Constantinian Crisis

I’ve been wondering of late – more than ever – what the benefits of a large church are.

For ages, the size of one’s congregation has been one of the key indicators of the health or success of the church.  Lots of people has traditionally correlated to a good church.  Even though I’ve been a proponent of cell church for the past six or seven years, I’ve always assumed that the big churches must be doing something right,  and that therefore they needn’t necessarily alter their approach.

But I begin to wonder more  and more.

The benefits of a big church seem clear from a member perspective.  There is a certain level of prestige associated with a large church.  A large church is likely to offer a broad diversity of programs that are appealing and even useful or necessary to it’s members.  But what about benefits beyond the membership base?

Support of missions should be a primary indicator of the focus and health of a church.  A big church means more members and therefore (at least in theory!) more tithe monies being received.  Therefore, it would seem, a large church should be able to do more to plant new churches both domestically and abroad.  But I wonder if this  logic holds?

Big churches mean a big campus, a big facility.  It takes considerable money to acquire land in a desireable area, and more money to build.  More money to expand.  More money to maintain.  More costs associated with utilities, taxes, payrolls, equipment leases & other capital expenditures.  All of these must eat heavily into the bottom line of how  much money is ‘left’ for missions – or any other substantial ministry beyond the membership.

I’m not saying that big churches don’t do good things.  Quite the contrary – big churches often do a great many good things.

But I’m  wondering if those good things are ultimately the best things.

And ultimately,  I’m wondering if the centralized church polity that took shape after Constantine (while there was an organized church polity before this time, I would  argue it was different in key respects) is really the best any longer.  At the same time,  it  seems clear that cell church, with a very decentralized title, has serious issues as well.  Neighborhood house church is all well and good, but it needs to be tied to the larger body of Christ in terms of accountability, and to achieve larger scale goals with other small house churches.  But tying these to a specific congregation ultimately limits their growth to what that congregation is willing or able to sustain (allowing of course for the power of the Holy Spirit to do what it wants, when, where, how and with who it wants). 

Is there an alternative to the traditional church organization that ultimately seems to create little ‘fiefdoms’ inclined to cooperate less rather than more with their neighbors?  I suspect that there could be.  But it looks so different than what I’m  used to, that  it seems almost insane.

But insanity has also been an adjective applied to a lot of the Spirit’s other workings throughout history, hasn’t it?

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