Disclaimer: This isn’t a commentary about Walmart, or discourse about how they are affecting the business and economic climate in various areas, or even an endorsement of Walmart. In fact, this could relate to any “big box” store, I just opted to use Walmart as the example. Though it may sound like it, I am not “bashing” large, or multi-site, churches either. These are my thoughts designed to spark your own thoughts and view on the topic.
A couple of weeks ago, Tony Kummer wrote an article for a series of articles being written about the “Future of Children’s Mnistry” (you can read it here). His article spurred some thoughts in me, and I wanted to share them here. Item # 3 in his article really struck a chord with me. It was “Church Consolidation”.
I wondered if the Mega Church movement we see today is the Walmart mentality in ministry. Are these mega-churches (even churches with about 500 members or more) destroying the smaller local church? While I have not verified the stat, I believe I heard that approximately 80% of churches in PA (maybe the country) have an average membership/attendance of around 100 – 150, and the mindset of many people is that bigger is better.
Here is my personal frame of reference…
I was an active member of a church that had a membership of 800 with an average attendance any given Sunday morning of around 500. As they discussed growing, adding a building, etc., I wondered when was a church “big enough.” When, in reaching a certain region, was it time to say “Hey, we have 10 -12 families in this community, why don’t we look at planting a church there” (not a satellite, an independent entity). God was preparing me for where He was leading me. Not long after that, a group of about 10 families which had moved across the state line were prayerfully considering planting a new church where I was called (well, it was actually an e-mail) to serve. Do you know what my biggest obstacle was, and still is? Youth and adults looking for that “big church” feel and endless run of activities for youth. Many families had come from larger churches (like the one I attended) who had full time children and youth pastors and leaders, a minimum of 50 youth involved in activities and a permanent facility. So when we had 5 youth with various schedules, a volunteer Youth director (me!) with an hour commute each way, meeting in a movie theater Sunday mornings – having to rent or find places to hold activities, they still wanted all that their former group offered! They didn’t really accept where God had placed them for that time. Yes, it was discouraging when the youth we had did not show up for planned activities (it still is), but we need to take it into focus. If in the “big church group”, 5 youth are missing, it’s no big deal. Leaders seldom dwell on it. However when our 5 youth do not attend, it is a major crisis! Yes, we can extrapolate several things from that but ultimately it is because they want the big group feel. Youth contact each other and say “If you’re not there, I’m not going”, so it is not the activity necessarily, but conflicting schedules and other youth not wanting to be the “only one” attending.
Okay, enough of my rant (sorry!). I wonder if this Walmart mentality is harming the way we reach the lost and hurting world. Look at Walmart and the other big box stores. They offer as much as possible for the least amount of money trying to “reach and help people”. As the need to keep prices low, sometime quality is compromised. Is this the case in the church? I often tell people that I can have 50 youth at any time, if I wanted, just by being an event coordinator – offering activity after activity. So, what’s the problem with that? There are several.
- I personally don’t have the time or the resources.
- Generally youth/children bring their other “churched”/Christian friends and so it is not outreach or discipleship, they are going to where the fun is.
- There often is not depth, just a shallow devotional, maybe.
Yet, this is what youth and adults are looking for, the most activity at the lowest cost. That cost could be financial or commitment. The large church has many different “departments” offering different things. How can the “small shop” compete, exist, along side the “big box” store? Likewise, how can the “small church” compete against the “big box” church? Is the “big box” church forcing the smaller, community based church to close?
What will the future church look like? As I’ve noted on one of my blog posts on CommanderBill.net (Big vs. Small – Is there a difference?), big churches try to be small with small groups, and small churches try to get big. So where is the balance?
Do you think there is a Walmart view of ministry? And if so, do you think that is impacting the smaller church in the same way that “big box” stores impact the mom & pop store in the community? I’m interested in your thoughts.