I’ve been told that a big church can do everything a small church can, but a small church can’t do everything a big church can. Now, don’t get me wrong, this could simply be case of a large church trying to justify its excesses backing into a small church’s overly defensive posture, but I thought this was a topic worth re-visiting from a different angle.

Honestly, I don’t think mega-churches set out to be mega-churches. Their ballooned size caught them off guard, unprepared, and it required a shift in how they did things. All of a sudden they had to shift into maintenance mode, running the church like a corporation. In a lot of ways, it is a function of size. Too often churches find themselves divided out by ethnicity, class, and mentality, developing an internal culture of like-mindedness. This entrenched culture often acts as a barrier to innovation as it becomes a safeguard for “the way things are done.”

Not all mega-churches are good at being mega-churches, frankly, just like not all small churches are good at being small churches. It’s easy to criticize these large churches. Too often, mega-churches don’t make use of the space they have, underutilizing their buildings and property. To often the pastoral role is reduced to speaker/charismatic personality. It also becomes too easy for people to drift in and out of each other’s lives because they’re busy all of the time. Everyone’s busy all of the time, between church stuff, work stuff, and family stuff … family that doesn’t include the “family” of God. But let’s be straight, you can hide just as much in a small church if you are determined to hide and you can make connections is a large church if you are determined to make connections. It comes back to what you think the philosophy of church should be.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” –Matthew 28:19-20

Some churches see their purpose as evangelism, using the method of dissemination of information as their primary tool. Their service revolves around the main speaker. It is a method but it shouldn’t be the primary mode that churches operate in. At this point, the closest comparison for their model becomes school, which might be an element of what it means to be a church, but not the primary identity of what it means to be a church. You may get a lot of knowledge, but how much community does head knowledge foster?

To pull stats out of the air for the sake of creating a mental picture of the situation I am talking about, often 80% of the people show up for the show, not interested in their own growth, not advancing the kingdom. And the church pours 90% of its resources into accommodating them. Basically, it makes little sense for churches to pour so much of its resources into putting on a great show on Sunday. The church becomes defined by activities, maintaining institution, and maintaining bureaucracy, while the leaders are too busy administrating to be discipling anyone.

Which brings us to another way that churches could define their mission, with their purpose being discipleship. Robert Webber called discipleship “a long obedience in the same direction.” My friend Robert Caldwell defines it as “life-on-life relationships that are authentic, transparent, and transformative.”

Churches, large or small can be aimed inward, finding their purpose-driven selves by using their gifts in the church for the church or they can aim outward, using their gifts to serve others, either in existing ministries that the church offers or to even create a new ministry that utilizes the talents and gifts that they possess. Before we start judging each other, large church or small, getting too defensive, we need to make sure our own house is straight. Rather than puff ourselves up with self-righteousness, we need to remember that we’re one church. Some are bigger congregations, some smaller, some are house churches, and some niche ministries. Deep ecclesiology means respecting all church traditions, respecting that no one type or congregation can do all things for all people. Like Paul, becoming all things to all people.

Jesus instituted the church. Jesus participated in congregational worship. Put another way, Miroslav Volf, in a moment of personal reflection, he communicated the paradox of a broken church. He said, “I am not a Christian because of the church, but because of the gospel. However, it was only through the broken church that I received the gospel. Because of the gospel, I participate in the church.”