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You've heard the myths. Don't believe them.

It’s easy to take shots at large churches. Just say “mega” and there can be instant dismissal. And it’s very true that big isn’t always better, notoriety doesn’t always mean noteworthy, “can’t argue with success” isn’t the same as “know them by their fruit,” famous doesn’t always mean faithful, and starting fast doesn’t always mean finishing well. But I am convinced that any church, of any size, can be learned from, and that includes large churches.

In fact, the most common critiques of large churches actually reveal ten of their more significant lessons:

Myth #1: Large churches don’t understand the challenge that comes with being small.

Their insights are thus atypical and not transferable to the average church. The truth is that most large churches started small, often as church plants, and grew through multiple stages on their way to large-church status. As a result, they have the most gathered wisdom for helping smaller churches break through the traditional growth barriers of 70, 120, 200, 500, 1200 and more. No one can help you break through those barriers more than a church that has actually done it.

Myth #2: Large churches are so fixated on outreach that they have dropped the ball on discipleship.

Most large churches are very concerned with discipleship. They are not just into “numbers” or growth, but spiritual formation. In many ways, they have been forced to tackle this area with great diligence. They have so many new attenders from such varied backgrounds, they have been forced to be highly intentional about strategic discipleship classes, mentoring programs, Bible studies and “next steps” processes. As a result, their discipleship offerings are often among the best.

Myth #3: Large churches spend all of their money on themselves instead of the poor.

Most large churches are not spending their resources on simply building their little kingdom, but are among the most generous givers to social causes, justice ministries and international missions. But they did tend to spend their money strategically in their early days to fuel the growth that allowed them to reach the critical mass that enables them to now be such generous benefactors. They didn’t waste their money on things that didn’t produce growth, their missions giving grew as they did, and thus they can offer a window into strategic Kingdom stewardship.

Myth #4: Large churches don’t care about other churches.

Most large churches have a genuine heart to help other churches reach their full redemptive potential. They work hard to develop resources, conferences, seminars and touring events/speakers to serve others. Currently, they produce some of the best resources for other churches, including new music and children’s curriculum.

James Emery White James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book is What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

More from James Emery White or visit James Emery at http://www.churchandculture.org/

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  • Hank

    I’ve been a part of both and sometimes the small churches are jealous of the large churches. That’s why all these “myths” are preached from small churches. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with small churches. I’m working with one now. The thing is that most large churches start out small. So my question is: Why is your church small? If its a church plant, I get it, but if you have been around for 100 years and still only 100 people why is that?

    On the other hand I do have a problem with mega churches becoming too large. I am a firm believer in church planting. Not watching the same pastor at a different building on video either. I mean plant real autonomous churches lead by their own leadership. If your church is running in the thousands, you can spare some families that drive 20 miles to your church so they can come along side the leadership for a church plant in their area. If your afraid of the church plant failing, then maybe too much focus is put on the pastor leading the mega church and that is not a good thing. Just some thoughts, : )

    • Kent

      Hank;

      I serve a 2 small rural churches, and they are small because one is in a community of 2000 and the other in a community of 400. There are some thirty churches in the area. We are small because we are small town America, not a problem or sick church. We have looked to the mega churches for help and all we get are seminars that cost more than we can afford and prescriptions that are impossible to impliment. We cannot afford the glitz and bling and thus must make due with the Gospel of Christ, and that is why we have been around for over 100 years.

  • The God of Jacob is mine

    It is sad to say, although not most generally (I have been to some good large churches), but largely true, that most “mega churches” have grown to that size because of compromise with the Word of Truth, in accordance with the fulfillment of the following prophecy:
    2 Timothy 4:3-5 (NASB) For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things,endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

  • Kent

    Obviously, this was not written by a small church pastor in a rural community. It must be nice to write a piece while not truly looking at it from the other side. Mega churches do destroy rural church programs, because small rural churches cannot compete with all the glam and bling of the mega church, I have seen this up close and personal.
    When your staff consists of 1 person and your job entails all the things you have associate pastors do then you can talk to me about the greatness of mega churches, until then stop bragging. As a rual church pastor I am not jealous of the “mega” church, I am tired of them. They are the churches recognized by our denominational leaders and the rural churches are put on the back burner with limited funding and lack of help. Yes, the mega churches provide great lectures and awesome seminars that the rural churches cannot afford to go too. I am glad that the urban churches are reaching out in a big way but I have heard the sermons and met the ministers and I hve found a watered down gosple, a feel good sermon and a lack of integrity in disciple making. I feel there is too much compromise in the mega church, alot of show and not much stay. If you want to see committment, look at the rural church, or better yet, check out the house churches in countries that persecute Christians.
    I apologize if this sounds terse, but quite frankly you hit a nerve.

  • JAMES

    HELLO

    LET ME START BY SAYING I AM NOT A PASTOR. I AM A NOT WELL EDUCATED MIDDLE AGED BUSINESS MAN. I HAVE RAN AND OWNED MY OWEN BUSINESS FOR 27 YEARS. IN MY YEARS, I HAVE BEEN A ACTIVE MEMBER OF A SMALL RURAL CHURCH WITH 50-60 MEMBERS ( 40 ON ANY GIVEN SUNDAY ), A LITTLE LARGER CHURCH WITH 175-200 MEMBERS ON A SUNDAY, TO A CHURCH THAT HAS A AVERAGE OF 6000 ON A SUNDAY. ALL THREE CHURCHES I HAVE BEEN INVOLVE WITH HAD VERY GOOD BIBLE TEACHING, ALL HAD A GOOD OUTREACH TO THE COMMUNITY. ALL HAD THE LOVE OF JESUS IN THE PEOPLE AND ALL THREE STRIVED TO BE ALL THEY COULD BE. WHEN I WAS ATTENDING THESE CHURCH AS A ACTIVE MEMBER OF THE CHURCH. I ATTENDED CHURCH, SUNDAY SCHOOL, WED. NIGHT CLASSES, BUSINESS MEETINGS OF THE CHURCH, VOLUNTEERED A THE CHURCH AND PRAYED FOR THE CHURCH AND IT’S MEMBERS. EACH OF THESE CHURCHES HAD VERY GOOD QUALITIES, EACH WAS SERVING IT PEOPLE TO THE BEST OF THERE ABILITIES, BUT EACH ALSO HAD SOME PROBLEMS. WEATHER IT WAS THEIR BUDGET WAS TIGHT, OR NOT HAVING ROOM TO GROW, OR EVEN GROWING FASTER THAN THEY COULD KEEP UP WITH OR SOME FAMILIES THAT WANTING TO RULE OVER THE PASTOR AND ELDERS BECAUSE THEIR FAMILY HAS ATTENDED THERE FOR OVER 50 YEARS AND WITH THEM, THIS CHURCH WOULD BE NOTHING ( AT LEAST IN THEIR MIND). THEY ALL HAVE HAD PROBLEMS BUT THEY DONE GOOD FOR THEIR PEOPLE AND THEY HAVE ALL LEAD PEOPLE TO CHRIST. ISN’T THAT WHAT WE ARE SUPPOSE TO BE DOING. BEFORE I STARTED ATTENDING A LARGE CHURCH I HAD THE SAME IDEAS ABOUT LARGE OR MEGA CHURCHES THAT WAS IN THIS ARTICLE AND THE COMMENTS THAT WAS MADE ABOUT IT. THE FIRST SUNDAY WE CAME TO OUR CHURCH THAT WE GO TO NOW. WE WAS INVITED BY FRIENDS OF MY WIFE, AND I THOUGHT I DON’T WANT TO GO TO THAT CHURCH, IT SO BIG, IT GOING TO BE SO UNFRIENDLY, MEANINGLESS, AND WE PULL UP IN THE PARKING LOT IN MY PICKUP AND PARKED BETWEEN A MERCEDES AND A LEXUS AND I SAID WE DON’T BELONG HERE, IT’S A CHURCH OF A BUNCH OF RICH PEOPLE FLAUNTING THEIR MONEY. BUT WE WENT IN ANYWAY WITH MY BAD ATTITUDE. THE PEOPLE WERE VERY NICE, I THOUGHT YEA THEY NICE NOW BUT WAIT UNTIL THEY KNOW MY FAMILY DON’T BELONG TO THE COUNTRY CLUB. THE WORSHIP WAS WONDERFUL. THE SING WAS BEAUTIFUL, BUT I WAS THINKING WELL THE SERMON WILL BE AS WEAK AS A CHILDREN’S STORY. BUT IT WASN’T IT WAS READY GOOD AND MEANINGFUL AND IT MADE ME THINK. SO I AGREED TO TRY ANOTHER WEEK, I THOUGHT WELL ANYONE CAN HIT ONE HOME RUN. AND THE NEXT WEEK IT WAS THE SAME, ANOTHER GREAT SERMON , ANOTHER SERMON THAT MADE ME THINK ABOUT MY OWN LIFE I WAS LEADING AND MADE DEAL WITH I THINGS I STRUGGLE WITH. HE MADE THINK ABOUT HOW I COULD HELP OTHER FIND THEIR WAY TO CHRIST AND HELP THEM WITH THEIR STRUGGLES. I STARTED LOOSING MY WRONG VIEWS AND BELIEVES OF LARGE CHURCHES. WE STARTED ATTENDING SUNDAY SCHOOL ,WED. NIGHT CLASSES, STARTED VOLUNTEERING AT CHURCH AND OUTREACH PROGRAMS AND THAT LARGE OR MEGA CHURCH BECAME SMALL FAMILY WITH A LOT OF MEMBERS. WE STILL ATTEND 7 YEARS LATER, AT THAT CHURCH WE FEEL ALIVE AND AT HOME IN THAT CHURCH.. THE CHURCH IS STILL GROWING WE OFFER A CLASS EVERY FEW MONTH FOR NEW PEOPLE TO LEARN THE HISTORY, THE BELIEF AND THE GOALS OF OUR CHURCH FAMILY. EVERY 2-3 MONTHS WE OFFER THAT CLASS AND A AVERAGE OF 100 NEW PEOPLE ATTEND. THE CHURCH START OUT WITH A HAND FULL OF FAMILY MEETING OVER 50 YEARS AGO, OUR PASTOR STARTED 28 YEARS AGO AND SAID HE DREAMED IF HE COULD EVER GET 200 ON A EASTER SUNDAY, THAT HE WOULD BE SO HAPPY NOW 28 YEARS LATER ON THIS GOOD FRIDAY WE ARE GOING IN TO THE EASTER WEEKEND AND WE ARE EXPECTING TO HAVE APPROXIMATELY 14,000 OVER NINE SERVICES. THAT NOT MAN AT WORK THAT GOD. WE PERSONALLY SUPPORT OUR SO CALLED MEGA CHURCH WITH THE LARGE BUILDING, THAT HAS ALWAYS AND WILL ALWAYS BE DEBT FREE. WE DON’T BORROW AND BUILD SO THAT THEY WILL COME, WE BUILD WHEN WE ARE OUT OF ROOM AND HAVE THE MONEY TO PAY FOR IT. MY FAMILY ALSO SUPPORTS A VERY SMALL CHURCH STARTED IN OUR TOWN LAST YEAR WITH 5 PEOPLE MEETING ON A SUNDAY OUTSIDE IN A PARK IN LAWN CHAIRS. NOW A YEAR LATER THEY RENTED A SMALL STORE FRONT AND HAVE ABOUT 20-25 MEMBERS THE ARE STURGLING AND WE FEEL VERY GREATFUL TO BE ABLE TO SUPPORT THEM WITH MONEY TO PAY THEIR BILLS AND MORE IMPORTAN THAN THAT PRAY AND SUPPORT OF CHURCH, PASTOR, THEIR NEEDS FOR THEIR YOUTH SOTHEY CAN GROW AND BRING MORE PEOPLE TO THE LORD. SO IF YOU ARE PASTOR OF 5 MEMBERS OR YOU’RE A PASTOR OF 25,000, LET US REMEMBER WHO IT’S ALL ABOUT. NOT US BUT GOD.

    IN HIS LOVE GRACE

    JAMES

  • http://www.facebook.com/brad.c.schield Brad C. Schield

    At first read, Mr. White appears to make valid points, but after contemplation, I believe this article is symptomatic of the trap David fell into when he wanted to build a house for God.
    If you recall the account in scripture, David, as Israel’s king assessed his earthly surroundings and perceived them to be better living conditions than the tabernacle (tent) that he saw as God’s dwelling place.

    David came to his own conclusion to set out and build a better earthly house for God’s dwelling. As the account unfolds, we see quite clearly that God would have no part
    of this. In fact, God rebukes David by pointing out that He, as infinite God, is not confined to what man’s finite perspectives are- especially when it comes to His dwelling place.

    In large part, this article demonstrates this same error by defining God’s “church” on 10 earthly perspectives. Shame on any church leader that would look around at their surroundings and declare to the body of Christ… look at us… we the large church… look at what we have built for God…

    Let’s get grounded in scripture and understand what God Himself has declared first and foremost…it’s not by might, nor by power, but by “my” spirit says the Lord. No
    church (large or small) is in a position to assess successes through the confidences
    of man. We, as the body of Christ would do well to remember this.