As we entered and took our seats, my niece’s eyes got bigger and bigger. The scale of the venue was impressive compared what she’d been to before. But what really captured her was the number of people and in particular, the wall of noise they made.
It was Abigails first visit to a Premiership football ground, but already, 20 minutes before the game was due to begin, the sight and sounds of the 20,000 crowd had engaged her. As kick-off approached, the volume turned up, particularly around where we were sitting, surrounded as we were by 5,000 visiting Pompey fans, who were singing and waving flags and scarves. We could tell the home fans of Fulham were singing too – but the volume of support from all around us drowned out everything else. I was joining in – Portsmouth is my team after all - and I was having a great time. But I wondered how my young niece was coping. I didn’t need to worry - the gutsy, adrenalin-fuelled atmosphere was infectious and Abigail, a confident girl, was soon joining in some of the chants and songs. I was pleased and not a little relieved – Uncle John wanted this to be a positive experience for his niece after all.
Many seem to regard mega churches - defined in Andy Peck’s fascinating article (page 12), as having a congregation of 2,000-plus - with the same caution, fear-even, as a first-time attendee might regard the prospect of watching football at a big stadium. The size, the volume, the setting, the style of meeting, the atmosphere – can seem strange, intimidating even, to people accustomed to church of a hundred or less. But I believe big can be beautiful. I love being part of a crowd of thousands who share a common passion and desire. At football the fellowship can be intense, crowded with strangers who want your team to triumph can be a hugely positive experience. It’s quite liberating to hug a stranger when your team wins a vital match, or to introduce a newcomer to the sights and sounds of big-time soccer.
But how much more exciting it is to be part of a worshipping throng singing the praises of Jesus – the God-man who died and rose again to bring us forgiveness, freedom and fulfilment – rather than cheering for an athletically gifted young man who earns more in a week than most make in a year.
Big church is great, but then so is 150-strong church, and so is nine-strong church in a front room. In fact I want it all! I believe something unique happens within all three sizes; mega, medium and mini, and that our souls are best nourished by a combination of all three. The mega experience – whether at a giant church like KICC or a Christian event like Keswick, reminds me that I am part of something so much bigger around the globe. The resources available are mega too, which can mean the quality of preaching, music and multi-media is better than a church with smaller resources. Meanwhile the midi-150 strong church experience is small enough to know everyone, but big enough to offer a range of ministries to the members and to the surrounding community. While the mini small group experience of church, allows me time and space to be in open, real and accountable relationships with people who know me back to front.
Too many Christians reject the mega model and miss out. I thank God for mega churches and hope every city and town in the UK will get one or more.
Don’t despise any size; they are all part of the joy and frustration of being church together. Instead play your part, build up and be enriched by the trinity of mega, midi, and mini. None are perfect – these models are made up of people after all – but the Holy Spirit is at work in them all, so lets look for opportunities to experience and enrich all three.
John Buckeridge is the senior editor of Christianity magazine.