While in the big city I attended a big church. It dwarfs any of our churches here in the hometown, including the church just up the road where I walk to services.
The folks in the big church would object to my applying the label megachurch. But their church fits the description with big crowds, big buildings, hired bands, stage lights, big missionary and ministry programs, and so on.
I still visit the big church in my wife’s hometown. I like the services and like the few folks I know among the 1,500 who attend one of three Sunday-morning services.
Nevertheless I breathe a sigh of relief when I make it back to the neighborhood church, the church where my daddy went, where so many of my people went or still go. I like to get back with the home folks and see faces I’ve known since childhood. The church’s single Sunday service has about 250.
Both the big church and the hometown church belong to the same denomination. Nevertheless they are quite different. As folks are different, churches are different.
So it created some ripples when a megachurch pastor in Atlanta, Andy Stanley, son of TV and radio preacher Charles Stanley, preached a sermon telling folks to attend a big church, one like his.
“When I hear adults say, ‘Well I don’t like a big church, I like about 200, I want to be able to know everybody.’ I say, ‘You are so stinking selfish,’” said Andy Stanley, senior pastor of North Point Community Church, as quoted in the magazine “Christianity Today.”
“You care nothing about the next generation,” Stanley continued. “All you care about is you and your five friends. You don’t care about your kids (or) anybody else’s kids. If you don’t go to a church large enough where you can have enough middle schoolers and high schoolers to separate them so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult.
“Get over it. Find yourself a big old church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people and grow up and love the local church. Instead … you drag your kids to a church they hate, and then they grow up and hate the local church. They go to college, and you pray that there will be a church in the college town that they connect with. Guess what? All those churches are big.”
For the record I grew up in a small, country church here. It had outdoor toilets till a modern brick building was built in 1971.
We had about 10 in our youth group at any given time. We weren’t offered summer camps and out-of-state mission trips like they have for young folks these days.
But the preacher and his wife, who was our Sunday school teacher, one time loaded us up in a flatbed truck and took us on a ride up to Stone Mountain, the preacher’s old neighborhood, right after they created the state park.
For Sunday-school teachers we had two pastors’ wives and the wife of a Sunday school superintendent. They taught us from the Bible with no study guides, no other ancillary materials.
They told us the story of Jesus and how to be saved, and about all of us were. They still are, at least the ones I’ve been able to keep up with. I’m proud of them.
We were reared quite well, thank you, in a small church with limited resources.
Stanley recanted, by the way. “Heck, even I was offended by what I said! I apologize,” he said later on Twitter.
I’m convinced that it’s not the size of the church or the sophistication of the youth or other programs that matters but rather the people inside and the message that is preached and taught. I’m proof.
So find for your kids and for yourself a good church, whatever the size.
On a personal note: About a week ago I got a kick out of visiting with our local Jonathan Hunt chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and speaking about these “Hometown” columns, my “All Roads Should Lead To State Road” book and great-great-great-great-grandfather William Harris, a member of George Washington’s honor guards about whom I’ve written twice on this page. Thanks to all involved.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.