Wednesday, March 14, 2007 and megachurches part one

In a previous post I mentioned publishing an OpEd piece I wrote for the Louisville Courier-Journal about megachurches. There have been quite a few responses and a couple of people have really been grinding an axe with me. That's fine and I know when something is published there will be responses - positive and negative. I stand by every word I wrote and believe that many of my critics are still missing my original point, which is that the megachurch movement has some serious implications and some of them are negative. To simply criticize small churches in response is to ignore the issues I was raising in my OpEd. I encourage anyone who so desires to write as critically as they want about small churches; there are certainly plenty of negatives that can be mentioned and I could offer plenty of material. I find it particularly frustrating that Todd Rhoades of set up the discussion by insinuating that my column was a public whine session from the pastor of a smaller church and that it could read like sour grapes. I find those comments to be insulting, but he's free to have his opinion. I am posting below the responses from You can find the original OpEd in my previous posts. I am breaking this into two posts because of length and I have edited out the email addresses of the responders and a few other style changes. Let me know what you think.

Posted by Brian W.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 at 9:53 AM

It’s interesting to me, Todd, that you ask readers if they think this pastor’s letter is a “public whine session” and if it “read(s) like sour grapes”. It’s neither.

Charlton doesn’t rant and rave against the megachurches and wish they would shut up. He makes very good points about the consumer mentality people regarding churches nowadays; I myself am guilty of much of what he talks about. After years of selfishly “shopping” churches, I found that a huge megachurch doesn’t give you everything you’re looking for.

The church is not a corporation, or a big place that satisfies all your felt needs. It is the body of Christ, and it’s something you need to be faithful to being a part of. I have found that I need to seek God to where He wants me to go, and that big is not always best. Sometimes in big churches you’re another pew warmer, and you can be more lonely amongst 17,000 people than you ever would be amongst 170, or 17.

I have moved to a smaller church, and while it is not perfect, I hope it gives me the opportunity to connect to God’s people, and an opportunity to serve and give, and grow, instead of taking and consuming.

Posted by get the spirit

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 at 10:17 AM

Served at a mega for many yrs. Then after equiping leaders and servants, God called me to a small-midsize church (250+). Here’s what I’ve noticed…

1) Overall attitude is TOTALLY different. In a larger “church”, there’s much more TEAM in everything, while smaller churches overall attitude is apathetic towards involvement and commitment.

2) Clarity of vision or lack of in smaller churches. It seems like every “gimmick” under the sun is talked about but action rarely gets done-talk is cheap, and people know that.

3) Lack of real authentic pastoral leadership. While you’d think as a servant you’d get pastoral care and guidance in a smaller church, what’s true is just the opposite. As soon as I arrived on staff at the larger church, I was “assigned” an overseer for my own personal life walk. I guess in the smaller church, the pastors are too busy, or maybe they figure I don’t need it (or worse yet, don’t want it-hey, I’m a person too). Contrary to belief, you shouldn’t get lost in ANY church, if it’s real.

4) Focus! With people on board with the VISION-MISSION-PURPOSE, it’s much easier. Ok, size doesn’t have anything to do with that…

5) Living as true examples - maybe it’s the “it’s all about me” attitude that keeps so many smaller churches from growing (and I’m not talking numbers-I’m talking about lives changed).

6) In smaller churches it’s so easy to call OUTREACH sending money abroad for ministry while your own community is dying. I had to contact another church in my town to do any kind of outreach locally.

7) Preach Pastor, don’t inform. It seems like with some smaller churches, nobody wants to “offend” someone by saying something that’s not policically correct. Pastor, preach something that’s going to hit my heart AND something I can LIVE out!. I’ve had enough of playing church-type sermons. Dynamic preaching (Ed Young, TD Jakes, Bill Hybals, Rick Warren, Tom Mullins, Eddie Long, etc...and I’ve served under one of them) is what hits everyone. THAT’s what people are drawn to, not a coffee bar.

8) Get the Holy Spirit out of the box! My observation with smaller churches is things are way too formatted ("we only have an hour so let’s get this done” mentality). If that means you’re lead to do an alter call and people come, so what if the next service is a little late.

9) Get organized-and STAY there. That’s much easier to do when you have a large base of servants, but it CAN be done no matter how many people lead.

10) Lead your leaders to LEAD. In a smaller church, it seems like the lead pastor sometimes thinks he is the only true called person that can ever lead anything. God places many people in place for specific reasons. Listen to God, then let Him do His thing. God equips many, and qualifies the called. Little is MUCH when God is in it.

Ok, most of these can go either way. BUT, if God is really IN it, does size really matter....? It seems to me what the REAL problem is no matter what size your church is, are you REALLY doing what God wants from His bride, or are you playing church and coasting? Time to fes up, church.

James 4:6 - But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourself before God, church, and HE will lead you towards righteousness.

Posted by Billy

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 at 10:18 AM

What is the author’s evidence that “decimation of countless smaller churches and the decline of community-based congregations” has occurred with the rise of large churches?

It’s not that I find that idea hard to swallow, but I expect an author making these kinds of claims to offer more than anecdotal evidence.

Posted by Todd Rhoades

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 at 10:28 AM

Brian… I think my question was balanced. I asked if it was a fair treatise or a whine session (David didn’t really have too much positive to say about large churches to say the least).

My only comment is that sometimes in a small church you are also a pew warmer. I just wonder if the number of pew warmers (or, I’m sorry, seat warmers) are more only in the megachurch because there are more seats.

Do you see the slantedness of your statements? The small church, to you, provides an opportunity to “connect to God’s people, and an opportunity to serve and give, and grow, instead of taking and consuming.”

That’s great… for you.

But the supposition that most who attend large churches are ‘taking and consuming’ is what I’m questioning. Remember too, that many people in large churches connect with God’s people, and are actively serving, giving, and growing. The large church ALSO provides that opportunity. Let’s not get hung up over size.

What I’m trying to get to is the overall attitude of the small church toward the large church. In many situations, it appears that it is one of jealousy. (I’m not saying that’s your take, personally) That’s what I don’t get.


Posted by Pastor Dan

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 at 10:48 AM

get the spirit - great comment - you hit the nail on the head.

We have to get over the jealousy thing and realize that if our goal is to see people come to know Christ personaly and grow up in a relationship with Him then we ought to rejoice when anothert church is doing that - we are “Playing on the same team”

Posted by Dan

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 at 10:52 AM

I think the word “consume” has become a word with a completely negative connotation. I think everyone “consumes"-- from people who like their small church, to people sitting on their butts in the back of the Mega-church everyone is consuming something. I think whether people “sin” in their consuming is a different story. Whether that happens is often dependant on how the church challenges the believers to live as bond-servants. And to be honest the greatest servent is going to “consume” or reap benefits of being at their church and that’s not always “bad” or “wrong.”

I think when it comes to church, the misssion is more important than the size. The mission should always include growth. When I say “growth” I mean spiritual growth. Sprititual growth should always include numeric growth. That is the great commision.

Now, I do know of mega churches who have started and stolen 99% of their people, so that within months, they are huge. And I wouldn’t say that they’ve done a great job at making new disciples. The church that I pastor (on a team of 5 co-pastors) surveys the church every year and we’ve found that 50% of the people in our congregation were previously unchurched. Still, not ideal, and yes we get some transfer growth, but many of our people are on mission for their friends and neighbors and I think that is what is important.

Posted by Billy

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 at 11:02 AM


If small churches put such a high priority on discipleship (as implied by most critics of megachurches), AND megachurches get big quick by stealing 99% of their people from these small churches, THEN it would stand to reason that megachurches have a pretty significant population of people who have already been heavily ‘discipled’ and are looking for something beyond yet another Bible study or life issues class.

I just don’t see anything good coming from the obvious envy and hatred between churches of whatever size.


Posted by Brian W.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 at 11:27 AM

Todd, it wasn’t my intent to imply or state your question wasn’t balanced. It must have been your terminology that caught my eye.

You are right when you remind me that people can warm pews in small churches as well as larger ones.

But let me clarify some of my ‘slanted’ statements and then you can judge whether I’m biased or not.

Megachurches can do great things and use vast resources for the kingdom of God. People can plug into those churches and in turn, grow in their relationship with God because of some of those vast resources the megas have to give their people that smaller ones don’t.

Megachurches are reaching people who would NEVER step foot in another type of church.

But, some people do shop for churches, and while you can’t blame the megachurch for that mentality, it is an issue we need to consider sooner or later. I know people who go to church XYZ or church ABC because the singing is better, or the preaching is better, or the youth program has more toys to work with, or the singles ministry has more hot babes.

Now, to be ‘balanced’, you can have those rationales for the right reasons - mainly to honor Jesus or get closer to Him in your own walk - or for reasons that do not take Jesus into account at all.

I think Jesus wants us all to plug into some body of believers, where we can grow and become more like Him, and grow into mature believers who can get out and serve others and live our lives for Him, not for ourselves. For some people megachurches help them do just that. Others can do the same in a mid-sized church. For some people, small churches help them do just that, because they get lost in the vastness of a big church, and feel like they’re slipping thru the cracks.

Todd, your response helped remind me of a need for all sizes of churches in our culture.

Posted by Pastor Al

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 at 11:51 AM

You know as I read the article I thought, “Man this guy is making some good points.” Ok, then I started reading your comments and I thought, “Man you guys are making some good points.”

It all comes down to a matter of perspective. The balance I have found over the years is to keep my eyes on the Lord and try and view things from His perspective… when I do I can see God working in and through Mega and Small churches alike! In the words of Rodney King “Can’t we all just get along?”


Posted by James Laws

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 at 1:29 PM

As a church planter that is set to launch on this Easter Sunday all I can say is it takes all types and sizes of churches to reach different kinds of people. For me, larger churches are an inspiration. I find most arguments against megachurches to be completely unfounded. Every church has the potential of doing things wrong and right, regardless of size, but that doesn’t mean every church is. Instead of criticizing “potential” problems let’s praise “actual” results of large and small churches and thanks God for the increase.

Just a thought.

Posted by kent

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 at 1:35 PM

I do not believe that the megachurch is the cause of the ills of the church. i am literally surrounded by megachurches, every point on the compass has one within 5 miles from where I serve. Even with all that churchiness around me only 25% of the population attends a church.

If I am not growing it is not the fault of those around me. If there are “pewsitters” in my church that is not their fault. if they have coffee bars, I wander over and grab a cup. I have lost few to the megachruches around me. it is easy to complain, it is easy to point my finger and say it is their fault, they are too big. But that does not get the job.

I have also received people who felt lost in the megachurch, that they were looking for a family feel and less production in the worship. Bu the task at hand is the still same, to impact my community by the power of God for his kingdom. It is not my task to tend someone else church. I have enough to do, and I bless them and encourage them.

Yes it does sound like sour grapes.

Posted by Big Chris

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 at 2:11 PM

I think the “consumer” religious type hurts all churches, not just the ones they leave.

I used to be on staff at a small church (well, 250+) where a local big name church (Bethlehem Baptist Church - John Piper) built a satellite campus just down the street from us. The fear was that we would loose people to this church, if nothing else because of it’s association with a big name preacher. We did loose some people the first few weeks. A number of them came back within a few months. What we did discover was that while we lost some up front, we gained others as people would try that new campus out, and discover it was not what they were hoping for. We were positioned to take in these families/people who didn’t want to be a part of a big church like that. So in the end our church grew because a local mega church built in our neighborhood.

The thing we further realized is that only about 25% of the families in the area where our church was located were going to Evangelical churches. Further, only 45% were going to church at all. So there was ample market share even for a couple more mega churches to be built near us and not hurt our opportunity in our community.

Big Chris

Posted by Josh R

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 at 4:51 PM

We have some megachurches in our neighborhood, that are very successful because of their Life group programs. I believe that these churches’ growth has happened not because of the Charisma of their preacher, but because the Church has trained up an army of Christ loving leaders that are commisioned to spread Christ’s love on a one to one basis with everyone they meet and fellowship with.
While there are certainly some consumer Christians in these churches, there are a lot of people who attend because there are ministry opportunities there that are difficult to find in smaller churches.
Smaller churches tend to be more centralized in their ministries. The Sr Pastor is usually expected to know and serve everybody. In a large church, this is obviously impossible, and as a result there is a focus on raising up and commissioning leaders of the smaller groups.
In many cases these churches also serve the smaller churches around them because they have a venue that hosts a lot of ministry conferences, and helps build up Christian leadership throughout the whole community.
These churches may be exceptions. I don’t think it would be healthy to have 3-6000 people gathering solely for an hour a week because a preacher entertains them. It can be done correctly however.

Posted by Stewart

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 at 7:25 PM

I pastor a small church 150+ and have my issues with some aspects of the megachurch movement.

However… Pastor Charlton’s comments struck me as sour grapes. I don’t think most megachurch growth has been at the expense of the neighborhood church. The neighborhood churches were declining well before the megachurch movement hit. I think the megachurches have attracted many children and grandchildren of people who attend smaller churches. But the reason so many churches have been closing is because the same small group of people who had attended since the 1940s grew old together and eventually couldn’t sustain. That’s not a criticism - it’s actually a natural lifecycle if we truly believe churches are organic. It’s not fair to blame the megachurch for that.

Posted by Randy Ehle

Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 12:23 AM

People occasionally quote scripture to back up their statements, so I think I’ll try that with this one: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, NIV) Maybe I should rephrase a bit to, “What has been said will be said again.”

Honestly, I see nothing new in either Pastor Charlton’s article or in the subsequent comments. At the risk of saying nothing new, I’ll try to address Todd’s questions:

Is this a fair treatise of the ‘megachurch’? Yes and no - in spite of the assertions he makes that probably cannot be justified with facts, as Billy noted. Or is it a public whine session from the pastor of a smaller church? I won’t dignify this with a response.

Since most of the readers of MMI come from small to medium size churches… what do you think? Do they? This would be interesting information.

And maybe more importantly, what should pastors like David do in response? Does writing to the local paper on this type of thing really help, or does it read like sour grapes?

I didn’t read this as sour grapes, though I’ve seen some of those responses. If the intent was really to help people see the benefit of smaller churches (as the closing comments suggest), I think it could have been written better to serve that end. The best thing, though, is for smaller-church pastors to press on with the ministry to which they have been called, and not sweat the big churches. After all, if those big churches really have the problems they’re charged with, you wouldn’t want to serve there anyway, right?!

Posted by kent

Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 8:32 AM

BTW, consumer religion was not birthed by the megachurch. It is a virus that has infected us all and it was present in our congregations prior to the depart ure of anyone from any of our churches. If they didn’t have it, they wouldn’t have left. You can make the argument that it is the small church that give rise to the consumeristic tendencies.

Posted by Leonard

Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 8:52 AM

Consumerism goes back to human nature not the mega-church. Jesus had consumers, John the Baptist had consumers, every church, every culture has consumers. The article does sound a bit whiny to me as well. As for people leaving churches for another, that is not a mega-church trend, little churches do this all the time. We had several Southern Baptist churches in town and every time one got a new pastor (which was often) the rotation would begin. None of these churches were over 150, but sure enough at the drop of a pin they would go to hear the word how it should be preached, music how it should be sung…

Small church, big church, large church, mega-church… Why don’t we do this as pastors. God will you give me a God sized, compelling vision for this community and the people who live within 15 minutes of my church? Will you break my heart with this vision and then give me the COURAGE to lead? Help me leave the results up to you. Help me to not wrestle with flesh and blood as people and other churches no matter their size are not the enemy. This might be a start.

Posted by kent

Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 9:41 AM

You go Leonard, right on the money!

Posted by Brian

Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 11:00 AM

Amen, Leonard.

Lord, help us to take our eyes off ourselves and those in the kingdom we see as “competition” and see the lost and hurting in our area. Help us to make disciples as best WE can, and help us to pray that Your church will be built and Your kingdom will grow through us and the other churches in our area who call on Your name.


Posted by Noel

Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 3:17 PM

I pastor at a church that just barely qualifies as a mega-church by the common definition (2000+ per weekend). A couple things jumped out at me as I read through this post and the comments.

First off, we never asked God for a big church nor did we really want one. You could ask any of the pastors here and you’d get the same answer. We went from 200 to 2000 in roughy five years. If you had asked me in 2001 how many people would be coming around in 2007, I would have said we were praying for 500. I say this because I wonder how many megachurches set out to be mega and how many (like us) just became megachurch despite themselves.

Secondly, we do an annual survey of our congregation and one thing we have learned is that about half of the people who attend our church had no church home before our church. While that means that 1000 or so people are brand new, it also means 1000 have come from other churches. It’s kinda the two faces of a fast growing church.

Thirdly, we don’t offer a whole lot more than most churches I know of. We also don’t have “vast resources.”

Oh, and I hope no one throws any rocks at me for this one, but I’ll close with the words of Spurgeon:

“It has been noted that those who object to numbers are often bretheren whose unsatisfactory reports should somewhat humble them.”

Posted by David Charlton

Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 5:05 PM

As the author of the OpEd piece on megachurches, I want to reply to some of the comments, as I think some background would be helpful. Late last November, the Louisville Courier-Journal ran a pair of front page articles about megachurches. Noting the paper’s lack of coverage of anything to do with small churches, I decided to write an OpEd piece about megachurches and some of their implications.

This was not a case of whining in public as a small church pastor, nor was it a case of sour grapes. My point was to raise what I believe to be some significant issues related to the megachurch movement. Do I think small churches do not struggle with the same issues? No. But when you take the same issues - such as spiritual consumerism - and view them in a megachurch the implications are much larger because of the impact of megachurches. Does my church struggle with spiritual consumerism? Yes. While I’m not miminizing the problem of spiritual consumerism in my own church, when you see it on a scale of a church that draws 10,000 to 20,000 the difference in impact is significant.

A further point is about megachurches drawing away members from small churches. I live and minister two counties away from one of the largest churches in the country. When people drive across several counties to attend that church it has an impact on the communities the people leave. If enough people leave the smaller churches in their own communities it will definitely affect the ministry and witness of the smaller churches. Do I blame the megachurches for this? Not totally. People are buying into a consumer mindset and are ultimately responsible for the corresponding results, but the megachurches - in my opinion - are not saying much about this kind of faulty theology.

It’s also important to note that the sheer size of a megachurch means that its teaching and theology will gain a great deal of attention, both in the religious and secular arenas. If a megachurch is propogating bad theology, it needs to be challenged. This is one reason why I wrote the original piece for publication in the secular press. I believe some of these issues need to be discussed in that arena.

Lastly, our church will continue to do what it has always done, and that is loving and serving our witness because that is what we are called to do as Jesus.

I welcome your further comments on this site or to me personally at

Posted by Leonard

Thursday, March 01, 2007 at 1:07 AM

Consumerism in a small church looks differently than a large church but it is still consumerism. When someone says; I go here because I don’t like the parking at the big church down the street… or I go here because I want to feel like I know the pastor… or I go here because you sing hymns… I go here because you preach expository messages… I go here because it was too impersonal there, you talk less about money here, you work with kids better or worse. We let people off the hook at the small church when they consume because they can make the reasons sound more spiritual. It might be time to quite the “ big church feeds consumerism” and admit all churches feed consumerism.

I have worked on staff at different size churches and the reality is that people go where they can feel significant or that something significant is happening. People are drawn to experiences that matter.

Studies have shown that the number one reason any person attends church is at the invitation of a friend or someone significant. Why is it that small churches people do not invite others to their church. My experience of 25+ years of ministry is that smaller churches program and speak mainly to believers while focusing on growing people deep in the faith. (I am not saying this is wrong) Fast growing churches speak the language of the culture and develop ministries designed to reach people.

Gotta go now, LOST is on.

Posted by Noel

Thursday, March 01, 2007 at 2:13 PM

Very well put, Leonard.

Posted by James

Friday, March 02, 2007 at 11:05 AM

I am currently serving in a small church (approx. 150-200). The article did sound a little like public whining to me as well. I attended a “mega-church” before coming to serve here and that church was very deep spiritually and actively tried to dissuade people who were coming from other local churches to not attend there, but to go back to their home church and work for change there. Not all mega-churches are bad.

Posted by Jan

Friday, March 02, 2007 at 11:59 AM

We’ve served in both mega and small churches and are presently in a small re-start. None of the people that left this church in the past, left because of mega churches.

They left because they couldn’t get along.

First off, I think churches both small and large have unique things to offer. Small churches have what large churches are always trying to create… community.

And large church have what small churches lack, for us, primarily resources, in man power, finances, buildings, etc.

Get in the Spirit just about everything you said hits the nail on the head for me.

And my first thought in reading this piece was that consumerism isn’t a product of the mega-church. Mega-churches are just tapping into that to reach people. Consumerism is rapant in American society. And unfortunately there are Christians who buy into that mentality and church shop.

I say, go right on ahead. As a small church leader I want the consumers to go, so we can get down to the real work of God, reaching our community for Christ and making disciples.

There shouldn’t be a spirit of competition in the kingdom. There are plenty of unreached people to go around. And if a mega-church entertains those who seek entertaining, while still reaching those we would not reach, praise God.

We can let go of those would be mal-contents and focus our efforts in reaching those we can be most effective in reaching.