“You are stinking selfish” if you are in a small church. These are the exact words from Andy Stanley, pastor of the 30,000 member Northpoint megachurch in Atlanta on February 28, 2016. His statement is based on his incorrect assumption that big churches cater better to the needs of children than small churches. Even if he is right, it is still not based on any Biblical principle but rather on pragmatism which teaches that if it works it must be good. The problem with this of course is that he, his church and others like it, have no interest in what the Bible teaches, but only in what will enlarge their already overblown empires. This is big business and is not church.
In the words of Tozer: “The great goddess Numbers is worshiped with fervent devotion and all things religious are brought before her for examination. Her Old Testament is the financial report and her New Testament is the membership roll. To these she appeals as arbiters of all questions, the test of spiritual growth and the proof of success or failure in every Christian endeavor.”
The fact that most big churches are big because they compromise the truth and preach an easy and sometimes false gospel just makes his statement even more egregious. So according to him, you, and your children, are better off in a big false church, than in a sound Bible teaching small church. The high regard many across the world have for Stanley adds to the impact his words will have on small churches all over.
His definition of a small church is anything below 200. 90% of American churches are smaller than 350 members with an average church size (including mega churches), of 75 members. Thus Stanley clearly has a problem and hates the vast majority of churches in the world, their leaders and members.
So, let’s examine the reasons why many prefer big churches:
- Big churches have celebrity pastors.
- Big churches have many (entertaining) programs.
- I can be anonymous and attend when I want and live as I wish.
- There is no pressure on me to play my part, unless I want to.
- Big churches have excellent musicians, facilities and coffee.
So I wonder who is selfish, the person who enjoys the comfort and anonymity of the big church or the person who is willing to make personal sacrifices to serve in a small church? Yes, small church is indeed messy, uncomfortable and less than excellent when it comes to gadgets, facilities, brand name preachers and entertainment. But people who attend small churches are generally there because they want to make a difference and not just be a number in the system and they are willing to sacrifice selfish desires for the sake of serving others.
Unfortunately Stanley is not on his own – he has simply said what many others think. Personally I have stopped attending events where other pastors gather and here is the reason: The first question you are asked once someone determines that you are in the ministry, is how big your church is. The moment you tell them you are in a small church, the conversation ends. They are no longer interested in speaking to a “loser” who obviously cannot be any good since the church is small. What these snobs forget is that many small church pastors could “get” a big church, but they choose to serve the Lord’s people in real ways rather than being the CEO of a business empire. These faithful, sacrificing men are the real heroes, not the celebrity pastors who sell their convictions for popularity. By the way, serving in a small church is a lot harder work than being a celebrity preacher, complete with body guards to keep the members at a distance.
But at the end of the day, we must turn to the Scriptures as our guide and manual. So, does the Bible have anything to say about church size? I think it does. And before we continue, let’s discard the 3,000 that were saved in Acts 2:41 and the 5,000 in Acts 4:4. This was unique to the founding of the church and was God’s way to kick-start the church remembering that these would soon be scattered across the world to fulfill the Great Commission. If a church of 8,000 was God’s design, then this church would have survived but the Lord soon cut it down to 12! (Acts 8:1). The fact is that there was not a single big church anywhere in the New Testament and those preachers were far superior to anything we have today – after all they had physically walked with the Lord.
On the contrary, ALL the churches in the New Testament were small. Most met in houses which sets the limit at 25, at the most, remembering the size of houses then. Yes, some cities had several house churches (Jerusalem, Rome and probably Antioch). But after a lifetime of studying the New Testament church, I cannot find evidence for a single church bigger than 200.
Throughout the New Testament, the emphasis in the local church structure is relationships. Think of 1Corinthians 12 and how that each member of the body has a unique part to play and how each member of the body is vitally connected to the rest of the body. There are no passengers, or spectators in New Testament churches. Yet Stanley expressly mocks those who choose to be in small churches because they choose relationships over programs!
Many of those who choose big churches do so because they feel that size means that God is doing something. This is the biggest lie the devil has sold to modern Christendom. The contrary is true. Throughout the history of the church, big and the majority has always been wrong. At the same time, small does not necessarily mean it is good – there are just as many small churches that are into some error or the other. But think of the words of Scripture:
- “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.” (Matthew 7:13) (In the context Jesus is speaking of the broad road as being a religious one).
- “… when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)
- “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
- “So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” (Matthew 20:16)
- The only churches of the seven in Revelation 2&3 that were not rebuked were the two smallest and weakest ones.
- After three years of the most anointed preaching ever, Jesus just left 500 disciples (1Corinthians 15:6).
- Apart from Jesus, Paul was the most powerful preacher in the New Testament, with a personal call and audience with the risen Christ, yet he leaves Athens without having been able to establish a church. This great apostle, came to the end of his life and confessed that he only had one leader that he could trust to take care of the work after his demise (Philippians 2:20-21).
Where are the mega churches and the celebrity brand-name preachers in the New Testament? They are not there. Don’t be deceived; we are not the chosen generation that has managed to be successful where two thousand years of the true church has struggled to survive against the gates of hell. If churches are big and successful, it is most likely because of the arm of flesh and not the Spirit of God.
Here is your choice: Would you rather be counted with these:
“Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented– of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise,” (Hebrews 11:35-39)
“So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’–and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:16-17).
If you are in small church, be encouraged and fulfill the Lord’s call where He placed you. If you are in a big church – drop your selfishness and pride and get into a real church.
 Stanley’s people have wiped any trace of the original video from the internet (a transcript is available from this author, on request). In a subsequent Tweet Stanley apologized profusely saying that he does not believe what he said! That only makes it worse – a pastor who preaches what he does not believe! The reality is rather that this is exactly what he believes in his arrogance and the only reason for the apology and retraction is that he was blown away by the backlash to his ridiculous statement. “Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34)
 Tozer, A. W., & Verploegh, H. (1986). The set of the sail (pp. 153–156). Camp Hill, PA.: WingSpread.
 Stanley also believes that the leader of a church should be a CEO and that the idea of a “shepherd” is outmoded. http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2007/may-online-only/cln70528.html
 Actually, the ideal size in my humble opinion is around 100.