The Nashville Tennessean carried the story this week of a former megachurch that is putting its facility on the market. Built for a congregation of 6000, the church now averages about 850 on Sundays. They plan to use the receipts of the sale to fund two or more satellite locations. The pastor is reported to have said that worshipers prefer smaller locations where they can build friendships. “It used to be that everyone wanted to drive to a big church,” the pastor said. “Now, they want to be at a church in their community.”
I sincerely doubt his generalization that “everybody” wanted to be part of a megachurch. There are many of people who do like to attend big churches (and 850 attendance is still a big church to most of us), but there are many smaller congregations that have continued to survive and even prosper despite the growth of megachurches across our nation. A lot of folks have invested themselves in churches in their neighborhoods and communities. Different size churches offer various advantages and disadvantages to participants.
He is right on target that people want to be part of a church where they can build relationships. Although Sunday school classes are no longer the doorway to church participation and membership that they were in the past, they still provide the “hook” that keeps people involved. Large churches and megachurches have often depended on small group ministries to serve the same function of connecting people so that they can build meaningful relationships.
Relationships are vital to engaging people in the life of the church. People will drive a long distance, tolerate mediocre preaching, and even listen to music that they may not like in order to be with the people they care about. This is why we should provide ways for people to connect and become part of groups where “everybody knows their name.”