What’s wrong with big churches?

Over the last 10 years of serving in mega-churches I’ve heard all kinds of criticisms of large churches. “All Big Churches care about is money.” “Big Churches are too impersonal.” “Big Churches care more about building their Big Church than they do about building disciples.” The list literally goes on and on…and on.

I’m in the middle of preparing a series of blog-posts on “What’s Wrong with Big Churches?” But before I do, I need your help to do a little “market research!” Would you leave a comment below listing off either your own personal criticisms of large churches or criticisms that you’ve heard about large churches in America? Thanks! And I’m looking forward to some good conversations on this in the near future with you!


Posted in Leadership

15 Responses to “What’s wrong with big churches?”

  1. Joe McGinnis November 14, 2011 at 9:59 am #

    Here’s a few:
    1. The larger the church, the tougher it is to connect with others
    2. Too big – It’s not personal
    3. It’s all about buildings and budget
    4. They tear through staff
    5. The larger the church, the more policies needed “to run it”, and sometimes, more isn’t better – it just gets in the way of ministry.
    6. The “pastor” doesn’t know me.
    7. Is it a prerequisite that every mega-church leader needs to be bald and have a goatee? ☺

  2. paul alexander November 14, 2011 at 10:46 am #

    All great adds to the list, thanks Joe! Not sure about #7…

  3. Shari November 14, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    Back when I was a big church-hater, my number one complaint was that leadership cared more about quantity than quality. They were so focused on getting people in the seats that they watered down their teaching to appeal to as many seekers as possible. I also used to agree with number 5 from Joe’s comment: “5. The larger the church, the more policies needed “to run it”, and sometimes, more isn’t better – it just gets in the way of ministry.”

    Looking forward to this blog series, Paul. Thanks for addressing these issues. smile

  4. Dante Z November 14, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

    I recently visted a small church with only one service. I enjoyed the absence of the time clock. No need to turn the service over to get the next service in. Plus #7. smile

  5. jim November 14, 2011 at 1:28 am #

    1. only care about numbers, no discipleship
    2. people don’t get involved
    3. when people grow they go to another church to get “fed”
    4. they fill the pew with other church’s members
    5. when the preacher leaves the church will die
    6. no accountability for the money
    7. elders are “yes” men for the pastor
    8. no biblical preaching there “feel good” sermons just to draw a crowd

  6. Jeremy Alexander November 14, 2011 at 2:16 am #

    I think a lot of the dislike is that they tend to look at a mega-church and compare it with a corporation and thus assume that because its like a business it can’t be God honoring. I think this comes from misunderstanding the sacred/secular split.

    Also I think it comes to pastoral care, because someone may not meet with a pastor or staff person then they think they’re not being cared for so the large church is impersonal and the staff doesn’t care about them. They often don’t see that the work of ministry is done by the church not primarily the staff/pastors.

  7. paul alexander November 14, 2011 at 2:32 am #

    Wow!!! Great comments…gonna have a lot to tackle in this series…keep them comments coming!

  8. Nate November 14, 2011 at 2:36 am #

    One thing I’ve noticed is a lot of the criticisms thrown at big churches apply just as well and just as often to small churches. Often the only difference is big churches fail bigger and in front of more eyes.

  9. Rick Campbell November 14, 2011 at 2:42 am #

    The large church environment provides an easy atmosphere to attend but remain uncommitted & unplugged from church life. The ability to remain anonymous with no accountability I think encourages a self serving attitude of what’s in it for me. people looking to be served & enjoy the amenities, benefits & programs a large church has to offer without any involvement, commitment or participation.

  10. paul alexander November 14, 2011 at 3:29 am #

    Nate, great point! I’d agree I think scale can make strengths of a large church seem greater than they really are while at the same time weaknesses can seem more exposed.

  11. Tony Ziolko November 14, 2011 at 4:29 am #

    I currently work for a mega-church. There are so many areas where mega-churches get it right, but sometimes they certainly get it wrong. Let’s be honest; the church is a business. I’m talking about the building, the staff, the services. Obviously “the church” is made up of the people, therefore what does that make the campus and the building? The reality, is that it IS a business. We are providing a “service”, literally and figuratively. The staff, the ministries, etc. The people make up the church, and the physical location becomes a place where we gather to worship and do ministry.

    However, while the truth remains that church is a business, sometimes, I feel like the bigger the church gets, the more FOCUSED on the business aspect of it they get. Which is why I think people don’t like the “numbers” factor of a big church.

    The reality is, EVERY church wants to be a “big church.” If not, they are being selfish. Doesn’t every church want to spread the Word so much that their church grows? YES! But again, sometimes, the bigger the churches get, the focused on the business side of things they get. And a lot of it has to do with the reality that you just HAVE to spend more time on the business side of it because of the side.

    So there it is. To me, it’s bittersweet. The bigger the church, thats more people hearing about God’s love; but also the more complex the “business” gets…

  12. Scott Gates November 15, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    My biggest complaint against mega-churches is that often there is a tremendous amount of effort, energy, strategic planning, and creative talent that goes into creating an incredible weekend experience. Talented musicians, gifted sound and lighting techs, gifted speakers, high-quality videos, etc. All of these components are “excellent”, and make the weekend experience excellent. Often, however, the talent of the staff and the creative energy that goes into subsequent ministries is not nearly of the same quality. For example, often times the Small Group or Children’s Pastor doesn’t have nearly the same vision, creativity, or ability as the weekend team, when in reality we all know that real growth happens in THEIR ministry. I think Mega Churches have done a fantastic job of making a fantastic and motivating show, I would just love to see them do an equally good job of creating “excellent” ministries on all other levels of their church. Discipleship doesn’t happen on the weekend….mega-churches need to invest monetarily and creatively in putting talented leaders in the ministries that actually create and replicate disciples.

  13. Steve November 15, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    Let me first qualify my comments by letting you know that I have little experience with mega-churches (not even sure what qualifies as a mega-church to be honest) but I have been witness to our small church growing into a large church. Here’s what I’ve seen/heard:
    1.) Due to growth, communication becomes increasingly more difficult and convoluted. Like a large corporation, the challenge to integrate teams without experiencing the “silo” effect becomes increasingly difficult.
    2.) Gifted people who once spent their time and energy doing what they are good at find themselves lost in the land of administration. Even though the administration piece requires a different skill set, (which can be taught) it is most frequently not an “energizer” for the care-giver and seems to deplete and discourage them further.
    1.) The church is built on the recruitment, development and encouragement of strong lay-leaders. Typically these groups of people do not require a lot of hand-holding but definitely need to know they have the support they need. As the church grows, the staff is stretched in ways they haven’t been before and may become less available in ways they once were. Due to the size, lay-leaders can be left feeling less like the “core” they were once a part of.
    1.) People are creatures of habit so new processes and new faces are just the beginning of what may be perceived as a shift in “the norm.” Also, given the size of the staff, turnover becomes a concern.
    2.) A certain speaker or speakers become the face and feel of a church so new faces on stage can seem foreign.
    3.) New staff may seem to just appear without much preparation. I’ve even heard from lay-leaders that additions to staff were a surprise and unexpected. The challenge here is that many lay-leaders feel so emotionally tied to their church that it can be easy to forget that they may be just as impacted as paid staff.
    I hope that helps…

  14. paul alexander November 15, 2011 at 4:54 am #

    Thanks everybody for the comments…keep them coming if you’ve got them! BTW let me remind everyone…I’m not down on large churches by any stretch of the imagination, I serve in one. And for what it’s worth I don’t think there is a “perfect” size for a church to shoot for. Looking forward to some good conversations about this in the future!

  15. Ward Townsend November 27, 2011 at 6:10 am #

    Hi Paul,
    sorry i’m joining this thread late. I fully agree with your last comment that “there is no perfect size”. Too many of us miss that in the body of Christ. Each congregation is both self contained AND simultaneously dependent on THE BODY of Christ. Mega-churches provide ministries that smaller churches cannot while smaller churches also provide ministries that larger ones dont seem to be able to provide. The same can be seen in human bodies: is 5′ 10″ 175lbs any “better” than 6’10” 325lbs? well if you’re looking for a football linebacker, the second individual may be a better choice, however if you are looking for a jet fighter pilot, the first is more likely to be a better match. We become too short-sighted when we make any part of “the body” more important than another, each has its purpose. I have to disagree with Tony’s assessment that “every church wants to be bigger”… this claim presumes that spreading the gospel is synonomous with larger congregations. simply not true. “A business providing a service”… yes sadly that is the image most large churches seem to have provided. “The great commission” is not to “go and make bigger churches” or “go and run better businesses/provide better services”, it is to “Go and make DISCIPLES”, therefore ANYTHING that does not facilitate, or assist in making better disciples is contrary to our commission. If “running the church”, LARGE OR SMALL, detracts from our commission of “making disciples” then that is a distraction and should be re-evaluated. Isnt it interesting that JESUS, THE Son of God, God INCARNATE, chose no more than 12 men to pour into at one time… discipleship is a LONGterm commitment between individuals: the disciple to the teacher AND the teacher to the disciple. This relationship can exist equally well or not at all just as easily in the Mega-church as the small home church. Size matters little, though it is obvious that with size comes greater challenges, obstacles, AND OPPORTUNITIES.
    So, i guess my comment about Mega-churches is EQUALLY applied to small congregations and that is this: 1) we frequently run them too much like a business where the commodity is people, and 2) there is too little discipleship… ; )
    thanks for all you do each week… you’re great!!
    your friend and brother,

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