A few weeks ago, a friend on FB reported that a church he and his wife had been attending for several weeks had a Sunday morning announcement that the church qualified for a 3.9 million dollar loan. My friend was baffled and asking if this was normal--do churches this size need loans this large? What ensued in the comments section of his post was perspective from all sides—from the eschewing of large churches in favor of smaller house-church-sized communities to those arguing for the possibility that such a loan was reasonable depending on the size of the church and its yearly income. Others quoted popular authors who were mega-church-pastors-turned-house-church-planters and now criticize the industrial machine of the American mega-church and how it is so different from Jesus’ model—Jesus who disciple a small bunch of men and often turned away crowds.
It’d be easy to roll on the waves of this debate, tossing to and fro with each theoretical argument that doesn’t actually take into account the workings of the Spirit at my church in North Liberty, Iowa, in 2014. Instead of taking sides on the debate, I find myself wanting to throw away categories, to resist the temptation to classify one model as better than another and, rather, classify our own motivations, classify our own leadings as Spirit-led or not.
Here I am, on staff at a 500-some-member church that is only 8 years old. And we seem to keep growing as we show and tell people about Jesus. And if we keep showing and telling people about Jesus in the way we’re doing, it seems it would stand to reason that LIFEchurch will grow larger. And if so, how could we not keep making room for more people? (Note: this will likely involve leases and building mortgages.)
The Spirit seems to be doing something in response to our telling people about Jesus, and we don't have the sense that we should start closing the doors and turning people away. More people come every week. More people return every week. And people report that their lives are changing. That their prayers are being answered. That they've found new hope in Jesus. How could I dream of turning them away because the Big-Church Model isn’t perfect?
It isn’t perfect, I'll admit. It’s hard to organize good follow-up systems. It's hard to keep track of who's actually coming and what their needs are. It’s hard to get people plugged into meaningful relationships with smaller groups of believers (as opposed to all 500 that attend on Sunday) and it's hard to connect the right people with the class they are most in need of. And it's not the right model for everyone in every season of life, but we are sure trying to make it work for all the people who walk through the doors. And what’s the alternative? “Good luck finding a church where there’s an open seat for you”?
I'm happy to think that the formerly big-church pastors had good reason for resignation and for shifting gears, reasons that made sense for their own lives and callings and purposes. But we don’t. Not now. Not yet when it seems like we’re doing exactly what we should be doing, which is growing a church.