Can a mega-church be unhealthy?
Several decades ago I read a book written by Dr. Joel Gregory entitled Too Great a Temptation; The Seductive Power of America’s Super Church.
It was the story of Dr. Gregory’s short term as pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas at the time when Dr. W.A. Criswell’s term as pastor was coming to an end.
For those reading this blog who are too young to know who Dr. Criswell is, he served as pastor at First Baptist Dallas for approximately fifty years. As an interesting aside, his predecessor, Dr. George Truett, served for about forty-eight years which means that between the two of them they served that one church for a century.
First Baptist Dallas was probably the preeminent Southern Baptist Church in the United States at that time. With a membership in the thousands it qualified as a mega-church before the term mega-church was popular.
The story of Dr. Gregory’s short tenure as pastor was the story of a power struggle that left a lot of people hurt and bleeding. When the time came to step aside, Dr. Criswell did not want to retire. Dr. Gregory had come to First Baptist with the promise that Criswell would retire in the very near future.
Criswell won the power struggle and stayed on as pastor for several more years. Gregory resigned and for a while left not only First Baptist but the pastorate. The story is a sad example of the kind of politics that always dominates church wars.
As I read the book I quickly came to the conclusion that even with thousands of members and nationwide prestige, what was being described was a very unhealthy church and that realization changed my life.
I learned the lesson that is at the heart of what Small Church Connections is all about. Church health isn’t measured by size.
There are unhealthy large churches and unhealthy small churches. There are also healthy large churches and healthy small churches.
Size is not what makes a church healthy.
Can a small church be healthy?
I could answer this question with just two words
but in the weeks ahead I am planning on devoting my Thursday blog to giving a much more detailed answer. I will be doing this through sharing stories of healthy churches and by looking at some of the things that have made them that way.
Keith Drury writes about a small healthy church that he visited. It is a fun read but the story could apply to thousands of other churches that may not be large in number but that exude life and excitement that are the natural overflow of a healthy church.
I was once asked by one of the members of my church leadership team if I had the ability to lead a large church. In my youthful exuberance I quickly answered, “No problem.” As a result the church made some major changes and the results were disastrous.
If I were asked that same question now I would answer it in a very different way. I would say that the issue should never be the size of the church. It should always be the health of the church.
Over the years I have come to realize that I probably am not gifted to lead a large church and I’m fine with that because I don’t believe that size is what it is all about. It is all about church health – about spiritual growth and changed lives.
Could God use me to lead a large church? I don’t know and probably never will.
Could God use me to lead a healthy church where people grow into discipleship and where lives are changed? God could and in fact has and for that I am deeply thankful.
It is my prayer that God will use this blog in the weeks ahead to encourage and support you as you lead your church into greater health. May God bless you in that task.