When is a Church Too Big?

Or Maybe Just Too Big for their Britches?

All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.  For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

  • Acts 4:32-37

“Peter is emphasizing the fact that an elder, occupying the office of a bishop (elders are never spoken of in the singular, there was never to be only one), is to be the shepherd of a flock.  Shepherding suggests provision and protection, supervision and discipline, instruction and direction.”

  • J. Vernon McGee, First Peter – Thru the Bible Commentary Series

I have a friend who lives in a town not far away.  He and I used to go to church together.  We did a lot of things together in the church, and at times we competed, sort of, in seeing who had more people attend our Sunday school classes.

But when George moved away, he went to a bigger church.  There is nothing wrong with big churches.  They can provide you with a large pond in which to get lost in, in case you feel too pressured in the small pond.  They can provide much more opportunities to serve, if that is your desire.  Their youth groups might do more exciting things, if that is what you are looking for.

But if large churches have a small church mentality when it comes to assimilating new members into the church or shepherding older members, you can easily become isolated, an only child in a sea of large families.

I had a pastor once tell me that no pastor ever wants to hear that his/her church is not friendly – do not ever hint of such an insult – but if every pastor were honest, they would know that their church is not friendly enough.  Like my wife says, if you care about someone, you will know their name and their birthday.

On that note about names and birthdays, my friend, who we will call George, has a wife, who we will call Gwen, and a son, Dan.  Dan is now an adult with a family of his own, living a long day’s drive away, two days now that George and Gwen are getting older.  Gwen became friends with a lady that they have adopted as Aunt Zelda.

When they first met Zelda, Gwen saw that Zelda was angry after reading the bulletin.  Gwen inquired and found that Zelda’s birthday was that week and the bulletin had forgotten to mention it – again.  Gwen was one of those that loves to fight City Hall when it comes to slights of this nature.  The bulletin listed five birthdays for that week.  There was ample room to add a sixth.  Zelda was a lifelong member of the church that went on every mission trip, working harder than people half her age.  Gwen went to the church secretary and asked why Zelda had not been listed in the bulletin.  The secretary insisted that she was listed right there in the bulletin.  Gwen shoved the bulletin in her face.  It would be pure insanity to deny that she had omitted the name, but the secretary insisted that she had not made a mistake, that the name was in the bulletin under birthdays, and that Gwen was not acting like a Christian.

A year later, because Gwen liked helping other church members, she became part of the hospitality team.  She got a list of the octogenarians in the church.  The church had a program of treating the 80+ year old members to a box of candy at one point in the year, a special lunch at another point, special celebrations of their birthdays, and other such recognitions, at least once per quarter plus the birthday.  Aunt Zelda was spry, and George and Gwen thought her to be in her late 60s, but they found out that Zelda was 83, just a very healthy 83.  She was not on the list of octogenarians, but her birthday, with the year listed, was on the membership list.  Again, a confrontation with the secretary with the same results, but with the secretary sending a note to all people working with Gwen to say that Gwen was a troublemaker.  Gwen could not believe that the secretary had the power to … might we say, cancel Gwen.  But the secretary soon retired.  The new secretary was a sweet lady and Gwen told her about how Zelda had been mistreated by being ignored for so many years, Zelda now in her 90s.  The new secretary swore to correct the error, but Zelda’s birthday was omitted from the bulletin – again – and Zelda never got recognition for being in her 80s.

About that time, Dan went off to college, and George had joined the ruling body of the church.  For two years, Dan was responsible for membership, but he moved on to another responsibility the third year.  The new membership person announced the annual purging of non-active members, to reduce the roles and not pay the denomination as much money.  Dan was at the top of the list.  George knew the rules.  If you had given money within the past two years or you had attended, even once, during those two years, you were not eligible to be removed.  Also, no college student was ever removed nor a member of the military.  Dan had played the violin at the Christmas Cantata the day before he was placed on the list.  He had attended all summer the previous summer.  Dan was more active than 30-40 members that should have been placed on the list, but due to “favorite child” status were not being removed.  That status was unofficial, but if the memory of the child was a pleasant memory, some people would not let the memory go.  Even though the remembered child lived three time zones away and worshipped Satan.  George exploded.  George challenged why some were not on the list, having known who would be eligible that year, and questioned if the new head of membership had a bulletin from the cantata and could he read.  Also, George challenged the pastor who was always supposed to approve the list before it went before the leaders for a vote, since the pastor might know who really attends.  The pastor agreed to remove Dan from the list of those losing membership and review the list and the ruling body could approve the revised list the next month.

A few years later, George and Gwen left leadership roles and decided that they would simply teach an adult Sunday school class and work as prayer warriors on the prayer team.  And George could call me once each quarter to brag about how he had more class members than I did in my class at the old church, but really just to keep in touch.

When Dan moved away to work and live near his wife’s family, George requested that Dan be taken off the church roles.  Dan would never and has never been in the church since.  Why would you want to return when the church wanted to kick you out the day after you played music for their worship service?  And Dan hit no sour notes, if that is what you were thinking.

Then, recently, years after these events, George got two phone calls within fifteen minutes of each other.  The first phone call was from a church leader who introduced himself as Dave.  George asked “Dave Who?” and Dave said, “Dave, from church.”  George asked, “Dave Who from what church?”  Dave identified the church where George and Gwen went.  Dave then talked about how Holy Week was approaching and we have not seen you in church lately (but George teaches Sunday school every Sunday) and Dave said that they miss seeing George and Gwen.  Then, Dave said that the church has a prayer team and just give him (Dave) a prayer request and he will pass it along.  Obviously, Dave, who never gave his last name, had no idea whether George attended or not.  He was reading from a script.  Dave had no passion in his voice, but George was angry.  When he heard about the prayer warriors, he was sorely tempted to tell this anonymous Dave that he had some dread deadly disease, just so that the gossip mill in the church would explode, although the prayer list is supposedly confidential.  Then the leader of the prayer warriors would call, and George could admit that his next lie was going to be a miraculous recovery.  Why was he tempted in this manner?  Because it was obvious that Dave had no idea who he was.

Of course, George told Gwen about the call and George had no idea who Dave was.  Gwen said that Dave was Dave Farquharson, and that George knew him.  George and Gwen were the first people to greet the Farquharsons when they arrived, sitting down and having coffee and introducing them to others that passed by.  George had said at the time that they were a lovely couple.  The Farquharsons would always sit behind them when they attended the late service, just so that they could be near someone friendly that knew them.  Now, George and Gwen go to the early service, and the Farquharsons have three stairstep children and are heavy into the leadership at the church.

As soon as Gwen had refreshed George’s memory, Tom, the church greeter who takes their temperature at the entrance due to COVID, called.  He wanted to talk to Dan – the same prepared speech.  George was shocked since they had requested Dan be removed from the church roles years ago.  George said that Dan did not live there anymore.  He lived a thousand miles away.  Tom insisted on getting contact information to invite Dan to Easter services.  George said to please remove him from the roles.  Dan will never darken the door of the church again.  Tom politely said that he would try to do so.  The strange thing was that Tom, who George engaged in conversation every Sunday, never recognized that George and Gwen were the only other people with that last name and at the same address and phone number, and he never recognized George’s voice.  Tom was in robo-call mode, as Dave had been.

Was this story fictional?  Was this story a composite of several church experiences?  Or was this a true story about one church?  Or was it your church?  Maybe your church is not this bad.  Maybe only one or two of these things might happen at your church.

When George called to vent, he added, “And everyone in that church is so proud of how friendly they are; they think that their church is even better than Heaven.”

No church is perfect, here on earth.  No church could ever be better than Heaven and if you think that, you are placing the blinders on so that you cannot see the faults.  Unseen faults can never be corrected.  Unseen faults grow.

Have you ever been accused of not attending church in the past year when you were in your usual pew just last Sunday?

Is a church that is so out of touch with its members too big?  Or is it too big for its britches?

I am sure that prepared megachurches divide the faithful into small groups and even smaller groups so that there is accountability.  But what happens when you rely on that small church attitude that “everyone knows everyone else?”  Then you find that there are too many people for that to happen, and you find that the church is simply not that friendly.

There is nothing wrong with being a large church, but you must adjust the way you do things.  And if you cannot find enough volunteers to help break down the membership into manageable groups, are you really a church family at all?  Maybe you are just a check box in peoples’ bucket lists.  Member of a large church that thinks membership means an automatic passage to Heaven?  Check!  Bucket list item completed.

And the whole time that I listened to George complain about his present church home, I remembered how recent articles that I read talked about Christians are to bloom where planted and you might be moving out of God’s will if you left a church when times got hard.  Then I wondered whether God had left George’s church.  I remember a book that I read recently where the author wrote about someone who was the wrong color or ethnic group or economic status to get into a church he wanted to join.  The man cried out to God about how hard it was to get into that church.  Then the man heard God say, “I know how you feel.  They won’t let Me in there either.”

If you feel that way and you are not in a position to fix the problem, is it wrong to move on?

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

2 Comments

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  1. My husband and I are going through a time of prayer and soul searching on a similar topic. Not about the size of a church, but where, exactly, do we belong?

    Liked by 1 person

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