Why I Can’t Handle Large Churches (Any More)

mega church

First off, this is not a condemnation of large churches, and especially not of any particular one in the region (ahem). I am sure there are some large churches that do some amazing things…but their size makes certain things much more difficult. Not impossible, but more difficult. There are some large churches that while I’ve never been involved with, I highly respect. Secondly, I acknowledge that much of this is based off of my personal experience and your mileage may vary. Be that as it may, this is my post…my thoughts.

Here’s an anecdotal and quite truncated story: I was, in the 90’s, heavily involved in a large church. (Some even call it a mega-church…but whatever.) Attended, volunteered, at points was on payroll for part-time AV work (events, weddings, etc), and even did my ministry internship there.  Like I said, heavily involved. One particular wedding toward the end of my time there, I was getting the longtime senior pastor wired up with his lapel mic, and he had no clue who I was, like he’d never seen me before. That’s point #1 I’ll be making later.

Toward the end of my internship at this church, I was invited to direct a ministry there. After praying and thinking about it (for a very short time), I declined. I was not a fit for the church, and I knew myself well enough that I knew it wouldn’t be a good fit. Would have been a great career start? Absolutely. But it was not me, nor was it where I believe I was being led.

Fast-forward a couple of years after I’d left a position at another nearby church, and we were looking for a church to attend, and visited…and with the exception of two of the gazillion associate pastors, we were virtually ignored during the times we visited…not even an acknowledgement from the one I did my internship with (there were some other incidences later on that added to this, so this isn’t just some flippant judgment, but won’t go into those now).  That’ll be the other points I’ll be making.

So…here we go:

Point #1: In larger churches it is far more difficult to truly connect. Even for the pastors.

Point #2: In larger churches (staff-wise), it is far more difficult to be who you really are. You must look a certain way, act a certain way, be the example of “success” they define. Those also are the reasons I said no to the offer.

Point #3: Larger churches tend to be more political. Too political. Almost to the point of running like a well-oiled Mafioso…and if you, say, turn down their offer, for example, you are dead to them. Enough said.

Point #4: Larger churches tend to lean far more on programs to serve than people in the pews serving. Those people give money to those programs to do the work (with some exceptions) rather than doing the work themselves. That’s not to say the programs can’t be helpful, bit they often get away from the personal connection to meeting those needs that we are called to have.

There are other points I could make, but they didn’t fit into the anecdotal story. (This study, for example). Perhaps another time.

So, whaddya think? Am I way off-base, or on track with some of these thoughts?

First off, this is not a condemnation of large churches, and especially not of any particular one in the region (ahem). I am sure there are some large churches that do some amazing things…but their size makes certain things much more difficult. Not impossible, but more difficult. There are some large churches that while I’ve…


  1. I think you have valid points. I attend a very large church and those things are true. There's a big emphasis on small groups to connect people together but I don't attend one. It's so easy to fall through the cracks. And the politics can get really annoying as well. I go there because my DH and kids are happy there. I'd prefer a much smaller congregation, maybe even a home church.

    On the other hand, there are a lot of ministry opportunities there to be involved in right here in our community. We have a DREAM Center that is doing amazing things, Sidewalk Sunday School trucks that go to housing projects and more. I can't do all that myself but it's the passion of the people doing it. I guess like most things there are good and bad points.

  2. In large churches it is very difficult for the Senior Pastor to effectively serve his flock. I live in Houston where Lakewood rules. I've visited the church and it felt more like a rock concert than a worship experience. Visitors are allowed to stand in line to meet Mr. Osteen. Too much cult of personality for me. I like a smaller church where people cannot connect and members can serve one another and make visitors feel welcome.

      1. I know some people that went to Lakewood and visited and got Olsteen's autograph. That's sick! They have the picture hanging in their living room. What the crap? That's just wrong.

  3. Scott, you know my take on this and I think you're spot-on. I also think, however, that you might have a strong Biblical basis on which to debunk the myth of the mega-church. First, because we (pastors) were called to be shepherds, not ranchers. It's impossible to shepherd a flock of even 1,000, much less 10,000 or more. So why keep up the facade of discipleship and "church" in the mega-scene? It's often quite simple: A pastoral ego that demands growth, and an icon to himself. Second, the mega-church experience has actually been the opposite of church growth. We have more to show (appearance, not substance) in one place, at one time, but fewer believers per capita in America's history in the Kingdom of God. All the mega-churches have done is suck the life blood out of smaller, more relational churches that actually reach people, while bringing in a less dedicated, pablum-seeking audience.

    Too harsh? Perhaps. I think there are many well-intended pastors and church-goers out there who have never stopped to ask "Why?" Why do we need a large church? Why do we need the rock show? Do cool lights and a big, professional band really please God? Does the pastor even know those who are leading worship? Can he attest to their love of Christ? Once you lose touch with so many people within your doors, can you really be said to be "pastoring?"

    You know I'm a small church guy. I had to get over the modernist hang-over I had, having been taught the mega-model for churches and bought in whole-heartedly. I started realizing, over time, that you cannot feed bread to wafer-thin disciples. Funny. While we're all about getting fat in America these days, we've long been on a very strict diet of Gospel in our churches. Lots of junk food. No meat. It's no wonder the size of the Kingdom in America is shrinking, even as mega-churches seem to be growing.

    Good word, my friend. Sorry to pontificate.

  4. Just this past Friday I was having coffee with our current pastor and we talked about this exact thing. The church I attended until I was 22 had a membership of 4000 or so (and had a spectacular part time AV guy). Our current church? Under 100. Now Scott, I had the luxury of having everyone know my name, or at least my last name, because I was "Mr. Gruener" to everyone – my dad was a board member, usher, and deacon. I was just his son.

    We've been watching the first couple seasons of "The Tudors" on Netflix. It takes place during Luther's revolution, and a comment is made about how silly and heretical it was for an individual to think they could have personal relationship with God rather than communing through the Church. I quickly came to the realization that large churches can so easliy fall into the mold of that period's Catholic church. Where money talks AND walks, because the community of believers would rather pay the church to take care of social issues rather than going out and getting their hands dirty. Throw in a few sermons about how being a good Christian will make you rich and healthy, and you have a captive money-base.

    A little long winded, but I am now realizing that the smaller communities of believers I've been involved with in the last 10 years have truly reflected BEING the hands and feet of Christ rather than paying a staff to do it.

  5. When I lived in Tacoma, I attended one of the big churches. Was very involved behind the scenes. Worked on the Christmas show, Easter show and the television ministry. Saw the Senior Pastor and his wife at Nordstrom once with my mom, who also attended the church. He knew me right away, but had absolutely no clue who my mom was. You can get lost in a large church unless you get involved in some way.

    I also experienced another aspect. At one point, I decided that it was time to move on and leave the church, so I started attending the other large church in town. Church # 1 called me at Christmas needing a spotlight operator. I said that I didn't attend there anymore and they were fine with that since I was still a member of the Body of Christ. The Senior Pastor came in to pray with us before the performance, saw me and asked where I had been. He was just glad to hear that I hadn't left the "church" totally. That I was attending elsewhere. He was very glad that I was there to help out.

    I think that large churches can be right for certain people, but it is very easy to get lost in the shuffle. A smaller church is definitely more welcoming and very difficult to get lost in.

  6. I got to Bethlehem Baptist Church, or as some refer to it "Pastor John Piper's Church". It's not a mega church, but they do have 3 campuses and if you do not go to the Saturday night service, you won't see the Pastor live, typically. John Piper isn't the only pastor though and I guess that is why I like it there. He is really a humble man. It's not his church. Its our church. I go to the main campus and its large, but not 4000 people large. Maybe more like a 400. It's still very easy to feel lost and unknown in this church.

    They do rely on small groups for community. This bothers me. I don't like groups. I don't want to feel like the outsider all the time, but I do. I think they are very strong in their children's programming – which really is broke into small groups with small group leaders so the children have a chance at learning God's word and being prayed for as well as developing a relationship with a mentor like individual. I love that about my church. They care about kids from the time they are born until they graduate and they put a strong emphasis on this. They pray for each baby and they encourage bible memorization even at age 2. It's really great. My kids have memorized numerous verses and been really encouraged in God's word since we've been there.

    I'm not sure about the politics, but I certainly agree that community is almost non-existent. I wonder often how many of the people at our church feel how I do or if they feel they are well known. I think the people that are well known are the ones heading up the children's ministry or some other small group. I wish it wasn't that way, but it is.

    I continue to go to this church because I feel like our family is growing in Christ here and the truth is being preached and all the other churches we've been to (even the small ones) couldn't get that very important aspect right. So we stay and hope someday we will find our niche there. If not, our kids are getting fed and so are we. We have plenty of opportunities to serve too.

    I recently read a blog post about how churches are idols and not biblical. I wonder about that sometimes…

  7. I agree with you 100%.

    our church is considered a mega-church, and the one downside to that, imo is that the sermon is shown on a giant screen in the front- WE do have a campus pastor, which is fabulous and you'd never know it was considered as such like that. This is why i love the acts29 church planting missional church idea much more than just expanding your church when you get too many butts for the seats. Still, small group involvement is essential at mine and other similar churches. Its not perfect. To me the primary consideration when church shopping is how the church adheres to the scripture- style- whatever, who cares but if you have a big ego preaching all about self- no can do.

  8. I think you are one of many people who feel this way toward 'Mega-churches'. However, I belong to what is technically a mega-church, but after belonging there for 14 years, it doesn't seem as big. I believe the bible teaches that WE(believers in Christ) are the church. Where we worship and study His word is our choice. I believe that a congregation of 5 can glorify God as equally as a congregation of 20,000. Regardless, whether your one of the five or 20,000, each member is a sinner and in need of God's grace and forgiveness. So, I think the bigger issue is based upon whether your churches teaching/preaching/beliefs are biblically sound.

    Don't let the gadgets, screens, and contemporary music fool you. We all worship differently. It's definitely not for everyone. They know that! However, you must admit. We are living in a new day in age. We are a technological society. The Holy Spirit can use anything to bring God glory!

    So, if your pastor doesn't know your name or hasn't acknowledged you…go to him. Tell him your name. By all means do not idolize him, but if you feel lead, acknowledge his gift of biblical teaching. Why must we live in a society where we look to get so much out of church, rather than figure out how to serve our Lord! Kind of like God. We look to get so much from God when we become a follower, but in all actually we are called to serve and give our all to Christ.

    So, by all means am I not pressuring anyone to belong to a mega-church. I encourage everyone to go where they feel lead by the Holy Spirit. I am ,however, saying that we cant judge a book by a cover, we can't forget that a church is where the sick and broken go. It's not going to be a filled with pretty people who have their spiritual or physical lives 'together'. As iron sharpens iron!

  9. I think its funny when pastors get on posts like this one and say that its the ego of the mega-churches pastor that makes them think they can do this work. When in actuality if there ministry started to grow this large they would expand the building and be thrilled to do so! Ijs