Is covid-19 killing the megachurch? Is God using the Coronavirus to get rid of large churches? Possibly! My family has been a part of a megachurch for over a decade. I’m a big fan of the megachurch. I was really looking forward to returning to church post lockdown! But as I read through the reopening plan, a sobering reality swept over me. Only churches of up to 250 people would be allowed to meet, and only in phase 4’s stage, beginning June 14 for Indiana.* My church didn’t meet that criteria. Not even one of my church’s three services met that criteria. Wikipedia defines a megachurch as having more than 2,000 people, fyi. Let’s just imagine that covid-19 did kill the megachurch. What would that mean moving forward?
On the up side, we could see more accountability, discipleship, and the chance for people to be known and loved better. Pastors might feel more accountable if everyone in their congregation knew them personally. Their congregations would be able to see if they actually practiced what they preached. This could encourage lay people to pay closer attention to their pastor’s sermons because they no longer listened to a random person preaching, but someone they knew and trusted. The accountability would go both ways.
Along with that, discipleship might happen on a more personal and long-term basis. Instead of having one mentor in high school, another as a college student, someone different for pre-maritial counseling, and yet one more later on in life, the same Sunday school teacher that watched a child grow up might continue to pour into a certain child’s life even post college. With a smaller community, discipleship could allow for more than just coffee shop meetings. Disciplers might serve in a soup kitchen alongside their disciplees. They might also sit near each other at church. They might see one another at church picnics. They could even live closer and bring each other meals, or watch each other’s kids. Discipleship relationships might resemble more of living life together than ever before! Didn’t Jesus’ disciples live with him? They saw how He ate, slept, dealt with random people on the street, and spent money. They saw how He LIVED!
All of this also could lead to people being known and loved better. Blending in with the crowd is quite difficult in smaller settings. This could be scary, but also glorious. As people become known in their church families, both their strengths and weaknesses will be known. While that could be frightening, it could also be freeing. The churches might choose to love their members even knowing their imperfections. Isn’t that true love anyway? Being fully known and (italicize) fully loved (John 13:35)? Imagine but having to hide? For diversity, smaller churches might mean we get to know and even love people very different than us.
Personally, I’ve seen this lived out. While in Seminary at Moody, I experienced this. I lived, went to church, worked, shopped at the grocery, and had fun with all the same people. I had best friends who held me accountable. I saw how families older than me lived. I saw how people I studied with treated the homeless on the streets of Chicago. I worked with the same group of people. In many ways, I couldn’t escape being known, and at some times, I found it tough. But most of the time, I felt very known and very loved. Our grad school only had about 300 students enrolled, but around one third lived on campus. We got to know each other quite well, in various settings. We also got to know our professors well and we saw that they practiced what they taught.
“Well, that’s all fun, imagining a utopian society, but let’s be real!” Someone says. Ok. Let’s look at the downfalls of smaller congregations. This could affect finances, preaching, and specialties. Smaller congregations might not be able to financially support a pastor and a building, or a pastoral staff. That’s a real challenge. Would pastors have to start working other jobs during the week to support themselves? Would we stop meeting in buildings and start having worship services in backyards? I suppose anything is possible!
Would preaching quality decline? Many pastors of large churches spend much of their time studying and preparing sermons each week, while other pastoral staff often visit the sick, do counseling, and cover organizational tasks. If one pastor were expected to do it all, could he? I don’t know the answer to this. Obviously, many things could become streamlined. Volunteers might have to step up in some capacity. However, we might just have a lot more pastors being trained and preaching on a regular basis.
Lastly, what about the widows knitting for wounded soldiers’ Bible study? Would there be enough widows in one church to do that? Probably not. Many specialty groups that thrive in large church settings would cease to exist within a single church. However, they might continue through larger church networks. The twenty-somethings of Indianapolis West side Baptist Churches might meet up occasionally. Specialties might decrease. Or churches might choose one specialty and be exclusive to others. However, the opportunity to learn to be Christ to everyone verses just those of our life stage, might increase.
What Will Happen?
Ultimately, God can and will continue to work through His people and His church. Covid-19 has not caught Him by surprise! Churches might return to normal or they might never be the same again. But “God works ALL things out for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28, emphasis mine). Even this! God will use this for His glory no matter what the future holds.
Personally, I don’t think covid-19 will kill the megachurch for good. I think large churches will figure it out. But I do find it interesting to think about. I also am comforted knowing that God, not man, leads His church (Ephesians 1:22, 5:23, Colossians 1:18). Therefore, it will be God’s decision for what happens to His Church [universal] moving forward.