the investigation didn’t get as much air time as the investigation itself. True enough, financially irresponsibility is reprehensible. Especially when it comes to men and women of God. The ultimate question is whether ministers of the Gospel should live lifestyles comparable to Hollywood celebrities? Again, two sides of the coin here. One side: children have someone other than athletes and musicians to look up to. Other side: Prosperity and ministry are like oil and water. Jesus wasn’t prosperous, so pastors shouldn’t be.
This issue has plagued me for years. How much is too much in the context of ministry? I’m not so sure. We reward others based on their talents and abilities. What’s the difference here? Shouldn’t we reward men and women of God for faithful work in ministry. I hope to use a slightly different approach when it comes to earning capacity in ministry. I call it the “Paul tentmaker” model. Too much to deal with here in this piece. Suffice it to say that Paul’s occupation (as a tentmaker) sustained him, so he didn’t run into “salary” issues with the various churches he ministered to. I’m praying that God opens the same door for future leaders in the Church.
4. Sheep herding vs. Shepherding
Numbers matter. Especially when it comes to Church. Some pastors ask each other: “How many you running on Sundays, doc?” The sheep herding mentality. Get ’em in. Get ’em out. This is one of the perceived flaws of the megachurch model. I attended a church years ago that had up to 5 services each Sunday. There were certainly times when I felt like I was being herded in and out to graze. On the other hand, there are many megachurches who are intentional about shepherding. This might not occur on Sunday mornings, but it does happen in the context of small groups/cell groups. In fact, some of the most enriching relationships in the megachurch context often occur in the small group setting. I exhort every megachurch to remember pastors are called to be shepherds and not sheep herders. There is a difference.
So to megachurch or not to megachurch? Ultimately, the decision is yours. I do caution against misapplication of the above reasons for refusing to visit one. It saddens me to hear myths and rumors running around the body of Christ. Third-party misinformation: “You know _______ has an ATM machine in the lobby for church members.” Sermon titles misapplied: “_______ said you should fall in love with a stripper.” A pastor’s heart misinterpreted: “You know ______ preaches a happy, happy, joy, joy message.” Churches, large and small, are not without flaw. And we are to hold each of them to account for their shortcomings. That doesn’t mean we should downright dismiss their effectiveness merely based on size. There’s only one Person who can make that determination. The Chief Cornerstone: Jesus Christ.
Question: Do you attend a megachurch? Why or why not?