Is Big Church Worth All The Hassle?

As a Christian who doesn’t attend church—at least, big church/program Sunday—every time a mega-church controversy bubbles into mainstream, three things happen in my brain: 1) I’m reminded that people still go to church 2) I remember that Christians identify themselves and their faith with a specific brand (excuse me, denomination) 3) I question if big church is worth all the hassle.

Mark Driscoll’s ongoing saga of pretentiousness is a good place to start. To catch up, read up on the Mars Hill best-selling list controversy. Then read Mars Hill’s response. The problem is not that Mars Hill/Driscoll made a mistake; every organization, Christian or not, makes mistakes. But bigger the organizations, bigger the mistakes. And when mistakes happen, time and money is lost fixing them. Instead of spreading the Gospel or serving the poor (one in the same), the administration spends all its time in damage control: phone calls, accountability meetings, media avoidance, website postings, etc. All these things distract.

More and more, Mars Hill is beginning to look, sound, and apologize like a corporation. The difference, of course, is that corporations pay their taxes.

I know I’m picking on Mars Hill, but my stance holds true for any Christian non-profit organization who focuses primarily on branding over serving (i.e. Hillsong, Bethel, more and more smaller churches).

SIDE NOTE: Shouldn’t serving be our brand? Fire your design guy!


Making Mark Driscoll a celebrity and Mars Hill a branded entertainment and record label organization begs many questions: is it worth all the fuss, all the lost time, all this misspent funds, the over $12 million of salary? Is it worth the Driscoll influence on smaller churches, who assume they need to do the same? I suppose it comes down to utility. If the good outweighs the bad, in utilitarian phrasing, then maybe it’s worth it.

Unfortunately, we don’t really have a way to measure utility beyond price. We do know that congregates are shoveling their funds through tithing and donating; for them, the price of maintaining these organizations are worth its hassle and controversy. But does the conversation end there?

I worry that members of these organizations are vulnerable in two ways: 1) cognitive consistency, a psychology theory which states people naturally resist changing behaviors and attitudes–religiously exploited through branding and services; 2) the pressure upon members within corporate/religious culture to not speak out against administration (a trait often found in corporations prior to implosion and/or whistle-blowers). 37610

Big Affect on Small Church

More and more smaller churches are hiring graphic designers and app builders; they are funding documentaries and music albums; they are building bigger stages and buying better lights. If your church doesn’t have a brand with its own flashy logo then your church sucks and the youth wont come to you.

Here’s my plea: the youth aren’t coming to you, as many have said, because the church is empty of sincerity. Make good works, not good logos. Be a sign, don’t make a sign. Serve, don’t depend on services (and other catchy phrases).

Art in the church is a good thing. But art shouldn’t be requisitioned for only commercial purposes to push a brand (counter-culture, remember?). Art, instead, should flow freely from its members, permeating all it says and does without regard to who knows or cares where it comes from.

Go in Peace

So, all the headaches, all the drama, all the fights and controversies, is it worth it? It depends upon the alternative, or course. So, what ‘s the alternative?

Home church. Small groups. No brand. No program. No salaries. People serving and influencing others by doing good in their community for no other purpose beyond love. It sounds almost too simple.

I wonder if it could work.

So, is big church worth the hassle? What do you think?


  1. Spot on sir. The church is primarily identified as family so…it should look like family, not a show, a musical, a classroom, or a circus. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I understand feeling like it’s all a corporation – more than you know. In fact, I’ll shorten it to this; when my dh was an assistant pastor and had a private conversation with the sr. pastor along the lines of “This feels like a corporation rather than a church lately, and the vision seems to really have changed since the beginning, and my heart is no longer in this” let’s just say it ended with my dh being unordained. (Btw, my dh served for free as AP and worked full time as well to support our family of 5.) So, yeah, I get it. After that, it was a few years before my dh began to heal and to teach again, and it happened through a “chance” meeting of a missionary/church planter after dh’s surf session…God has been so faithful to continue working in both of our hearts, healing us, forgiving us, and growing us in His love. We have found that in being severely hurt by the body (we were essentially shunned and my kids lost all their friends, etc.) God has used the body to bring healing. Now my dh’s leading a house church – prayerfully, a safe place for those who can’t/won’t connect in a big church or have been hurt by others…although, as my dear friend recently reminded me, we are just as likely to be hurt and people are just as much sinners in a small church or house church (although lately I’m a stickler who says we ARE the church, we don’t go to church.) 🙂 And we don’t care what form of “church” it is, whether house, or building. We just want to be open to whatever God has and be faithful with the sweet people He has allowed us to pour into. It’s okay if what we do is different from what they are doing. May God be glorified.

    I don’t believe there is a single “right” way to gather and worship. I think instead of telling other people they’re doing it wrong, and in the process becoming bitter and critical, it’s so much better to just live as Christ is calling us to live. I don’t need to point out what I think other churches should do differently. Are they preaching Jesus? As Paul said, in Philippians 1:15-18 “15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 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 that’s my heart as well. Do what God is calling you to do, and rejoice that Christ is preached.

    Personally, I don’t think the youth is being lost because of big churches – I think you hit the nail on the head when you said it’s due to lack of sincerity – my observation being lack of sincerity in their loved ones’ lives. My own son (14) desires a closer walk with Jesus, and more so now that we are once again stepping out and getting involved in other believer’s lives in the level God has told us to than when we were trying to protect ourselves from getting hurt again. As I draw close to Him, and my son sees the sincerity of that – THAT is what has made the biggest impact on him. Serving the Lord through this past year, and especially the past few months with the home fellowship on Sundays has brought healing to my family in ways I’ve never expected. But I wouldn’t say that couldn’t happen through a big fellowship, because God is bigger than all of it.

    Every single way we worship has man’s sinful hands involved, and because of that there are negative things that happen. That’s simply life in our fallen world. Isn’t it odd that through these imperfect people and gatherings, Christ has chosen to live in and through and make Himself known? That when we see Jesus in Revelation, He is standing among the 7 lampstands, the church. Perfect God stands among His imperfect people. Not because any one of us has it all figured out or do it better than someone else but because of grace. It’s all grace. Jesus was the perfect mixture of truth and grace. Yes, speak the truth, but in love, or we’re nothing but a clanging cymbal. Write because you have His heart for the people and not out of anything that might have sprung from any bitterness or deep hurt in your own heart. How can we function as His body apart from each other? Not well, and not for long. We each have gifts to share to encourage and build each other up with. My heart is never as full as when I see others walking that out and when I am experiencing that in my own life.

  3. I tend to agree that to be functionally faithful to our calling, smaller tends to be better. Just as Jesus cultivated discipleship within a core group of disciples, we do best when we target our time, energy, and money on teaching, serving, and glorifying God in mostly small coalitions.

    But, the fact is when we are faithful to our Gospel calling, we ultimately face the question of how best to “feed the crowds.” I’m not close enough to mega-church ministries to know how they function beneath the media glare. I suspect Timothy Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian, for one, is serving the City with passion and loving respect and their fruitfulness is simply a result of faithfulness.

    One challenging question I would raise for you to consider. Why not prophetically call for your professors to teach without a salary? Why consider the ministry of the church to be so radically different than the mission of higher education institutions?

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