Bandwagon Church

December 13th, 2011

Which is a better number: 12 or 12,000?

Recently, my wife and I spent an evening with two friends from out of town. They attend a large and well known church with a prominent pastor. We asked how things were at their church.

“Just fine,” she answered, “We just passed the 12,000 mark.”

To give you some context, I lead a house church on Sundays, a group of believers about 1/1000 the size of our friends’ church.

I responded to my friend’s answer with a politely humorous jab: “Really? Did the 12,000th customer get a free car?”

But the answer revealed something deeper, a sentiment all of us so commonly share, whether we attend a church of 12 or 12,000.

Bandwagon Church

While I responded politely to my friend, I was curious. Why was this the first and really only thing they had to say about their church? Is its sheer size really its only admirable feature? Surely not.

My friends fell victim to the logic that is so pervasive in our American consumer culture. We live in a culture where numbers impress. We validate our choices based on what others are doing. We want to buy cars that are popular and clothes that are fashionable and live in up-and-coming neighborhoods and visit the trendiest stores and restaurants. And even when it comes to religious expression, we just go with the crowd.

In advertising, it’s called the “bandwagon” approach. 12,000 people can’t be wrong!

Jumping Off a Bridge

Of course, while advertising has one name for this logic, your mother had a different spin on it. Didn’t she ask you if all your friends were jumping off a bridge, would you do it to?

Of course we told her that we wouldn’t.

But we do the adult equivalent of following our friends off the bridge everyday. We make choices about how we will live and spend our money, and even how we will worship based on what is popular with other people.

If there’s one thing people love to do, it’s conform. No matter how much we tell ourselves how unique we are and how we’re “non-conformists,” we go with the crowd. We are not like salmon, swimming against the tide. Haven’t you noticed that once you see enough non-conformists, they start to all look the same? It’s pretty easy to conform when among other non-conformists.

I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go

I know a guy who had a chance at a new start. He packed up his family and moved to a new town, took a new job, found a new home. And of course, he had to find a new church.

And very quickly, he found his new church home.

It was, of course, the largest and trendiest church in town. The one with multiple campuses and a famous pastor and the very best music. All the beautiful Christians go there. Any Christian who’s anybody has to be seen there.

I wondered...

…Had this guy really looked for a church? Had he prayed over his decision? Did he search for a church where he was needed, where he could serve, where people would miss him if he was not there?

Did God really send him straight to the church He wanted him at, without any need to visit any other churches in town?

I doubt it. The trendiest, flashiest, most beautiful and popular church was the obvious choice. It didn’t even require prayer.

Nothing to Write Home About

I wonder if Jesus ever got a letter from his mom asking how his ministry was going. What would he write back? I think it might go something like this…

“Guess what? My ministry now has twelve disciples! Twelve! Wow. A few days ago, we had a special ministry ‘event’ as we like to call it, and several thousand people showed up. Well, they all left in the middle of my sermon without signing a commitment card, so that was kind of a bummer. And I healed a bunch of lepers last week, but only one came back to thank me.”

Maybe Jesus didn’t write that…because his ministry was never much to write home about. Jesus seemed utterly unconcerned about numbers. He had no time to validate himself by what was popular or trendy. We miss out on a lot of things when we just look to what everyone else is doing. We miss out on the scenic byways, the quirky places and yes, even the places where God may want us, and only us to be.

Matt Appling is a pastor and school teacher in Kansas City, Missouri.  He blogs at

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