Why “Large” Matters


3182198117_0e5564fdb9_mOkay, so I need help on this one. I’m writing a new book on the large congregation (targeted at congregations with worshiping communities between 300 and 1,800). It’s about the uniqueness of the large church from a leadership and structural perspective. I’ll be introducing a size typology for large congregations to replace the traditional “corporate” label attached to the large church. The book will also address strategic alignment in the large church, staffing structures, board dynamics, the leadership role of the senior minister, the role of the associate,  membership and assimilation challenges, and approaches to program evaluation. In short, the book will be about many of the things I write about on this blog.

I showed the proposed outline of the book to my publisher some time ago and he heartily approved, with one exception. He said that I needed a lead off chapter that talked about why the large church matters. Frankly, I was stymied when he suggested that I needed to address what this thing referred to as the “large church” represents on the American religious landscape. It’s so clear to me that the large church matters today, but when pressed to articulate why, I found myself stumbling around.

I’ve always loved the energy of the large church. I grew up in a Roman Catholic parish with 3,000 membership families. I worked for a year on the staff team of a mega church. The struggling pastoral sized congregation that my family and I have belonged to for the last decade recently merged with a corporate sized congregation, and I’m happy as a clam in the bigger, fuller environment. I love being in large church venues, but I guess I’ve just assumed their existence.

Since my publisher’s challenge I’ve given the topic some thought and I can articulate some of the reasons why the large church matters today, but I’m feeling like I haven’t quite captured the essence. Here’s what I’ve got so far: The large church matters because:

  • The large church has a capacity for excellence.  Excellence is an attribute of God and excellence honors God. (I have a feeling that the last sentence may get me into trouble with some of you…but have at it).
  • Similarly, worship can be pursued with excellence in music, preaching and liturgy. Increasingly we live in a culture that is accustomed to excellence in entertainment and for good or ill those expectations have spilled over into our worship lives.
  • Worship practices today increasingly make use of technology. Large churches have the resources to employ technology in highly effective ways, because they can purchase top notch equipment and employ top notch operators.
  • Within the large church people can simultaneously tend competing desires for intimacy and anonymity. There are plenty of small group experiences where one can be known, but there is also plenty of space to indulge or rediscover anonymity.
  • The large church allows people to embrace a social justice identity, without having to step outside of personal zones of comfort. Through the coordinated social justice ministries of the church people can engage financially, or with minimal personal time and still take pride in being part of something larger than themselves that makes a difference in the world.
  • Similarly, large churches have a capacity for incorporating diversity by allowing people to engage difference in controlled environments. People can choose venues where they want to engage “otherness” and then they can retreat to smaller homogenous pockets that feel safe.
  • Largeness lends itself to stability.  Large congregations tend to weather financial storms better than smaller congregations. Large church clergy have longer leadership tenures (I think; I don’t have research to back up that last statement.) Stability over the long haul promotes health, and health sustains viability.
  • The depth of resources available to the large congregation makes them important regional resources within their denominations. Large churches develop programs and leaders that are important resources for smaller neighboring congregations.

So, that’s my list so far. Help me out here. What am I missing? Am I even on the right track?

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3 Responses to “Why “Large” Matters”

  1. Ron Cook Says:

    Because stats show 50% of US Churchgoers go to large Churches. Worth mentioning. 90% of Churches are smaller but the attendance gives a different perspective.
    Because the preaching and pastors of large churches are heard more by the community and nation because of their access to media and prominence.
    2 more to mull over.

  2. Robin Coira Says:

    I think you are certainly on the right track regarding why the large church matters. I would include that the large church not only impacts the denomination and smaller church neighboring churches, but also impacts the entire community as well through justice, ministry and mission initiatives. Oftentimes it is the large church that steps out first in response to sacred justice issues.

  3. Matthew Johnson-Doyle Says:

    How about because at the larger church, they are doing something that connects with people’s spiritual hunger – especially those larger churches that are growing, they have tapped the root.

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