Is Building a Big Church the Right Goal?
- Clarence L. Haynes Jr. Contributing Writer
- 2022 21 Apr
There was a recent documentary on Hillsong church that got me thinking about large churches. I want to say, intrinsically there is nothing wrong with a big church and this is not a response to the Hillsong documentary. My question in this matter goes beyond the size of the church, but to the motivation behind wanting to build one.
It seems for the last two decades, and this could be longer, that church growth has been all the rage. As I look at the various ways and methods people use to grow the church, I am beginning to wonder if we have got this whole thing wrong. Have we fallen victim to a worldly mindset with how we measure the success of a church?
If you are a part of a church, whether leader or layperson, then I pray you will hear my heart as I write these words.
Did Jesus Ever Tell Us to Build a Big Church?
Speaking of Hillsong, I pulled this mission statement from their website:
“To reach and influence the world by building a large Christ-centered, Bible-based church, changing mindsets and empowering people to lead and impact in every sphere of life.”
If you read this quickly or casually, this seems like a noble mission. However, there is one word in this statement that I personally find troubling. That word is large. Part of their mission is to build a large church, and by that standard alone they have been extremely successful.
Here is the problem. There is nowhere I can find in the Bible that instructs us to go and build a big church. I am not saying you cannot have a big church; I am saying that should not be your goal. A big church can be your result or outcome, but it should not be what you are striving for. Before you click away from this, let me explain the subtleties this objective can bring.
First off there is a problem with measuring the success of your church strictly by how many people come into the building. While this shows you can get people in the building, and there is nothing wrong with that, it does not prove you have a successful church. Theme parks, restaurants, movie theatres, airlines, etc. measure their success by how many people come through their doors. However, this should not be the primary way by which you measure the success or failure of a church.
The success of a church should be measured by how many lives are transformed, not just by how many people show up. The church is not in the business of just gathering people together; the church is in the business of changing the lives of those who have gathered. For this reason, a church could have thousands of people coming through their doors and be highly unsuccessful because they are not producing eternal transformation.
If you remember, the command Jesus left was go and make disciples. Notice he didn’t say go and make converts, fans, or church goers; he said disciples. A disciple is a student and a follower. Here is the question that must be asked of every church leader, regardless of the size of the church – Are you creating fans or disciples? If you are creating disciples, are they following Jesus or are they following you? If you are a good leader, teacher, or preacher, you cannot prevent people from wanting to connect with you. That is very normal and expected behavior. The question is what you do with those who begin to follow you. Your responsibility is to move them first and foremost to become followers of Christ, not just followers of you or your ministry.
The Problem with the Goal of Having a Big Church
Let me give you a practical example of why the goal of having a big church could be dangerous. Let’s assume you have a goal to have a church with 2,000 members, and let’s say by God’s grace you accomplish that goal. Here is what I want you to think about. What do you do if the membership suddenly goes from 2,000 to 1,500? If the goal is to build a big church, then the mindset can become what do we need to do to get people back in the building?
I hope you can see why this can be a terrible question to ask. There are lots of creative and entertaining ways you can get people in the building. However, do these ways just fill the room, or do they lead to converts and ultimately disciples? The difference in these mindsets is very subtle, and you must be careful that you don’t become more obsessed with filling the room than you are with transforming lives.
There Is Nothing Wrong with a Big Church Built the Right Way
I want to be clear – I am not against big churches. I have been in several in my life ranging in size from 1,500 members to over 9,000 members, some you would be very familiar with. The problem is not having a big church, the problem is building it the wrong way. As I said before the goal should never be to build a big church. That can be the outcome, but that should not be the goal.
Here is a Scripture I want you to think about. In Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, Peter stood and preached to the crowd and three thousand were added to the church that day. What I want you to pay close attention to is what the Bible records after that. This is the blueprint for doing it the right way:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).
When you read this, the growth of the church wasn’t the focus, it was the result. What they focused on was devoting themselves to teaching, fellowship, breaking bread together, and prayer. In other words, they followed Jesus’ command to go and make disciples. Because they committed to these things, the last verse says the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
I believe this method of building a church has not changed. Any desire to grow a church that is not bathed in prayer, teaching, fellowship, and breaking bread is not focusing on growing the church. In other words, church growth is not about the quantity of the people in the building but the quality of change coming to their lives. What good is it to have a full building if no lives are being changed?
Jesus Was Not Overly Concerned about Keeping the Crowds
There is one thing to note about Jesus’ ministry. When the crowds grew larger, his messages got more challenging. Jesus was not enamored with the amount of people following him. He would constantly go through a weeding out process because he didn’t want fans, he wanted disciples.
In John 6 Jesus feeds the five thousand and shortly thereafter he and the disciples leave to go to Capernaum. When the crowd realizes they had all left, they decided to follow him. As they followed Jesus, he proceeds to give them a very difficult message. Here is what happened after he spoke to them.
“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ … From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:60, 66).
You can read the in-between to know what he said, but he didn’t lighten the message because he was interested in keeping the crowd. He was more interested in creating true disciples than building a big following. We must be willing to get back to this place, and that’s why if the goal is to build a big church, it’s the wrong goal.
If you are a pastor or leader than I encourage you today not to worry about building a large church. If it happens, fantastic, but don’t allow that to be the goal. Focus on preaching the gospel, making disciples, and transforming lives by helping people grow deeper in their walk with Jesus. What you will find if this is your objective, is there will be wonderful fulfillment in your ministry and surprisingly the Lord may add daily to your numbers. You may end up with a big church, but it will be filled with a multitude of changed lives, not just a building of filled seats.
Photo credit: Unsplash/John Price
Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.