Are Big Churches Bad?

I get the definite impression that many people who are careful about theology and earnest to obey the commands and examples of the Bible think that bigger churches are bad churches. Several observations are relevant here:

First and foremost, let’s remember that the Jerusalem Church had over 3,000 after the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41). The Lord was adding to their number daily (2:47), and they were all together (2:44). In Acts 4:4, the number of the men is about 5,000, and then Luke resorts to words like “multitudes” (5:14) and “increasing in number” (6:1) and “multiplied greatly . . . many . . .” (6:7). [Lest those of us in smaller settings become discouraged, let’s also recall that Paul seems to have had a pretty small crowd in Philippi (Acts 16:12–13) and in Athens “some men joined him and believed” (17:34)].

Second, let’s observe that the Apostles apparently remain with the Jerusalem church (Acts 8:1, everyone is scattered except the Apostles). Even though the Jerusalem church has Apostles, however, it also has “elders” (see Acts 11:30; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4; 21:18). These “elders” are apparently regarded by Luke as equivalent to “pastors” and “bishops” (see Acts 20:17, 28). The most natural reading of this evidence about the Jerusalem church is that there is one church, which does have a hierarchy—James seems to respected by all (Acts 15:13–21). But this hierarchy looks “organic” rather than “institutionalized” (in other words, James seems to be first among equals because of his wisdom and spiritual authority). I take it that the Apostles and elders shepherded the Jerusalem church through oversight, teaching, and correction, and I take it that they did a good job of it (see especially Acts 2:42–47).

Third, let’s remember that some of our heroes in the faith have pastored pretty big churches. In his excellent book, The Baptists, Tom Nettles notes that Benjamin Keach’s (1640–1704) church eventually had to move to a meeting place that would hold nearly a thousand people. And how many thousands were in Spurgeon’s church?

So we must not automatically conclude that big is bad. Worldly is bad. Unbiblical is bad. But big, if God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, disciple-making, and suffering for the cross is certainly blessed!

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