Small Churches Working in a Seemingly Mega Church World

Anyone who has been taken to church as a child, or who has been around any bible teaching even a little bit would at least know about David and Goliath. It is the story in 1 Samuel 17 that shows how young David showed up on the battle field and killed the Philistine warrior.

This story is a picture of a young boy saving the day when all of Saul’s army of fighting men were too afraid. Sometimes a smaller congregation might look at the ministry field in this way. Of course, the smaller church being young David in this scenario.

Most likely, many of the smaller churches, 60 people or less, actually end up portraying a picture similar to that of Gideon found in chapter 6 of Judges. Many small churches today are found hiding in their proverbial wine presses trying to evangelize the community but never leaving the church.

All the while, the larger churches seemingly continue to grow and seem to be making disciples daily. Much like that which we see in Acts, these churches are out in the public squares and attracting attention. Many are doing so for the sake of the gospel and making disciples and doing well at it.

Some of these larger churches or mega churches even have unknowingly lost track of the mission and become something that they did not set out to be. But that is another blog. I digress. Not all churches, large, small, or somewhere between are actually making disciples. There is a big difference between making disciples and filling up a building and calling it church.

Most anyone could fill up a building full of people. That is the easy part. The difficulty is to get people to come to hear the gospel and be a part of the Kingdom of God. I once was dropping my son off at college and overheard two college girls talking. “I have tried a few churches since we started school. I think it is good to see what a church has to offer me.” One said to the other.

At first, I thought to myself “how selfish can people be, all they are looking for is how the church can serve them.” As time went on and I look back, I realize that is what most people are thinking when they come into a church.

When we try to look at things from that perspective, it is important to notice that many churches, small or large are doing everything they can to love God and love others. Many are affective and being used by God greatly. Small and Large churches. Both are bring glory to the Kingdom of God and both are being used in powerful ways by God!

So, why then do some smaller churches seem to be failing or are indeed, and most of the larger churches or “mega” churches never seem to fail? Once again, it is a matter of perspective. Just as for David and Gideon, their perspectives caused their actions to be what they were.

There are many small congregations throughout the world who are standing firm in the truth of God’s word and standing in the face of a giant in the form of government hostility, social hostility, Spiritual hostility, and even ecumenical hostility! Yet because, like the church seen in the book of Acts, they too are filled with the Holy Spirit of all might God and are staying faithful to that work.

At the same time, there are way too many smaller congregations who have hidden themselves inside their church walls and refuse to do any ministry because they are trapped by fear that they will lose their church. They fear that may lose their church if they spend any money on ministry efforts, “what if they can’t pay the bills? They fear that they may lose their church if they make decisions that upset those still there who then will leave.

Also, they fear they may lose their church if they actually do ministry and it works. If that happens, a lot of people will start coming and “take over their church”. All the while they fool themselves into believing that they are “threading wheat”/doing ministry when no one in the community really knows that they exist. Meanwhile, God is trying to say to them, “The Lord is with you, valiant warrior.” Judges 6:12 (CSB)

Just down the street or in the next town, there are churches who have hundreds if not thousands of people attending each Sunday. These larger church have many ministries active in their communities and many people are coming into closer relationships with God and each other. These churches provide various types of ministry from children to adult spiritual edification. Not to mention outreach opportunities. God is using these churches very powerfully and people are know Him and He is being glorified!

On the other hand, there also are many churches who are filling up large buildings with people and there is music, ministries, and seemingly everything that was described in the last paragraph except, the teaching is not there. Something is wrong in the doctrine or the motives behind the leadership, or even something else behind the scenes. In these cases, many people are being misled and actually getting further and further away from the truth of Gods word. This also is another blog post for later.

The point is that there are people who are looking for what is true. There are many churches out there, all claiming that we have the “true” truth. So, what then? What happens to the college girls who are looking for a church that will meet their needs? And why do many smaller churches fail while other seem to be healthy. Why do these college girls, and people like them, decide not to attend the smaller congregations?

Many say it is because of the music, or the age of the congregation. I really cannot make much argument about that. However, I will say that God is bigger than that. It is true, the larger churches seem to be offering the worship experience that many young people are responding to and many older folks are rejecting.

I will also offer this element of blame, most people are like sheep and they follow the crowd. It is easy to follow the crowd. If there is a larger church where people can just show up and be served or hide out, they most likely will not have to get involved. I believe that if a church could serve whatever they offer out a drive through window, people would use it. Not all people, but some would.

The bottom line here is that there really is no answer to the “what’s wrong with this picture” question that gets painted here. I would say to the small church congregation, take courage, God is the same for you as He is for all. I would say to the larger church congregation,

Let your eyes look forward; if your gaze straight ahead. Carefully consider the path for your feet, and all our ways will be established. Don’t turn to the right or the left; keep you feet away rom evil.”      Proverbs 4:25-27

I would also encourage the small churches to press on and work hard trusting God while I would encourage the larger churches to consider the smaller churches as valuable as well as partners in ministry!

Each of us, large, medium or small congregations would do good to consider the words of Jesus spoken to Peter as he asked Jesus; “Lord, what about him?” John 21:21 (CSB). Referring to John possibly living forever. To which Jesus answered; “If I want him to remain until I come, ….. what is that to you? As for you, follow me.” John 21:22

Help your church glorify God in all that it does. As far as what God is doing with the other congregations in the world, “what is that to you?”. Jesus has a way of telling us to mind our own business.

Are We Doing Church Backwards?

God has been leading people to travel the world and make disciples since the resurrection of Jesus and His ascension to be with the Father. Making disciples ultimately leads those new disciples meeting together as we see in Acts 2:42. From then until now as far as this preacher can tell is the way God has been leading people, not everyone, to plant churches. The key is in the disciple making.

With that being said, I would ask the question that seems obvious to me. Are we making disciples or are we planting churches? I think that the general response to that would be yes to both. Yes we are trying to make disciples and yes we are planting churches. Therefore, the real question must be, are we making disciples hoping to start a church or are we starting a church hoping to make disciples? Hopefully, those led to plant new churches in this world are truly led by our Lord or that work.

I do believe that starting a new church can have many different faces. God can start a church in the wilderness of some vast region of some country in someone’s home. He can start a church in the basement of a building in China or Korea and such places. Our Lord can also start a new church right in the middle of a dying congregation located in any city, town, or other type of community.

If there were a “problem”, so to say, with the church plant movement, it does not seem to be within the idea of planting or starting new work and calling it a church. After all, who are we to second guess or question what the Lord is doing with His faithful disciples? The truth is that every ministry or mission assigned to a human being is going to have issues or flaws. This is due to the fact that God is using His created human beings as tools to get the work done. As we all know, where ever there are people involved, there will be “problems”. Thank God for Jesus!

 

“But if we wal in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”  – 1 John 1:7

 

Our Training Grounds

 
Because I have not attended all the Christian Universities and Bible Colleges, I cannot speak for or about them all. I will however say that the following comments are formed from my own experiences while studying at the Christian Universities to which I have been a part of. First, I will say that many great ministry workers have been trained at these Universities. Decades of God honoring disciple making has been gleaned from the work done in these places. I too have gleaned many tools and much wisdom from my experiences with them. The obvious fact is that God is and has done great things throughout the world as a result of the faithfulness of our fine Christian Universities. To Him be the Glory!

When it comes to church planting, I have noticed that these Universities as well as the Christian conferences seem to focus a lot of energy and emphasis on church planting. Many of the conferences are promoting the church plant groups who are very helpful when it comes to starting a new church. While everyone is doing great work together for the Kingdom of God, I wonder if there isn’t something missing. Many of the classes offered at the University have to do with starting a church or growing a church. Although these classes are beneficial to the student and can be helpful in future ministry, could it be that there are too many sides on the plate and not enough meat?

Simply what I mean is that much of the classes that have to do with church growth or church planting lead in the same direction and do not allow the student to have options when it comes to application. I mean really, what young aspiring Preacher or Worship Leader would sign up for classes about how to minister to the small church of 20-50 older members, or better yet, choose to earn a degree in small church leadership? It is simply a matter of following the Lord when it comes to applying what the Lord has done to get us prepared.

The Fruit of Our Labor

 
As I am sitting here putting these words to print, my mind ponders over the ministry that I have been assigned. I also reflect on the time I spent before hand preparing for this work. Honestly, I did not know what to expect as I entered the arena of the preaching ministry. Sure, I had ideas and thoughts, some naive and some reasonable. The point is this. I have seen many young people come out of school on fire for serving the Lord in their heart felt area of calling only to burn out within 2-3 years. Although I realize that each circumstance is different and that one explanation will not apply to all, the concern from my perspective is that in some cases if not many, the preparation does not match the actual application or situation.

Many of the churches already in existence are small to mid sized congregations. They also come with history and with history comes tradition. Although these things are not necessarily a negative element, they will sometimes hinder the application of the ministry skills and ideas which are being taught. I guess the simple way to say it is, that the young disciple makers being trained in the Universities and Colleges seem to have their own vision of mega churches and concert like worship or at least contemporary style worship, as well as being a part of or actually leading a five person ministry team. The reality of just the opposite slaps them in the face and almost immediately discouragement sets in. This sometimes causes the person to leave ministry all together and for others it can instigate a calling to “start a new church”.

Let me be clear. There is a difference between a person being called into a mission field or the purpose of starting a new work in any part of the world, than a person who out of discouragement or even ill feelings deciding to start a new work for the sake of doing things the way they dreamed it would be. I personally support what God is doing in the church planting area of the disciple making arena. However, I have difficulty with the idea that God would call anyone to abandon the old for the sake of reaching new. When I say the old for the sake of the new, what I really mean is people, disciples.

 
The Bottom Line

Bottom line is this. It is not my desire to point fingers an say what or who is wrong or right. I simply am trying to point out that we all are supposed to be doing the same thing. Making disciples. The great part of that is that God would use each of us with our many differences to end up at the same goal. Making disciples. I may one day be preaching to a larger crowd of people than I am currently, only God knows that. I think it is a mistake to allow current disciples, as well as teach future disciples that picking and choosing or catering to one or the other generation is acceptable. I have seen and read about many church plants that are full of diverse disciples of various ages. At the same time, I see and read about new church plants only focusing on the younger generation at the cost of putting up a big “not welcome” sign in front of everyone else.

 

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common.” – Acts 2:42-44

Weather we are assigned to small congregations, large congregations, or to start a new work, we need to put the main thing first. That is disciple making. If we are encouraging healthy disciples in our circle of ministry, they will multiply as one of my awesome mentors once told me. You see, all the music, style, building type, atmosphere, and ministry tools do not amount to a hill of beans if we are not being disciples and making disciples. Most of the things that seem to divide us are really often times a difference in what type of fruit is being produced and what it looks like. There are many disciples now in their senior years of age that are serving well and honoring God with their lives, while singing hymns and wearing suits and ties. At the same time there are plenty of amazing young people who allow God to do some great work in their lives or His glory. In the end it does not matter. I believe what honors God is that the body o Christ be united while embracing our differences as well as using them as a tool to make more disciples.

Sometimes I wonder if we are “doing” church backwards. Instead of creating a ministry that appeals to peoples muse buttons, maybe we should all just focus on making disciples first and allowing God to reveal the face of the ministry to the world!