Monday, April 10, 2017

How I Found My Place (And My People) at a Megachurch

I used to wonder why people would attend a megachurch.

I mean, THOUSANDS on THOUSANDS of people streaming into a building on any given weekend? Is that ANYONE'S idea of a good time? I actually wondered what people were thinking in CHOOSING a church so large as their place of worship when they could attend a smaller church down the street with easy parking, good ol' fashioned potlucks, and a small community of people who all know each other.

I've had several friends over the years who attended some of the biggest and most well-known churches in the country, and the reasons I was CERTAIN they attended them are the SAME reasons people assume I attend one now.

- It's because of the GREAT programming: children's activities, women's ministries, a totally TURNT UP VBS, opportunities galore laid out right before you. Well, let me tell you, that ain't it. While that stuff can be great in ANY size church, I'm not gonna choose a church based on programs and activities that could come and go.

- Or maybe it's the amazing worship band covered in smoky awesomeness wearing hipster glasses and weathered plaid button downs? Annnnd ... a big fat NOPE. Not it either. I can fire up iTunes and hear the originals anytime, anywhere.

- Maybe it's that I don't really want to be known - you know, you can sneak in and out of a megachurch and NO ONE will notice you, right? The pastor doesn't know you, the people don't know you - come on in, get a little pumped up for the week, and go right on out. It's Dreamland for Anonymous-Wanna-Bes. Yeah well, if you know ANYTHING about me, I ain't trying to be anonymous, y'all. ANYWHERE. I want to be known and loved. Deep down, don't we all?

- It's probably that megachurches are BIG and RICH and FANCY. Which OF COURSE means I now have a big and rich and fancy life. Well, my church meets in a warehouse/strip mall of sorts - and has YET to write me a big, fat check from the tithing pool. And based on the number of straight up broke college students rolling in and the number of clunky, barely hanging on minivans I see in the parking lot each week, I highly doubt anyone else is gettin' one either.

So WHY then? If it's none of those reasons... then WHY?

Well, here's how it went down for us: My family moved into the area and went searching for a church where the gospel was preached EVERY week and the people loved Jesus and had hearts for the lost people he came to save - not just each other. And, when we found that in a church TWENTY times the size of what we might've considered ideal, we stayed.

We've been at our church, a church of over 10,000 people, for six years. We have grown in our relationship with Jesus and in our passion to love people well in ways we never could've imagined. And as I sat down to think about WHY we've stayed and WHAT we love about our church, I wanted to share with you how we found our place and our people here.

If you want true, rich, deep community within a larger (not just mega) church:

1. You MUST join and be part of a smaller group of people within the church. At our church, we call them... well, small groups. (SEE? We fancy.) If you're in an church of 10,000 plus people, you NEED people within the church who know your stuff. I mean, your REAL LIFE STUFF. They don't have to be your BFFs, but they NEED to know HOW to pray for you. They bring meals, they hold the baby, and they laugh and cry with you through your hot mess of a life. These are people who KNOW you, walk everyday life with you, open their Bibles with you, hold you accountable, and are committed to praying for you. They rally around you, help you when you're sick, laugh with you and celebrate your victories, and they hurt with you when you are hurting. And, you will know TRUE JOY in getting to do and be that for them.

The only way to be truly known within a very large church is to have a core of people, WITHIN the church, who know you, love you, care for you, and are walking closely through life with you. This group may change as seasons change and people move or you branch out to start new groups as you grow, but they are IN IT with you for the season you're together. THESE ARE MY PEOPLE, y'all. They effectively take a large church, and make it smaller - so that within the larger community of your church as a whole, you are known, cared for, prayed for, and loved.

2. You HAVE to serve in some capacity within the church. You can't come in, sit down, be entertained by the band, get pumped up with a God pep-talk for the week ahead, and leave. If you don't serve inside your church, you are not only missing out on being known by the people you regularly serve with, but you are depriving the rest of the church of your specific, God-given gifts and talents. At a large church, there are no small amount of opportunities to serve - volunteers and servant leaders and people willing to give of their time and talents are needed ALL OVER the place. In serving, the larger church gets to be blessed by you, and YOU get to experience the collective joy of ALL serving God together - ALL for His glory and for the eternal work of seeing others come to know Jesus.

This next one is a BIG one. I've heard people say that if you go to a megachurch, the pastor doesn't really know what's going on in your daily life, what you're struggling with, and well, "he just can't possibly know ALL those people."

They are ABSOLUTELY right. He does not and cannot. But because of my small group, and the people I serve with, I don't need him to be that. I've already got it.

So this is an IMPORTANT one:

3. You don't need your pastor to know you and all the details of your life. A pastor COULD NOT do this for even THIRTY people. So if you go to a church of more than that, megachurches aside, a pastor cannot be that for you. NOTHING and NO ONE can replace the role of God's people in your life. One man most DEFINITELY cannot. I don't care how charismatic or godly you think he is.

Here is what I do need from my pastor:

A. I need him to personally love Jesus and have an urgency about unsaved people. But how can you know this when you rarely, if ever, interact with him? Well, because he is transparent about it when he preaches each week. My pastor talks about his time in the Word and what specifically that looks like for him and he helps us become better at it. He shares with us various everyday encounters he has with people and how he strikes up gospel conversations with them - and challenges us to do that as well. {I pity the fool who sits next to my pastor on an airplane. They don't even know what's comin'.} And, he not only INSISTS that we go on missions trips (short or long term) to spread the gospel to unreached people groups, but he has modeled that by taking his family and going himself.

But most importantly, I will see and know his worldview and his basis for it because...

B. I need him to faithfully preach God's word every week. Straight up. Not some watered down version of the Bible or some alliterated, hokey thoughts he's thinking on it, but the straight up, reading right from the text, WORD FOR WORD, chapter by chapter, book by book Word of God. If what he preaches from the stage each week is DIRECTLY coming from God's word, and he stands on THAT as the truth in his life (and points me there in mine), then I trust that he is leaning on the word of God and faithfully preaching it to us as well.

It took me some time to understand this one, but hear me on this:

C. I need my pastor to love and pray for HIS family and HIS neighbor, not mine. I don't need him to know the details of MY life. I want my pastor to be living out in HIS life and family the same call God has given to all of us as believers - "Go and make disciples." Yes, he is a pastor by vocation, but he is also a husband, a Dad, and a neighbor. I would rather have a pastor who is praying for HIS family and for the salvation of HIS kids and HIS lost neighbor than have a pastor who knows all of my family's junk and is praying for me.

Further, I would rather worship alongside a room full of one thousand people on a Sunday morning who are sharing the gospel with and LOVING HARD the lost people God has put in their lives than a room of one hundred whose primary purpose at church is to know and love me.

4. Going to a megachurch means setting aside your preferences - ALL the time. We didn't find the "perfect" church when we found ours, contrary to what some might believe about people who attend big churches. Quite frankly, it wouldn't take me long to write out a nice, hefty list of things I don't like about it or wish were done differently. But, I have come to see setting aside my preferences as a way of LOVING people well and celebrating the diverse makeup of the Kingdom of God. Of saying, "There are 9,999 other people here and there are thousands of others in my city who might consider coming through these doors, many of whom are VERY different from me, and I don't need to have things my way." If I don't like the worship music, it ain't changing because I throw a fit to the pastor, anyway. And, if I determine the VBS theme is terrible this year, I can march up to the kids pastor and tell him, but he will surely be able to point me to hundreds if other families who LOVE it. So week by week, I lay down how I might want things to be because it ISN'T about me. It's about Jesus - and I yield to the wisdom of the leaders in my church to determine how we can best reach people to know him.

So, here I am.
Known and loved.
Serving in a megachurch, a place I NEVER thought I'd be.

I've found my place here and I've found my people. REAL people with REAL problems and I've found deep and true relationships.

I need to say this: I could leave my church of 10,000 and attend a church of 20 people tomorrow. Why? Because what I've come to value about my church has NOTHING to do with its size - and EVERYTHING to do with its mission: To see lost, unsaved people come to know Jesus. I've seen people that I love and respect be sent out by my church in the name of that SAME mission. People I've grown to dearly love have left to go plant new churches, to serve overseas - to reach lost people ALL over the world. I am NOT saying that a megachuch is the place for everyone. I want to make that clear. But I AM saying that it is absolutely possible to find real, true, gospel-centered community in one.

I love the hearts of the people in my church - who lay down their preferences EVERY week in a thousand different ways to see the lost come to know Jesus.

I love the heart of my pastor - who boldly proclaims the gospel of Jesus every week.

And I love that church used to feel like it was for "me" - but, now I walk through those doors each weekend and see faces I don't recognize and people who don't know me and I see ALL of it, everything we do as a way to reach people, love them well, make them feel welcome and wanted, and make much of Jesus.

And my hope each week is that when I look around at ALL these people, they know Jesus. That they hear the gospel preached from the stage, that they see people loving them and serving them and each other and that their lives are changed - right inside my big ol' megachurch.

And, that they find their place and their people.

Just like I have.


  1. Wow Sarah - I really appreciated this, and honestly I didn't think I would! I've never been a fan of big churches, for many of the reasons you listed in the beginning. However, after reading this, I can see that the things you listed about community in your church really fits any church, even the smaller ones. One of the things I have really had to learn, (and it sounds awful typing it) is that church is not about me and what I want. It's about what God wants to do in that church, and I think you described that very well. Thanks for sharing! I'm glad you're happy!

  2. What a wonderful article! Thank you for encouraging people in both big and small churches to love the Gospel, love God's people, love the lost and lay aside our personal lists for His Kingdom's glory!!!