Mega-Churches and Worshipping Incognito

from Aug 02, 2014 Category: Articles

Though it may be counterintuitive, it is nevertheless true—we have more privacy in the big city than we do in the country. There is actually a converse ratio between people per square mile and anonymity levels. In the city, even though we are cheek by jowl, we have precious little interaction and what we do have remains strictly surface. In the country, though we may be as far from each other as to very far away things, we notice things, follow events in each others lives, even, truth be told, talk about each other. Many have known to follow the high praise of country living, “Everyone knows your name,” with the bitter complaint, “and everyone knows your business.”

While I stand opposed to the sin of gossip, I stand to speak in favor of knowing our neighbors. I know, having spent more than half my life in the country, that there is a gracious restraint that comes from having your neighbors know you. I was regularly informed on by neighbors I barely knew, but who knew me, and called my parents from time to time to bring them up to speed. Even more often I was kept from reportable sins precisely because I knew word would get back.

I’m not arguing that we need to all move to the country. I do, however, want to suggest that there is a parallel here with mega-churches. Like mega-cities, monstrous churches not only carry the temptation of invisibility, but such is one of their selling points. I’ve read polls where one key reason why people like their local mega-church is, “You can show up, sit down, and when it’s over go home. And no one bothers you.” Ouch. Any church receiving such an endorsement ought to blush.

There are, of course, benefits to large churches. There are also, I suspect, certain strategies that can be done to combat anonymity of congregants in a large church. But if there are such strategies, they don’t come to pass by accident. And, I suspect, if these methods are practiced, mega-churches will quickly become ordinary churches. If people are buying the opportunity to worship incognito, they will stop buying when we stop making it available.

Paul describes the church as a body. He reminds us that because we are a body, the eye cannot say to the ear, “I have no need of you.” How much less can the eye say to the ear, “You have no need of me.” Indeed, how can the eye and the ear even speak to each other if they don’t even know each other’s names? That, I would argue, is a nice, organic way to estimate when a church has gotten too big. If I don’t even know the names of those sitting beside me in the pew, I’m pretty sure I’ll find it difficult to do a great job of living out the one anothers.

We are all in different circumstances. I know of one church, in fact, that found itself with a sudden influx, in just one day, of three thousand members. I don’t suspect, however, that they built a bigger building, or piped in video of a mega-pastor. Nor do I suspect that the 3,000 were allowed to show up, watch the show, and slip out unaccosted. Instead, they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.

R.C. Sproul Jr. is rector and chair of philosophy and theology at Reformation Bible College. Originally published at RCSproulJr.com