Selfishness and the Church Size Debate

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Last week, popular pastor and church leadership expert, Andy Stanley, made headlines over controversial comments characterizing people who like small churches as being “selfish.” During a sermon discussing the benefits of church he offered to let his listeners in on a “secret” of large churches.  His goal, he said, was to have a church big enough to have both a Jr. High and High School ministry.  The benefits of that sort of arrangement are obvious to a large church. However, what he said next got him in trouble.  He said, “If you don’t go to a church large enough to have Jr High & High School ministry…you are selfish.”

You can watch what he said here:

Andy of course apologized, to his credit.

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CT did a story about it and he explained how he doesn’t really feel this way.  Christianity Today Article

I won’t try to speak for Andy on whether or not he actually believes what he said. I can’t know his heart.  However, I am absolutely convinced that the phenomenon of the large church has created a culture that believes exactly that.  “If you go to a small church, you are robbing your family.”  We all know that is exactly what people believe and what large churches believe as well.  The irony of Andy’s comment is, you cannot say on the one hand “Circles are better than rows” and at the same time say “its better for your kids to be in a church large enough” to have everything they need to not “hate church.” If circles are better, are not small churches the BEST environment of your kids? Or is it only the amenities offered in large churches that makes kids either like or “hate” church?  I’m confused!

Andy said what the church world believes:  Bigger is by definition better.  Bigger means more people, more stuff, better quality stuff, better quality people and programs.  We have so bought into the lie that bigger is better we are even willing to guilt trip people into NOT going to an AVERAGE size church.  That somehow, if you chose a small church, you are robbing your child.  If your child hates church its because they didn’t have all the things his friends church had.  Is this what the Kingdom of God has been reduced to?  Is this the church that Jesus established?  Churches big enough to provide the best possible environment for youth to make friends and love going to church?

Nonsense.  And just plain wrong.

I am trying to think of what I can say to this phenomenon. I am at a loss.  I am just plain frustrated. Not at Andy or LifeChurch or anyone else. But at the system. Here are some questions I have been asking myself after Andy’s comments and talking to my fellow Average Pastors:

  1.  How many churches have closed because of the large church in your area is offering something better (ie. bigger)?
  2.  How many pastors of average churches are 2-3 families away from being viable, but our culture has told people they shouldn’t go to a small church because they are selfish?
  3. How many pastors, who went to a bible school or university, got credentials and have a call to minister but have no where to go because  another church plants a satellite campus and replaces a pulpit with nothing more than branch manager of a video venue?
  4. How many millions of dollars are used to build foyer areas that have a coffee shop with $30,000 wifi system, when a fraction of that could revitalize and revolutionize an average church in the community?
  5. How many of the 80% of Average pastors who pastor churches of under 150 could receive a salary for serving their church if just 20 out of Andy’s 30,000 member church would be “selfish” and chose an Average church?
  6. How many churches employ full time graphic artists, meanwhile  62% of pastors in Oklahoma are bi-vocational and have to work a second job just to provide for their families?
  7. How many young aspiring minister who in a small church could have the opportunity to be used and gain experience end up sitting as just another attender in a church staffed with “professionals”?

Is this really better?

What Andy described as his vision for the best kind of youth group is the exception, not the rule!  Andy Stanley’s church represents the reality for less than 2% of churches in America.  The church world has bought into that lie that they should be normal.  There is a place for Andy’s church.  But it is supposed to be the minority.  The AVERAGE CHURCH that he is decrying is NORMAL.  Your church, with a small youth group, a hand full of kids, no coffee shop, no HD video cameras, just small circles of people who are becoming more like Jesus, WE ARE THE CHURCH. We are Average Pastors of Average Churches.

In the past two months I have seen Average Churches I know of:

  • 6 people worked all day to put on a relationship workshop for  20 couples from the community, free of charge.
  • A church give an extra 25% of a months income to help another church in our community stay on its feet after a church split.
  • A youth group of 3 kids decide together that will raise money to send the one kid that wants to compete in a fine arts competition.
  • A church give food out to 40 needy families on a weekly basis despite not having enough income to pay the bills this month.
  • A small church full of people organize a city wide festival for its city of 3,000 people.
  • People called to serve Jesus show up week after week to teach 3 kids in a preschool class because those 3 kids are important to Jesus.
  • Pastor’s wives work child care so that the nursery workers could go to a church service.
  • Volunteer staff take elderly members to doctor’s appointments.

Don’t tell me that people who love churches like that are selfish.  Don’t tell me our children are not benefiting from that type of community and culture.  We are the unselfish ones who give our lives, sacrifice our livelihoods to make a difference in the local church.  The ones who will worship in your church this Sunday are not selfish, they are brave. They are going against the tide of our ‘bigger is better’ culture. They are choosing something that is counter to the message our culture is sending them.

This Sunday, take time to thank your people for being unselfish.  Thank them for choosing to worship with you.  Whether the church world believes it or not, you have some of the greatest people in the world that call your church home.

 

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