As you all recall, I have no real idea what those three sizes actually represent. At least, I didn’t until I started complaining about it online… now I know that tall actually means [sm]all. So the past day or so I’ve been thinking about church size, the “bigger is better” philosphy, and satellite churches.
This whole thing was sparked by Bob Robinson asking about Satellite churches after reading something on Phil Steiger’s blog about them, and a Christianity Today article on the subject. This all started me thinking.
The church I left behind (“CLB”) had a satellite campus… it just wasn’t called that. It was called “one church in two locations.” Years ago we believed in church planting, and planted (or transplanted, whatever) a congregation in another part of the city I was part of the leadership for said church plant. Ten years later, it remained the only church plant and there was talk of absorbing it back into the mothership (an idea that was ultimately and recently rejected; the “satellite” congregation had never wanted to return to the mothership, it was just an idea the leaders had). Somewhere along the line they seemed to stop believing in church planting, which was news to the church plant. At this same time, they were looking all over at different church models and had landed on this thing about satellite campuses, which it could be said was a fit for what they were already doing. They inserted “G12” into their vocabulary at that point, except now they’re pursuing a megachurch model, with one tagalong satellite. The absolute saddest thing about the whole affair is that these guys have been running small groups within the church for more than 25 years, sometimes well and sometimes not, but continuously for a quarter-century. Rather than look within and extract what they’ve learned about the process over that time that is not only of great wisdom and value but is geared very specifically to their community and culture, it seems they’d rather look for answers in Bogota and other people’s books. Happy me, I’m just watching from the outside now.
Anyway, I had a number of thoughts on this subject while reading and while contemplating yesterday, but hadn’t the chance to blog them yet. This morning I noticed via Stephen Shields (via Darryl Dash, via Steve McMillan) a discussion that still continues on a post from February by Adam Cleaveland. Seems Adam visited megachurch North Point Community Church and wasn’t real keen on the experience. By the way, can we insist that megachurches remove the word “Community” from their names on the basis it’s false advertising? Probably not, but when you read the discussion you’ll find a lot of people who would want to do so… and I might be one of them.
The interesting thing about the North Point Thread is that
CEO senior pastor Andy Stanley weighs in on the discussion at the end of August with a sarcastic apology for the size of the church. This appears to be a really bad show on his part, but in fairness if I was part of a megachurch I’d find his comment really funny. This of course gave the thread a spark of new life and more discussion ensued, during which of all things, it became somewhat constructive. Go figure.
I said I had some new thoughts on megachurch and satellite church… and I do, so here they are in no particular order.
(1) Megachurches are well suited to the “bootstrap theology” of the word-faith set, where a “bigger, better, faster, more” mentality would seem to be right at home. If you think that one of the reasons to be part of a church has to do with networking for your business, this is the place for you. Sorry, but I don’t want to spend a lot of time expounding and defending this assertion, it’s just an observation.
(2) An argument for church size has been the pooling of resources for more efficient uses of funds. While I think there may be an element of truth to this argument when churches are between about 75 and 200 people, I think that it becomes less and less true the larger the church is after that. Maybe there’s some number someplace after 5 or 6 thousand where it starts to become efficient again, but I rather doubt it. What inevitably happens is that more money gets spent on maintaining the building and the ministries within the church, and less is available for outreach or giving to foreign aid and mission. These, of course, are the proposed beneficiaries of these fiscal efficiencies — there will be more to give away after our own needs are met in a more efficient manner due to economies of scale. I no longer believe this argument… the untold hidden truth is that scale has costs of its own. If 75-200 people isn’t fiscally efficient, why assume the answer is bigger and not smaller? You know what happens when you ass/u/me.
(3, intro) In starting a new satellite church and this would track right along with Saddleback form there’s an apparent emphasis on doing it right, right out the gate. On opening Sunday, you’ve got ushers, greeters, children’s workers, and a full worship team. Put your best foot forward so you can be welcoming and inviting, and in this way you will grow. If you paused to read some of the links provided above, you’ll recall a concern voiced about a new satellite church in a neighbouring community where the concern was that it would simply draw people from other churches who are more comfortable with the new church’s music or method or whatever. It isn’t new growth, it’s the dreaded “transfer-growth.”
(3a) Now, christians know better than anybody what to look for in a church. All of the spit-and-polish that goes into Sunday morning is really going to impress them, and they may be inclined to join. Non-christians, on the other hand, really don’t know what to look for in a church, how could they? Why should they? They do know what to look for in a friend, though. If you want to reach those people, it seems to me you need to spend more time being a friend than being a spit-and-polish church. Just let that sink in a moment.
(3b) If you feel that your calling is to provide a place for already-christians to get together in a contemporary fashion so their needs can be met in the newest ministry model, then there’s nothing wrong with doing it well so you can gather these people and Maslow the Hell out of them. I promise I won’t embarass you by asking you for chapter-and-verse to support your calling. Just don’t call that the Great Commission, and please don’t keep talking about the numbers and the endless ministries and all the campuses frankly, I don’t care.
(3c) On the subject of people leaving one church for another, and even on the charge of “recruiting,” I’m aware that this has been derided and called “sheep-stealing” and so forth. While I don’t believe it’s ultimately productive to the Kingdom to look to other churches to gather your flock, at the same time, people are going to move where they want to move, and I’ve decided this has been unjustly villified. In stealing sheep, you are taking them away from their owner. Think on that a while, and you’ll see my point. Churches who worry about or charge other churches with stealing their sheep don’t deserve to have a flock at all. In one way this observation is in support of the satellite/megachurch model and in another it’s in support of the church leavers, all of those who like me, have an identifiable CLB and need more than six words to answer the question of where they go to church now (unless they just cut to the chase, say “I don’t,” and leave it at that).
(4, intro) Andy Stanley has a good point about the optimal church size. He says,
Our theory is that a church should be allowed or encouraged to grow large enough to sustain a viable high school and middle school ministry. A successful student ministriy requires critical mass in order to capture and keep the attention of their target audience. So the question becomes, how many aduilts are required to generate critical mass for a student ministry? That depends upon the demographic of a community.
If you are a twenty six year old seminary student with a couple of kids in diapers that may not sound like a great answer. But if you are a church planter with 150 people and one of your elders just informed you that her family is leaving because you don’t have anything for her thirteen year old, it makes painful sense.
Parents will put up with a lot in big church if thier teenagers feel connected to a student ministry.
That’s it. Reaction welcomed. We’re still learning.
Now this is perhaps the best response to the question I’ve yet heard.
(4a) I like Andy’s answer well enough that I’m tempted to let it stand, but I would like to point out that it doesn’t answer the question of how big is too big. This answers how big is big enough by giving a minimum, but it doesn’t provide a maximum. For those who are building in a model similar to his, I do think it’s an excellent response, but I want to question whether it’s the only way to sustain the ministry. What if the middle school ministry were run jointly by a group of satellites in which none were more than 80 people? Ten or fifteen of these could remain relational, neighbourhood-based, outward-focused, and yet still provide enough common draw to support the middle-school ministry and a full-time worker to run it.
(4b) For those of you who know me personally and with whom we’ve had discussions around the whole “what about the kids” issue, this may come out sounding like a directed comment, but it isn’t… this is really just the substance of conversations we’ve already had. My biggest problem at the moment is that if the large institutional church isn’t a good enough model for me, why would it be good enough for my kids simply because it’s bigger and has the requisite number of children’s or youth workers? The answer (at least for me so far) comes down to an uncomfortable mix of taking responsibility to teach my own kids on spiritual matters and of finding an alternate larger expression for them to participate in periodically. For as long as I can remember youth groups that have kids from other churches or no church at all is a perfectly normal situation… no reason my kids can’t be those kids. Still, I continue to wonder about the idea of youth church or a parachurch group or jointly-sponsored group (as described in 4a above) that provides this outlet. Clearly we aren’t there yet… but is it something that’s advisable and attainable?
(5) I refer to an older post where I discuss the fact that the churches in the time of the Apostles were all house churches, and that there’s nothing wrong with that model. Follow the hyperlink trail through that post to the scholarly article on which the observation is based. This of course in and of itself doesn’t invalidate the megachurch model, it’s just that we’ve come so far from the mindset of embracing the small that we actually have to argue it’s validity. Sad. We’re so far from it that we can’t admit it’s a “small,” we have to re-label it a [t]all. There’s a probably-apocryphal story of two pastors meeting at a conference… “And how big is your church?” one asks the other. “Oh, we’re still under 4,000,” comes the reply, the truth being that they’re also still under 400.
(6) Church size – maybe there’s nothing wrong with a MegaVenti church… but I might want to see it divided and poured into about 18 cups so that it can spread out and shared properly. After all, isn’t this the real way of being salt and light in the world? We seem to understand the idea of a big light on a high hill that everyone can see and flock toward… but the weakness with that is that there will always be shadows unless smaller lights shine from many directions. So too with salt… it’s much more effective when sprinkled.
Of course, these are all just my own observations and musings so far, and some of my opinions-in-flux; I could be wrong. Thankfully this is the Internet; if I’m right, maybe 4 people will tell me, and if I’m wrong, maybe 40 people will tell me. ;^)