Bigger can, at times, be better...
I love the local church. I am often concerned that we can overlook the importance of the local church. I am also a fan of the diversity in church sizes that we see across the country. I love small churches. Up until about 1 year ago all of my ministry had been accomplished in small churches. In April of next year I will be speaking again at Impact, the only conference I know of designed specifically for pastors of small Southern Baptist churches. I worry, at times, that we overlook the work of the small church in favor of larger churches. Having said that, I must also clarify that I love the large church as well. Most of my life until I was 20 or so was spent in larger churches which varied in size. I am convinced that God is doing amazing things across the country today that is leading to larger and larger churches. The church that I serve is seeing exciting growth and we anticipate that it will continue to grow.
In light of all of that, I am often concerned when we offer blanket statements in an effort to devalue the ministry of both smaller and larger churches. I think the truth is that we often have a tendencey to simply run down what we're not a part of which is a sad testimony to misplaced priorities in many of our lives.
Large churches are often fun targets for our complaints. One of my mentors and someone whom I respect greatly both for his fantastic leadership and because he has personally poured a great deal into my life leads a church that runs well over 4,000 on Sunday morning and I'm often amazed at how consistently his church is the subject of deragatory comments.
While thinking through all of that, Baylor University has conducted some fascinating research on megachurches. While most researchers I know typically consider a mega-church to be a church of at least 2,000 in attendance, this research takes into account congregations of 1,000 in attendance or more. Nevertheless, the research that they just recently unveiled offers some interesting truths that may run contrary to the favorite myths propogated by many within evangelicalism. Among some of the more interesting facts they released:
The survey found that members of such churches tended to have more friends within their congregations, hold more conservative or evangelical Christian beliefs, share their faith with friends and strangers more often, and be involved in volunteer work more frequently than their counterparts in churches with less than 100 in average attendance.
When compared to small congregations, the survey found that megachurch members display a higher level of personal commitment by attending services and a Bible study group and tithing. They also are more likely to accept that heaven "absolutely" exists and that God rewards the faithful with major successes, are more convinced of the reality of evil, are far more given to having religious and mystical experiences, are significantly younger in age and are remarkably active in volunteer work (as much or more so than tiny churches).
The research also revealed some strange thoughts about evangelicals and their beliefs about the paranormal, among other things that appeared to be at least a bit random, to me anyway. Nonetheless, if you would like to read it yourself, check out these articles