Small and mega churches: living in a land with giants

Gritty days ahead

in the land of giantsThe  Saturday’s Straits Times special report by Lee Siew Hua and Susan Long was an excellent analysis of the church scene in Singapore, albeit with a slant towards the currently newsworthy megachurches. Reading the well researched and eye-opening articles can give the majority of small churches a feeling of creeping muscular dystrophy. There are giants in the land and they have no time for the small. The mega churches in cavernous expo halls or high up in the city centre, cast vast shadows over the middle earth of small and micro churches. It generates an apprehension of imminent dark creatures and clouds about to devour all things small and micro. It will take hobbit-like qualities, a strong fellowship of the small, to survive, indeed to triumph, in such gritty days.

God’s kingdom

We need to start off with a biblical perspective. In God’s kingdom all kinds and all sizes have a place. The Creator God who factored variety and beauty into the universe he made knows this better than us. To reach people of different cultures and personalities, the world needs to have churches of all kinds and sizes. So God said, Let there be all kinds and all sizes for we need them all. As small and micro churches we must walk upright with the assurance that the Father wants to give the kingdom to the little flock as well. The small and micro churches, outwardly as short and whiny as hobbits, has a significant role to play: they can reach and disciple people the megachurch cannot reach.

Close the manhole

As we read the articles, we can easily trip into the open manhole of comparison. The reader who attends the megachurch feels superior. They have the better everything: bigger crowds, building, budget. Theirs the inspiring vision, the charismatic leader, the touching worship, the professional operations, the longer queues. The 90% who worship in smaller churches can feel discouraged, inferior, and critical. Some leaders of small churches will stupidly think, “If they can do it, we can do it too!” They are like parents who think every child can be a President’s Scholar: just have the right vision, strategy, motivation and implementation and ….boomz!

The Straits Times articles stated that the megachurches hire full-time professionals to be their musicians. That’s why they have such technically excellent music. Can the small church compare with that musical standard and ever hope to get there. More likely she would be discouraged and self-condemned before she even starts.  And this is just the music. What about the administration, the aesthetics, the multiple ministries, the charisma, the critical mass of young people, and all the bangs and whistles. Comparison in whatever form is a fall into a deep, dark stinking hole.

Leverage on the strengths

Small churches should remember their strengths and leverage on them. Small churches need to take a page from the epic movie “The Lord of the Rings”. The hobbits were focused on a clear purpose. they were authentic, close-knit, loyal, and incorruptible. The small church needs to focus on making disciples. Preaching  the Gospel to the pre-believers and and teaching the Gospel systematically to the baptized is crucial for the process of disciple-making. Making disciples, not en masse, but one by one, each personally and lovingly handcrafted, like Swiss watches (not like  the mass produced plastic Swatch).  The  disciple will be authentic and believes he can become all that he already is in Christ. The small church should also leverage on its natural strength of being more like a loving family than an unfeeling, bureaucratic corporation. It can major on delivering intimacy and community. Furthermore, very hobbit, I mean every disciple, in the small church can be equipped and deployed to function in his God-given role in the fellowship, unlike in the megachurch, and this is a big advantage the small church has in helping disciples find discover purpose.

Apostolic mentality

Yes, I have intriguingly cast the mega churches as Lord Sauron and all his army of followers as those dug from the gravel, and made alive by magic. There’s a twist in the story. The real truth is that Lord Sauron is Satan and his minions, and the Fellowship of the Ring includes the big guys and the small guys. The big guys are the mega churches, and the hobbits, well, they are the small churches. We are bonded like an imperfect family on this journey to defeat Satan. There will be distrust, fear, greed, misunderstanding, and suspicion as we move along towards our destination. Only together and by His grace will the job get done. We know this will definitely end in a climatic consummation when Jesus comes in glory and final victory is established on this earth. This is apostolic eyes: seeing mega and small and micro as one church of Singapore, the way God sees it. We are not competing; we complete each other.

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Comments

  • Meanwhile, middle-size traditional churches get counted out of the equation. If you read the ST feature knowing nothing else, you’d think Singaporean Protestantism is made up of fashionable crazies drawn to glitzy concerts and suspicious fanatics holed up in home set-ups.

  • I agree that small churches should not be comparing and feeling lesser when they see their bigger brothers, but should rejoice that the Church is going places, making things happen.

    There is no shame in being small and size does not matter when it comes to doing the work of the Lord.

    “The Straits Times articles stated that the megachurches hire full-time professionals to be their musicians. That’s why they have such technically excellent music.”

    I dont know about other churches, but for NCC, this is VERY inaccurate..

    ALL the worship leaders and musicians on stage have grown up together with the church, IN the church. Some started out with great voices and gave it to the Lord, some asked for the gift and received it later on in life. It was only when the church became financially able did we decide to make them full-time to allow them to fully dedicate their time to worship.

    One of them was a young girl by the name of Adeline who could not sing in the past. Instead she played the drums as a teenager. But she stayed faithful and kept serving, kept coming even if she kena scolded and today, she is one of the BEST singers in the worship team.

    What disappoints me sometimes is the public who does not see the sowing, begin complaining when they see the harvest, when its common sense!

    I disagree very heavily when small churches say they are disadvantaged due to their size, as if size had anything to do with it in the first place..

  • City Harvest started in 1989 with 20 people. NCC started in 1984 with about 30. The megachurches did not start out as megachurches, they grew from microchurches, and grew and grew and grew into their present size.

    1984 to 1990 – NCC grew to 150
    1995 – 500
    1998 – 2,000+
    1999 – 3,800
    2000 – 5,500
    2002 – 8,000
    2004 – 10,000
    2010 – 20,000
    (source: NCC’s Jul-Aug 2010 issue of Solid Rock magazine)

    It took NCC 14 years to grow from 30 to the minimum megachurch size of 2,000 in 1998. In 1998, Pastor Prince started preaching uncompromisingly on the grace of God and in 12 years, NCC grew tenfold to 20,000.

    Why did NCC grow so fast? I am not in a position to answer that but personally, I am attracted to NCC because the grace message preached here has set me free to enjoy being a Christian where previously I felt it was a burden. The great worship session is just a bonus. I guess maybe there are many many others who think the same and that’s how the church grew and grew.

    I think pastors of microchurches need to find out from God why their churches remain micro after so many years. I would if my 15-year old son still look like a six-year old kid now.

  • I believe that while God was the one behind everything, there was a significant part in a spirit of excellence, as well as the attitude the backbone of the church has toward serving the Lord..

    See, as a server, we are always reminded to give our best in order to fully maximise the gifts god has given us… To be good stewards of such gifts and as a result, quality work is produced.. We have NEVER focused on getting numbers, but its more like today i have 1500, i’ll deal with the 1500, tmr i have 50, i’ll deal with the 50 .. so that when i have 15000, I can deal with the 15000, and i can delegate people to deal with the 50, and the 1500..

    People grow individually, and the ministry grows together.. For example, i serve in youth video.. 2 years ago when i joined, the youth ministry was at 400 average..

    But we still maintained a high standard of quality cos we know that God would definitely send the increase once we proved able to handle it… so we kept training and preparing ourselves and today, youth ministry is 700 and we are still training and preparing for one north…

    cos what happens when God send us to one north and we cant handle it? the high tech stuff becomes of no use.. did we focus on we must bring people in! we must do this! do that to make them stay! no need.. people see your effort, your heart, they want to stay, they see your growth, they want to grow too… they’ll start serving..

    another aspect is the attitude like i mentioned.. do you serve because you have to, or because you want to?

    I looked around and i see many people serving cos they have to… its my duty to serve.. cos if i dont serve, the church wont grow, if i dont serve, the pastor cannot handle it.. I am here to help out… i dont know what the church would do without me..

    in NCC, we pound that out of every new server… You are not here to “help”… we dont need it.. no one is irreplace-able.. Like mordecai said, if you dont serve, God raises another to serve.. you serve cos you get to… get some perspective!!

    in NCC, serving is a privelege.. not a duty..

    i noticed in some places, the leaders assign people to departments cos there is a lack there.. wrong mindset.. send people there cos you foresee that a growth in that area is imminent and the extra hand there would facilitate its growth.. See the supply, not the lack…

    i just had a revelation with regards to studyng for exams.. study not because i’ll fail if i dont, but becasue there is a grace and a provision for good grades and university, and i’m studying to prepare to move in to the new season.. so when i’m ready, God can pour in the blessing without worrying if i would crumble under the pressure or not… same goes for churches..

    I LOVE serving, and I WILL Love studying.. and i LOVE Jesus

    so all you public naysayers, dont you come tell me our grace is cheap, dont you say we are superficial, dont you say i’m there cos “it makes me feel good or they here to network only la..” NO! its saved my life!! come and get a taste! and you’ll see that GOD IS GOOD!!

    p.s sry for ranting.. lol.. had to get it off my chest “JUDAH SMITH style”..

  • on the contrary, i’ve never felt superior because I come from a megachurch. if anything, the negetive slant of ST’s reports of recent years on megachruches has made me withdraw with a sense of shame every time the word megachurch is mentioned. it feels as though coming from a megachurch immediately makes one a shallow and wordly christian.

  • I can’t help but get the feeling from the comments and the blog that megachurches are better. Or perceived to be better, if you like. Why must it be so?

    It comes down to our understanding of what ‘church’ really means. Before Constantine, church was a bunch of ragtag misfits. Constantine made it cool, acceptable and politicallly correct to be ‘church’. And the church became an institution. As far as institutions go, bigger is better. More reach, more people coming, more pro. Why not? The essence of megachurches is actually more people, giants like Goliath. More people=move of God? really?

    What if ‘church’ was never meant to be an institution? What if worship was never meant to be a show? What if it is ok and human to be struggling to make ends meet and the christian brother comes alongside simply to share the bread? Just one human with another. What if hearts were won not by the grandeur of the church, but the beauty of the saviour?

    It seemed like such non issues. But Jesus somehow, stubbornly refused to turn stone to bread, to hurl himself from the heights and to be taken in by the view from the top of the temple. But He was fully aware of the deceit of human hearts, that they would be taken in by the promise of bread, the comfort of seeming invincibility and the showy and the spectacular. And miss the humble saviour. Jesus was so right.

  • Congratulations all New Creationists on your plausiblity – happiness is about having a model that seemingly explains a cause n effect.

    Bernie Madoff was a pillar of society and respectible for 30 plus years. Benny Hines, Swaggard, Falwell et al were also wildly popular in their hayday. Popularity, size is not a measure of righteouness – let us not be confused. If we could short ” moral default swap” like a CDS then most will implode. Faith in Man is always misplaced. It is Grace that preserves a legacy.

  • I want to call into question Stanley Wong’s claim that Joseph Prince has been preaching the grace of God “uncompromisingly”. I’d agree if he used the word “consistently” — but “uncompromisingly”? The message of grace is not new; in Protestant Christianity, it runs through traditions like those of the Lutherans and the Methodists. This message celebrates how God actively forgives human sin and works invisibly to strengthen and perfect our otherwise defective faith. But Joseph Prince adds to it by tying in health and wealth as also the divine rights of believers, if not proof of right faith. It sounds like the grace message is already pretty much compromised.

  • Wondered if Joshen would enjoy serving his neighbour and humanity with same enthusiasm as professed.

    Based on the gushing statement, I look forward to meeting many great humanitarians and gracious Christians from NCC in the near future.

  • Oh Boy, what is happening here?

    Remember there is a parable about a Master giving different amount of money to his three servants.

    One received 5000
    One received 3000
    One received 1000

    What was the message?

    Is it true that the Master was biased and showed favoritism? That the one has 5000 is more blessed than the one with 1000?

    Or should the servant who had received less go and find out why the Master gave him so little, or go and examine himself for any hidden sins then confess to his Master so that he can receive the 5000?

    That’s not what Jesus wants to tell us!

    We are given different amount of gifts, talents, ministries to manage. Whatever the amt you are given, go and manage well. The same analogy to chruches with different number of members. After all, each Christian is already a God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16). The head of the church is Christ (Ephesians 5:23), not the pastors.

    Dear pastors, please relax and no need to examine yourself, mega, big, medium,small, extra small churches, God loves us all.

    For those who have something against Ps Prince and his congregation, just stay away, no need to pass comments and judgement. Jesus loves all of us, so if you feel that Ps Prince has flaws, then pray for him, not judging him.

    Remember, Jesus came not judging sinners, he’s here to save sinners and the only people he lamented were the pharisees who think they are righteous and know God’s will.

  • As a small church pastor who has had dealings with churches of all sizes I have read all of the above comments with great interest. The fact is that our wonderful Lord has given different churches different ministries to complete the work of His kingdom. The very idea of comparison flies in the face of the plan of God. It is always good to examine ourselves and see where we stand with Him, but how we compare to each other is of no relevance. Each church must do the work of the gospel and God will take care of the size as He sees fit. God bless you all.

    Terry Reed
    treed92@yahoo.com
    smallchurchtools.com

  • Reading thru the ST article, I find it a good piece of reporting.

    However, I like what the Apostle Paul had written in Philippians 1:18 “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”

    So whether the church is Mega, Medium, Micro, Tongue-speaking, Non-tongue speaking, charasmatic, Fundamental, Para-church, New-wave, Denominational, all have a part to go and preach the Gospel.

    In the ST article, the smaller churches are able to reach a very special segment of society where the others churches, Mega or otherwise, are unable to.

    Their value is not in the size of the congregation but the size of their hearts tuned to the Gospel and the leading of the Holy Spirit.

    There are some comments in this posting, however, I am grieved and saddened to read – one of which wrote “I think pastors of microchurches need to find out from God why their churches remain micro after so many years. I would if my 15-year old son still look like a six-year old kid now.”. I believe that Pastor Prince’s grace lessons would be applicable here!

    I applaud Mega churches and their call to spread the Gospel but size of congregation is not only the KPI of “success”

    I read Pastor Kenny’s earlier article on the Chapel of the Ressurection at http://www.blogpastor.net/2010/05/chapel-of-the-resurrection-one-of-most-productive-churches-in-singapore/.

    In this article, he writes of the legacy that the church under the leadership of Canon James Wong had done. I’m not sure if COR is a “mega” church in size but their contribution and service to Almighty God, in my humble opinion, is definitely “mega”.

    But Micro, Small, Medium, Mega, Super-Mega churches, all have a space and calling that God has placed us in and we should all rejoice for each other when we reach out. I reiterate what the Apostle Paul had written ‘But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”

  • I think in a big city like Singapore and every big city, megachurches will always have its place, especially among the younger crowd.

    What I’m excited is the trend towards house churches and small communities.

  • Pastor Terry

    Quote from your response ” It is always good to examine ourselves and see where we stand with Him”, I have heard that from another Pastor during one of his sermon, can you elaborate thi statement? Thanks

  • Actually, its not the size that matters. Big or small, its still a church. But personally for myself, it is more of why certain churches have grown big that disturbs me. In the ST article itself, one explnation for the megachurch phenomenon is that in a society like Singapore, people are attracted by success. They are therefore drawn to attend particular churches because they liked what they see in those churches. It is as if the church has ‘arrived’ – well heeled, polished,slick, successful, prosperous, well-managed, cool. In other words, really successful by the world’s standards.
    So we got to ask ourselves. why have these churches grown big? What are their values? If everything was stripped away except for the message of the Gospel and Jesus Christ, how many people would be left? If the church grew because people were attracted by the glitz, or because it was well-managed, or because people worked hard to push for growth, or because an incomplete gospel was presented (Christians do not have to suffer like mere mortals) etc.

    Can we call this real growth in the Biblical, spiritual sense of the word? If not, are tons of people staking their lives on a successful church instead of Jesus Christ? Is it an exxaggeration to say that people’s eternal destinies are at stake here? People don’t get saved by going to church. They get saved by putting their hope in Jesus Christ.

  • Interesting that Ann Rice (Interview w a Vampire, Christ the Lord) has renounced being a “Christian,”

    “For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten …years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

    Maybe commitment to Christ means not being a Christian,” she wrote once and,

    “Gandhi famously said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” When does a word (Christian) become unusable? When does it become so burdened with history and horror that it cannot be evoked without destructive controversy?”

    Has the Singapore “Church” been institutionalized and monetized beyond point of madness (like their American kindred) by embracing such worldy KPIs?

  • What do we value, really? money, achievement, having more and more, prefessionalism, Armani suits, comfort, strength in numbers, success, efficiency…
    There you have it – words that describe what christians value today.
    And so certain churches continue to thrive, fed by people who value what they offer.
    Kind if reminds me of the WWF slogan. When the buying stops, the killings stop too. In a way, certain churches thrive because there is a demand for them. There is a demand for them because christians have bought into the lie that we can have our cake and eat it too. Don’t we all know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Or do we? Are christians in the church any different from those outside of it?
    So we really do deserve the churches and pastors that we have.

  • Seems we have been preconditioned to view “success” as the ability to grow and increase in heft and influence.

    In a religious context it is about the size and resources of the assembly – if the organization becomes a “giant,” then the implication is the organization and its leaders must have been personally “anointed” by the almighty himself.

    Fact is, most organizations do not survive beyond the first self destructive quagmire of unbridled success fueling “justified avarice” and perceived invincibility.

    We have previously watched “giants” like NKF, RenCi’s crash and burn in their quest for the dizzying heights and size.

    Unfortunately there will be more such failures until the sheep want to become discerning, thinking humanitarian followers of Jesus.

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