How is Big is Too “Big”?

My childhood church, Antioch Baptist. Back in 1983, it was considered a big church. Not anymore.

My hometown family church in Waterloo expanded in the early 1980’s to add more room.  Before, it was a small quaint building, with a small creek running next to it.  When the design was plotted, engineers warned the church that they need to alter their plans because if the new sanctuary is built over the creek, the new gym below the sanctuary will flood.

Nevertheless, my church said “built it.”

For the past 30 years, the lower level where the gym is at has looked more like an indoor Lake LaVerne than a place to shoot hoops and hold dinners after service.

The point is, back then, my hometown church was considered “big”.  Today, I wonder how “big” does a church, as a building, has to be? 

This is the new "big" when it comes to churches. Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines.

The growing number of mega-churches have become a regular part of our society.  From Lutheran Church of Hope (Hope) to Saddleback Church (home of Rick Warren) to the controversial Cornerstone World Outreach in Sioux City, the mega-church has become an one-stop shop for everything you need.  Bookstores, coffeehouses, stadium seatings, an apparel store, to name a few. 

Unlike the traditional church, mega-churches now have affiliate branches.  Hope has a city branch near downtown Des Moines.  Other non-demoninational churches conduct services in schools, buildings, converted warehouses, etc. 

Crystal Catherdral has fallen on hard times.

But I go back to this:  will the mega-church get too big?  Native Iowan and pastor Robert Schuller is experiencing this with his Crystal Catherdral.  Crystal was considered the “mega-church” of it’s time.  It has fallen on hard times, with financial issues and bankruptcy. 

How do mega-churches today handle the the big-ness of being who they are, their branding, and where do they feel they are going as they continue to grow.  Also, how will they handle the possibility of dwindling attendance if that situation should arise. 

Smaller churches, particularly here in Iowa, are facing consolidation, or worse, closing up.  Attendance have whittled away and getting older.  Will there be a seminal moment where the older well-established churches (St. John’s Basilica, Westminister Presbyterian, St. John’s Lutheran) in Des Moines will be faced to “go big” or “go away”?

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2 thoughts on “How is Big is Too “Big”?

  1. Katie, I don’t know the answer to that question, but it is something that is worth watching down the road. So far places like Hope are doing well, even if they didn’t plan on a “build it and they will come” attitude. I think it’s based on “sustainable growth” of a church. Some places have run into problems such as financial mismanagement, bad decisions (business-wise and personal-wise), or a growing shift of beliefs that could split a congregation in different paths.

    It would have to take a litany of things for a mega-church, or any church in that manner, to fail in a big way.

  2. Romelle–are these churches failing because they’re of the mentality “Build it and they will come”…and the followers never come?

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