Is Big Bad?

Is Big Bad?

Hi all,

It is not infrequent that we (leadership) hear some criticism or at times a litany of negative comments about Harvest.  Our Harvest or any of the Harvest churches in Ontario.  The detail in those comments is pretty standard (not much we haven’t heard before) and usually includes several of about 10 accusations or false ideas.

Sadly Christians seem very open to hear and pass on things without ever seeking to discern if they are true or not, especially when about other churches.  We are all prone to do this and must carefully check ourselves before participating.

One accusation that comes up, not infrequently, is that Harvest is all about mega.

I thought it would be good to just state this on the record so all, who care to know the truth, can hear and understand – we ARE trying to grow big! And just FYI I speak only for Harvest London not the other Harvest churches.

Now it is very important that you understand that statement in context.  Our mission (and we believe this is the Biblical mandated mission of every church) is: To glorify God through the fulfillment of the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20) in the spirit of the great commandment (Matthew 22:36-39).

This means, by mandate from God, we are all about discipleship.  Discipleship starts with evangelism, seeking to spread the good news of the gospel to as many as possible.  Discipleship continues with seeking to grow each Christ-follower to full maturity in Christ (Eph. 4:11-16).  Are we satisfied with 5 Christ-followers? No!  50? No! 500? No!  How about 5,000? No!

Jesus taught in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.’  And in John 15:8 Jesus said, ‘By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.’

We realize bearing fruit is not just about evangelism, but for certain God has called every Christ-follower and every church to be as passionate and zealous about reaching as many people with the gospel as possible and growing as many as possible to full maturity in Christ.

None of us can do this alone, we need fellow believers and the full body of Christ (all churches).  However, we must be single focused in our commitment to the mission!

Now if a church leadership team has the vision from God to reach as many for Christ but then send and plant many new churches while they themselves stay smaller – wonderful!

If a church leadership team has the vision from God to reach as many for Christ and continue to do that but plant fewer churches and thus they continue to grow bigger – wonderful!  Where in the world did so many Christians get the idea that smaller is somehow better or more spiritual.  Sadly, I wonder, if this is not simply an excuse for a lack of passion or obedience for the Great Commission, putting comfort and ease over evangelism and discipleship.

It is wonderful when churches seek to grow and plant – that is God’s mandate!  What is not wonderful is when churches seem – in statement or practice – to be content with a ‘just us four, shut the door, no more’ mentality.  You may disagree with large church, but if you do your only option is to passionately embrace the planting of new churches by sending people out as God grows you.

It is NOT an option for churches to be content with minimal growth.  That is like saying – we don’t care that much to reach others with the gospel or to grow more people in their faith, because we ourselves are saved so let others take care of themselves.

Our focus in Harvest, specifically at Harvest London is to focus on discipleship – seeking, by God’s power and ability to grow disciples of Christ.  We have no number goals and have not since our early years as a church when we were SouthWest Community Church.

Our passion is to make disciples, more disciples for God’s glory.  I pray that is your passion as well.  Therefore big is not bad!  We focus on quality of disciples, God alone determines the quantity.  We do not make our church big (although we could be responsible for making it small).  God brings the growth, that is His doing not ours.  Therefore, if there is any glory for what is happening it is 100% God’s.

Someone sent me ta survey done in 2011 on mega-churches.  Harvest London is not a mega-church by definition of this survey.  However, I thought these researchers did a good job of addressing some of the criticisms of larger churches as well as showing some of their shortcomings.  You can read the entire survey HERE.

I thought this may provide some good input which may help you see that big is not necessarily bad – mega churches or just big churches are not inherently good or bad, but it all depends on their adherence to their God-given mission.

We at Harvest are doing all we can to reach more people for Christ – if you seek to pray for us, pray that God would, in His grace, allow us to pursue that goal, by His Spirit, using His Word, and for His glory.

Below are some helpful summaries from this survey.

Together in His service,

This is a helpful summary of the survey, showing that big is not bad or perhaps I should say, not necessarily bad. 

1. Nearly two-thirds of attenders have been at these churches 5 years or less.

2. Many attenders come from other churches, but nearly a quarter haven’t been in any church for a long time before coming to a megachurch.

3. New people almost always come to the megachurch because family, friends or coworkers invited them.

4. Fifty-five percent of megachurch attenders volunteer at the church in some way (a higher percentage than in smaller churches).

5. What first attracted attenders were the worship style, the senior pastor and the church’s reputation, in that order.

6. These same factors also influenced long-term attendance, as did the music/arts, social and community outreach, and adult-oriented programs.

7. Attenders report a considerable increase in their involvement in church, in their spiritual growth, and in their needs being met.

8. Attenders can craft unique, customized spiritual experiences through the multitude of ministry choices and diverse avenues for involvement that megachurches offer.

9. In many ways, large churches today are making good progress in reaching people and moving them from spectators to active participants to growing disciples of Jesus Christ.
I have copied the ‘Executive Summary’ from this survey below as it provides some interesting thoughts coming out of the survey.  
Last weekend, about 56 million Americans worshipped at a Protestant church. Most of those churches drew fewer than 100 people each, a size that’s characterized the “typical” church for centuries. But in the last few decades a new class of church has emerged: the very large church, often called a megachurch. And last weekend over 10% – or nearly 6 million – of these worshippers were part of congregations that each drew 2,000 or more in total attendance. If this group of churches were a Protestant denomination, it would be the nation’s second largest such group.

In recent months we surveyed this group of very large churches and made some fascinating discoveries. The following list highlights some of the most important findings. We will also be releasing more of findings from this survey in the coming months.

 • These churches are wired.
While 88% say their church/pastoral leadership uses Facebook or other social media on a regular basis, nearly three-fourths do podcasts and 56% blog.

• Multisite interest has grown dramatically.
Half are multisite with another 20% thinking about it.

• Growth is steady.
Despite occasional news reports that large churches are a Boomer phenomenon or are now in decline, a steady growth pattern remains evident, with these churches averaging 8% growth per year for last five years. Thus the stated average attendance for these churches grew from 2,604 in 2005 to 3,597 in 2010.

• The leader at the helm makes all the difference.
Seventy-nine percent say the church’s most dramatic growth occurred during tenure of current senior pastor.

• Worship options extend beyond Sunday morning.
While virtually all have multiple Sunday morning services, 48% have one or more Saturday night services, and 41% have one or more Sunday night services.

• They are both big and small.
Eighty-two percent say small groups are “central to our strategy of Christian nurture and spiritual formation,” and 72% put a “lot of emphasis” on “Scripture studies other than Sunday school.” They report that 46% of their attenders are involved in small groups.

• They have a high view of their own spiritual vitality.
An overwhelming 98% agree that their congregations are “spiritually alive and vital.” In addition, 98% say they have strong beliefs and values, 95% say they have a clear mission, and 93% say they are willing to change to meet new challenges.

• Newcomer orientation is constant.
Forty percent of regular participants age 18 and older are new to the congregation in the last five years. And 70% of participants are under the age of 50.

• The dominant identity is “evangelical.”
Of eight options offered, the majority chose the word evangelical to identify their theological outlook. Interestingly, barely 1% chose labels at the two theological extremes – either fundamentalist or liberal.

• The vast majority do not have serious financial struggles.
Only 6% say church’s financial health is in some or serious difficulty (and only 7% said that for five years previously). However, half adversely felt the effects of the economic crisis and 5% fewer report their financial health as “excellent” compared to five years ago.

• Staffing costs are comparable to those of other churches.
Forty-eight percent of the average large church’s total expenditures go to salary and benefits.

• They are not independent.
Seventy percent say their church is part of a denomination, network, fellowship, or association of churches. For those who are currently non-denominational, 33% say they were once part of a denomination.