A 'mega-church' is defined as a church with over 2000 people attending each weekend. The number of mega-churches around the world has continued to escalate exponentially despite a variety of criticisms.
Foundationally, we need to acknowledge that the church in Jerusalemin the first century was a mega-church with 3,000 people joining the 120 disciples on the very first day (Acts 2:41). Fairly soon there were 5,000 men in this church (Acts 4:4), meaning that if you included women and children, this church was most likely over 10,000 people in number. That’s a mega-church!
Amazingly, despite it’s size, this first century church had a high quality of community and discipleship, due to their regular gathering in homes in addition to their large gatherings (see Acts 2:42-47). We don’t have a lot of information about the ‘programs’ of the early church, but they did have both large and small gatherings of believers, a model followed by Old Testament Israel, as well as by Jesus himself.
Ultimately, the mark of maturity for any church is not its size (bigger is not necessarily better), the architecture of it’s building (the first century church owned no buildings) or even its spiritual giftings (the church at Corinth was very gifted but still immature). THE mark of a mature church is the evidence of genuine LOVE - amongst its members and towards outsiders. This is what Jesus declared would be our greatest testimony to the watching world (John 13:35) and it was what Paul was always looking for in the churches he oversaw (1 Thess.1:2-3. 2 Thess.1:3. Col.1:3-8). As our churches becoming communities where authentic love abounds, God will be pleased and people will be reached. After all, the best church growth flows out of church health.
For more information about mega-churches, here are some helpful resources that you might want to check out:
- Megachurches Today - A report from Leadership Network exposing many of the myths about mega-churches (2005).
- The Hartford Institute of Religion Research keeps a current database of American megachurches.
- The Very Large Church – this book by church growth consultant Lyle Schaller explains the unique characteristics of the very large church (advantages and disadvantages), along with arguments for the need of more large churches (2000).
- Beyond Megachurch Myths: What we can Learn from America's Largest Churches - this is a new book published by Leadership Network that I have ordered but have yet to read but one that has a fresh look at the mega-church phenomenon (2007).
- The Rise of Lakewood Church and Joel Osteen – this book written by Richard Young gives an insightful inside look at the largest mega-church in the history of America (2007).
- Prepare Your Church for the Future – this book by Carl George outlines the uniqueness and dynamics of different size churches (1991).