Looking Again at the Badge of ‘Big’

The issue of church size is always under the surface whenever leaders of Christian churches get together. And even though some say size doesn’t matter, most church watchers can’t help being attracted to the badge called “Big.”

Speakers at conferences are introduced with details about the attendance of the congregation where they preach. Megachurch ministers usually draw the biggest crowds. In fact preachers at smaller churches may claim megachurch ministers don’t understand them. But invariably, given the choice, they attend the seminars and workshops led by these large church ministers.

Of course when it comes to megachurches, Christian churches have nothing on the Roman Catholic church, with parish after parish all over the world each attracting thousands of worshipers. And membership in the Catholic church far surpasses its attendance.

Gene Edward Veith, writing in World magazine last month, challenges readers to think about the “big is better” mentality in evangelical churches by considering a situation in the Catholic church (May 14, p. 32). He points out that although 80 percent of the Spanish population is Catholic, only a third of that number goes to church. Some believe a stand by Pope Benedict XVI could reduce both membership and attendance at Catholic churches in Spain.

In the face of a new law legalizing homosexual marriage and adoption, the pope instructed Catholic Spaniards to disobey. Veith explains that officials were told to “refuse to marry same sex couples or even process the paperwork if they try to adopt a child. Bureaucrats and others who find themselves complicit in gay marriage or adoption should refuse to obey the law, even if it means losing their jobs.”

According to Veith, such a hard line, if enforced by the church, could result in the excommunication of some Catholics who refuse to defy the law. Others might opt to leave the church instead of losing their paychecks. In either case, the number of Catholics in Spain would diminish.

Veith says this may be exactly what the new pope has in mind: “Before he became pope, Cardinal Ratzinger argued that the church needs to get smaller so that it can become purer.”

Veith’s conclusion can challenge all of us:

The problem of secularism is not just with the outside culture thinking it can do without God. The deeper problem is that the church itself has become secularized. A smaller but purer church may well have more impact than the diffuse cultural Christianity that has lost its saltiness and its savor.

“Saltiness and its savor” is really the issue for a church of any size. If we work to please humans before we seek to honor God, we run the risk of compromising with sin. When that happens, our Sunday morning attendance figures don’t really matter.

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