Large Churches


Whether you're a part of a large church or a small church, they have their differences but are dealing with the same issues. Tim Harlow shares.

I just spent a couple of days with some pastors from some of the largest churches in America.  It's just a small group of us, sitting around tables sharing the stuff that we are dealing with in our various ministries.  We are from different sizes, different styles, different ages, and very different locales.  We met in Vegas, hosted by a church of 17,000 attendees a weekend – in Vegas.  Yes, Sin City needs churches.  It's awesome!

I left there to head out to LA to meet with our church planters in Ventura.  They are off to a great star.

They are averaging 300 in attendance and really cranking.  But they are smaller and brand new.

What I noticed is that no matter the size or various characteristics, we are all wrestling with the same issues. “Ministry” is always about trying to figure out how to reach the most people we can for Jesus, and helping them become fully devoted followers, so they can go out and start it all over again.  Or as we like to say around here – REACH, RAISE, AND RELEASE.

The only real difference is the scope.  Large churches have large numbers of people they are reaching, and have a (probably) harder time raising because it’s harder to push people into deeper discipleship because we don’t know them as well.

Smaller churches have a harder time reaching (statistically this is true – one church of a thousand will make more converts than ten churches of a hundred), and perhaps an easier time of community and discipleship because it’s harder to hide your lack of growth in a smaller group.

But we’re all dealing with exactly the same issues:

  • A lack of funds because of poor stewardship (which could be a lack of our good teaching) or because of the recession
  • A resulting lack of facilities and staff
  • A lack of understanding of biblical standards of sexuality (not everyone understands the Judeo\Christian ethic) and the resulting breakup of the family
  • The ever increasing demands of doing ministry in the 21st century
  • Discovering the best pattern for leadership going forward in this brave new world
  • Discovering the most effective way to lead people to Christ in the rest of the world
  • The constant struggle of motivating people to discipleship and community

Etc, etc.

The difference is, the larger the church, the larger the responsibility.  The more people you can screw up.

All to say, I don’t believe there has ever been a harder time to be doing this job, and never a better time either.  The opportunities for the gospel are unbelievable.  The very fact that there are so many great and growing churches is a demonstration to me that the Spirit of God is flooding us with people who are ready to turn to God.  The fact that there are so many distractions is proof that the Evil one doesn’t like what we’re doing.

Honestly, I believe the time is short.  Jesus told me to live that way, so I do, but it’s more than just a decision to obey him.  I really don’t believe that this world will last forever and I feel a deep conviction that my days of ministry could see the return of Christ.  And while I’m planning financially for a day when I can work no longer, I’m not really looking at a time to retire.  I’m not looking forward to when I can kick back and work on my golf game or figure out what Sudoku is.

I truly believe God has allowed me the sincere privilege of leading a large group of his followers in one of the most harvest-rich environments in the history of humanity.

So I will continue to learn and grow from these partners who are doing it along side of me, and pray for them and ask you to do the same.  Large church\small church, new church\old church – we all have a calling.  Hell demands our constant attention and our fervent efforts.

Sometimes I agree with the apostle Paul who had such a burden for his own people that he said he’d even trade his eternal destiny if they could find salvation.

Romans 9:1-3

I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race.

I’m sure when it came down to it, I’d chicken out – but in my heart I really do feel this burden.

I don’t lead a large church because I want people to recognize me or to have my name on a list.  I lead a large church because there is no other possibility for me.  And it will somehow become larger, at least in scope of influence in the world, if not in sheer numbers because as long as there are drowning people somewhere in my vicinity –  I will have room in my boat.

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