Are Big Churches Bad?

I get the definite impression that many people who are careful about theology and earnest to obey the commands and examples of the Bible think that bigger churches are bad churches. Several observations are relevant here:

First and foremost, let’s remember that the Jerusalem Church had over 3,000 after the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41). The Lord was adding to their number daily (2:47), and they were all together (2:44). In Acts 4:4, the number of the men is about 5,000, and then Luke resorts to words like “multitudes” (5:14) and “increasing in number” (6:1) and “multiplied greatly . . . many . . .” (6:7). [Lest those of us in smaller settings become discouraged, let’s also recall that Paul seems to have had a pretty small crowd in Philippi (Acts 16:12–13) and in Athens “some men joined him and believed” (17:34)].

Second, let’s observe that the Apostles apparently remain with the Jerusalem church (Acts 8:1, everyone is scattered except the Apostles). Even though the Jerusalem church has Apostles, however, it also has “elders” (see Acts 11:30; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4; 21:18). These “elders” are apparently regarded by Luke as equivalent to “pastors” and “bishops” (see Acts 20:17, 28). The most natural reading of this evidence about the Jerusalem church is that there is one church, which does have a hierarchy—James seems to respected by all (Acts 15:13–21). But this hierarchy looks “organic” rather than “institutionalized” (in other words, James seems to be first among equals because of his wisdom and spiritual authority). I take it that the Apostles and elders shepherded the Jerusalem church through oversight, teaching, and correction, and I take it that they did a good job of it (see especially Acts 2:42–47).

Third, let’s remember that some of our heroes in the faith have pastored pretty big churches. In his excellent book, The Baptists, Tom Nettles notes that Benjamin Keach’s (1640–1704) church eventually had to move to a meeting place that would hold nearly a thousand people. And how many thousands were in Spurgeon’s church?

So we must not automatically conclude that big is bad. Worldly is bad. Unbiblical is bad. But big, if God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, disciple-making, and suffering for the cross is certainly blessed!

6 Comments

Filed under Bible and Theology, History

6 responses to “Are Big Churches Bad?

  1. Jim,

    Great topic, I indirectly blogged on this about a week ago. My concern is how many mini churches are we creating within one congregation. If memory serves the Jersualem church all met together- at one time. I have no issue with large churches, just large churches that sub-divide. I think that can lead to disharmony.

    Here is the addy to my post if interested:
    http://truthpatrol.blogspot.com/2006/06/how-many-churches-are-in-your-church.html

  2. Scott Stentz

    Dr. Hamilton,

    This would perhaps make a good ecclesiastical theology doctoral dissertation. This line of thinking has been whirling around in my head for years now. I do agree with Mr. Reddin that disharmony, regardless of size, is countlessly mentioned in the Bible. This issue needs to be addressed for the pastors of churches whose size is on the rise. Surely God will build his church but we need to make sure that we are following Biblical models and mandates and not stray away from the right path.

  3. Both church sizes have advatages. Tiny curches are more personal, the sermons can be better targeted. When Americans (or goverment) becomes so anti-Christain it will be easy to shut down huge churches, and small churches will take longer to close down. Large churches on the otherhand can provide a place of shelter and anoumnity for those who where abused in a previous church situation. As long as the churches are run according to God’s word, and his direction for that church, then if it is large or small shouldn’t matter.

  4. I for one am grateful that our elders decided that whenever our membership reached 500 or so, we would send off a substantial portion of our congregation to plant a daughter church. In the next two years or so, it will be time for local daughter church #2. EXCITING times!

  5. bendonahower

    Wow – just found your blog today. This is good stuff!

  6. darell

    Well, I believe smaller churches have there advantages when it comes to intimacy. For example just look at public schools and see how larger class sizes leads to under performance in students. I believe this happens in large churches too. “Under performing Christians”. I feel that people need personal contact with others and even there supposed spiritual leaders. I remember going to a large church and how the Pastor didn’t even know me. How can someone love you and help you and they don’t even know you. Needless to say, when i needed assistance from the “large” church that i invested in over the years, they turned me down for help. I forgive this bug huge ministry

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