Denominations. Leadership structures. Worship styles. All are descriptors of local churches meant to help us categorize and identify what that particular church body believes and prioritizes. But size? Does knowing the size of a church really tell you what to expect from that church body?
We all know the myths. In small churches everyone is on a first-name basis, the Sunday School teacher is also the janitor and choir director, and the fellowship around the casseroles and Crock-pots is where true community is formed. In megachurches you can expect the skinny jean-wearing worship leader to be a former guitarist for Chris Tomlin, enjoy watching the sermon on your iPad from the comfort of your own bed, and slip anonymously into the back row of the balcony without ever having to smile or shake a single hand.
But are the myths true? While I would never presume to speak for all people in all churches, I believe that there are enough exceptions to the rule to warrant a re-examination of the church-size stereotypes.
Today let’s examine 3 common myths of megachurches, congregations that have 2,000 or more members.
Myth #1 - “I’ll just get lost in the masses. No one will know my name or even notice whether I’m there or not.” Read: “I cannot find authentic community in megachurches.”
Believe it or not, most megachurches are just as intentional as small churches, if not more so, about fostering authentic community. Small churches naturally benefit from fewer faces to meet, and thus you are more likely to run into familiar people and have the opportunity to develop or deepen relationships. Megachurches, on the other hand, know that they are at a disadvantage, and so they often devote entire departments to community-building. Look on any megachurch website and you’ll often see a small groups ministry, a pastor of connection, age or life-stage based community groups, etc.
So if both the small church and the megachurch prioritize community, why the stereotype? Because the level of engagement required of the attendee to build authentic community differs. For example, if there are only 60 people in my congregation, then I don’t have to do more than just attend church, and I’ll likely sit near people who overtime become familiar just because there is only a small group of people in close proximity to me. Conversely, at megachurches with thousands of people rotating seats all across the main floor and balcony, not to mention attending different services, just sitting in the same seat each week isn’t sufficient for me to get to know someone, even casually. Instead, I have to decide which activities I want to be involved in, find out when those activities occur, set aside the time to attend, make a conscious effort at the activity to be sociable and make connections, and then keep attending the activity so that I can continue developing those connections. And while the previous illustration is an extreme example, the principle is still the same. It isn’t convenient or quick, but authentic and thriving community is very much possible at megachurches.
Myth #2 - “The staff already have too many responsibilities and people to care for. I don’t think they would have time for me.” Read: “The staff are too busy to be approachable.”
Yes, staff members at a church of any size usually lead busy lives, but I must remember why most of those people choose to work in ministry in the first place. Because they want others to intimately know Jesus. Because they want to see the Gospel lived out in word and deed. Because they believe that the redemption and renewal that Jesus wrought is the greatest story every told.
And if the heart of ministry is about life transformation through Jesus Christ, then ministry by essence of its very nature involves ministering to or attending to the physical and spiritual needs of others. In other words, ministry involves people, plain and simple. While staff members sometimes joke, “Ministry would be easy if it weren’t for the people,” it is the responsibility of the staff person to be available to counsel, comfort, and provide care. And so while the staff may appear busy, and they are, they have time for you and me. They have time to do what they were called to do: enter into our mess and minister.
Myth #3 - “There are hundreds of talented and gifted people serving here as volunteers. But I’m no expert. What could I really contribute? My gifts aren’t needed.” Read: “I’m not needed as a volunteer or valuable to this church.”
I’m a church-attending Christian and I acknowledge that we are each made in the image of God. I even teach the third-graders in Sunday School that the Holy Spirit gives believers unique gifts to serve the body. But do I really believe that for myself? That I’m gifted with distinct spiritual gifts that the Church needs? That for me to not serve is to deny the local church body something that God has uniquely equipped me to offer? If I don’t believe that I’m gifted and called to serve, then perhaps this myth is more about an improper understanding of God and self and less about not being needed as a volunteer at a megachurch. Because the truth is this: I am called to serve and my gifts are needed, whether I attend a church of a few hundred or a few thousand.
And statistically-speaking, the more members there are to serve at megachurches, the more volunteers are need to swaddle the infants, staff the sound booth, and coordinate teen beach camp. In fact, megachurches enjoy the advantage over small churches of being able to offer a wider assortment of volunteer needs for varying ages, skill-levels, and interests. From staffing the weekly, free-of-charge medical clinic to hiding 6,000 plastic eggs on church property for the Easter Eggstravaganza, chances are, there is a place for me.
So next time you’re standing in line at the grocery store and you run into an old friend who asks you where you’re going to church now, don’t be afraid to admit it if you attend a megachurch. Yes, she might cringe. She might even ask with brazen disbelief, “But why would you want to go to a church that has its own Starbucks?” And you can confidently reply, knowing that stereotypes are just that—biases that aren’t always true.