Not necessarily. There are excellent churches which have grown to great size. But there is a danger in using largeness as a standard to measure success. Size does not depend as much on spirituality as it may many other factors. There are many smaller churches which uphold the same truths as faithfully as the larger, but have never experienced the same degree of growth.
Most large churches claim that their size is a result
of the ability to satisfactorily "minister" to the needs of a broad range of
people. If this is so, then it would necessitate a broad range of gifts,
talents, programs, and social factors to be represented in a congregation.
Although their preaching, teaching, and spiritual fervor may not be any
greater than many other smaller churches, they have been able to "multiply"
that ministry by training others to use their gifts, and developing a
network of personal interaction and care for one another. Many smaller
churches have excellent preachers and ministries but may not have developed
all the gifts which lend toward this type of growth. This certainly does not
make them inferior.
While it is true that there are more large churches
today than there were in the past, they still only make up a tiny percentage
of the body of Christ. According to Lyle E. Schaller, one of the foremost
authorities on church attendance, 90 percent of American churches have an
attendance of somewhere below 200.¹ The majority of churches, 55 percent,
have an attendance of somewhere less than 100. According to his research, a
church that runs 400 or more is in the upper 3% category, and amazingly,
only about 1 percent ever attain attendances of more than 700.² There are
only a few dozen of the so-called "mega churches," which number in the
Percentile of U.S. Church Attendance²
Keep in mind that if attendance alone
were used to measure a church's effectiveness in its community, it would
need to be balanced against the population of the community in which it
resides. The church of 200 located in a population area of 10,000 has
reached 2% of its citizens, while a church that runs 1,000 in a population
of 500,000 has reached only one fifth of 1%. In this case, the smaller
church would actually be ten times more effective than the larger.
Large numbers obviously indicate that something is
being done that is appealing to people. But there are many other things, not
especially based on truth or spirituality, which draw crowds. Churches may
attract numbers with marketing and promotional skills, sensational
entertainment or attractions, a stimulating social environment, or
opportunities for participation. Or they may simply offer an appealing
message that people want to hear — providing the "scratch" for those with
itching ears. "For the time will come when they will not endure sound
doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching
ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;" (2 Tim. 4:3). Any
organization, club or church can grow as long as they "offer something that
appeals to people," and there are many ways to do this that have nothing to
do with Jesus Christ or Christianity.
Popularity or growing numbers do not necessarily give
credence to any religion or teaching, and in fact, can often be the mark of
compromise or deception. Islam, for instance, is considered the fastest
growing religion in the world, but is a false religion. The Jehovah's
Witnesses have been called one of the most rapidly growing religious groups
in the United States, increasing from 373,430 members in 1950 to more than
4,701,357 in 1994 — but the JW's are a cult. The Mormons are another church
cult which are growing at an overwhelming pace, from 4,936,000 in 1981, to
over 9,000,000 in 1995.³ Some sociologists even classify professional
football as the largest of America's religions, drawing the greatest of all
Sunday congregations, but the NFL doesn't seek to lead anyone to Heaven.
We must remember that the Christian message of the
cross has traditionally been unpopular, even to those quite willing to
accept the other more savory aspects of the Gospel (Phil. 3:18-19). From the
Bible, we may recall the great popularity of Jesus while he was performing
miracles and distributing fish and loaves. But later, fearing reprisal for
their identification with Christ, there was far less attraction at the most
sacred event in history as Jesus gave his life for our sins on the cross.
If crowds alone were used as the criterion of success,
then Hell would prove to be far more successful than Heaven. Jesus made it
clear that the way which leads to life is not popular and relatively few
will find it. "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is
the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.
Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and
there are few who find it" (Matt. 7:13-14).
¹ Leadership National Conference, Lyle E.
Schaller, August 1991