Megachurches Do It Better

October 18th, 2011
Lakewood Church, Houston | Image © Bryan Person | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

There’s a photo going around Facebook and Google+ showing what’s supposed to be a megachurch auditorium, complete with cushioned theater seats, lights, big TV screens and fancy windows. The caption reads, “Megachurch: Because This Is More Important Than Feeding the Starving."

The person who created this graphic probably meant well, but their idea that somehow megachurches are morally inferior to smaller churches because they have larger, more elaborate buildings, is a misguided one.

The fact is, most megachurches run more efficiently than smaller churches, which frees up more money for service and mission. Take the largest congregation in the U.S., for example, Lakewood Church in Houston. In 2005, Lakewood moved into the Compaq Center, a former sports arena. The church paid $75 million to renovate the space, and then paid just under $12 million in advance for 30 years of rent. At the time, there were critics who complained that Lakewood was being too extravagant with its building plans.

But consider that Lakewood Church averages about 43,000 people per week at its weekend services. That comes out to around $1750 per person for the renovations and 76¢ per person per month for rent. If a church of 300 reached this level of efficiency, they’d be spending a little over half a million bucks on their building followed by $228 a month for rent or mortgage.

That sounds like a lot of bang for the buck, by anyone’s standard.

But rather than applauding megachurches for their efficiency and stewardship, some of us prefer taking shots at them. It’s the old “would Jesus buy a Lexus” debate revisited. The problem is, when we start down that road, sooner or later the standards we use to judge others end up being used against us. How can I condemn the big television screens in a megachurch when I have a high definition TV in my own house? Are the cushioned theater chairs and fancy lights in large churches less virtuous than the cushioned pews and stained glass in small ones? Not really. In fact, considering that the large church probably spent less per capita, the reverse might actually be closer to the truth.

Megachurches probably spend less on clergy salaries per member than small churches, and because of their size, their clergy and other staff are more than likely able to specialize in a particular area of ministry. That means pastors can spend time doing one thing really well rather than being the ecclesial jacks-of-all-trades that many smaller churches have come to expect.

Larger churches have the resources to offer more ministries to meet the needs of communities. From sports leagues to soup kitchens to homeless ministries to schools to recovery groups, megachurches generally provide more options with more flexibility than smaller congregations. And I suspect they plant more churches too.

So who is it that’s really beating this anti-megachurch drum? Leaders of smaller churches? I'm not sure. But here’s something to consider. Instead of “punching upwards”, maybe we should all just aspire to make our own churches bigger. Small churches do certain things well, but when it comes to efficiency, large churches usually do it better.

It seems to me we need more big churches, not fewer.

Sign up to receive Shane Raynor's blog posts via email:

comments powered by Disqus