There is a meme I’ve seen running around the internet about so called “Mega Churches.” These are churches that have large, even luxurious facilities. The implication of the meme is that the church wasted money on having a nice building when they should have spent the money feeding the hungry.
Let’s look at this with a parable (My own, not a biblical one.)
Once upon a time, in a small town, there were two churches. They were different denominations, and worshiped in different ways, but they had far more in common than contrary. After a couple of generations, the town had grown into a medium size town, and both church buildings had seen the usual wear and tear that comes with constant use.
One day, both churches received a large donation. One church took the money and bought food for the needy. The other church took the money and upgraded their kitchen and storage facilities.
Today, the first church is barely getting by, struggling to pay their own bills. They do their best to share what little they have with the needy in their community, but it isn’t much.
The second church created a soup kitchen that feeds the needy in their community three days a week. They have grown not only in size, but in outreach and ministry as well.
That’s an over-simplified example. Let’s also look at a scriptural example.
Jesus Anointed at Bethany (From Bible Gateway.com) John 12: 1-8
12 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint[a] of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.[b]” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.8 You will always have the poor among you,[c] but you will not always have me.”
I’ve been involved with churches who provided unbelievable outreach to their community, the nation, and the world. I’ve been involved with churches who struggled just to cover their only monthly heating bill, and had hardly anything to share. I’ve seen churches who were poor in financial resources, but made up for it in giving of the heart.
Let’s just talk about the big churches for the moment. Not only the mega-churches, but those churches who have nice, large buildings and lots of congregants attending every week. I’m sure we could find plenty of churches who put a disproportionate amount of money into their own luxuries. We would also find plenty of faith communities who are able to make huge donations and provide complicated, much-needed services to their city, state, and nation.
Let’s focus on the actual building. Years ago, churches were left unlocked much of the time, and people would come in to use it for personal needs such as quiet prayer, or group needs such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Sadly, this is no longer possible. Churches left unlocked are targets of vandalism and theft, as well as lawsuits if someone trips and falls while walking in the door. Often, the simple presence of a single janitor or secretary or volunteer is all it takes to enable the church to open the doors to the community. In a large church with greater resources, it is much easier to do this. If you look at your average large church’s schedule, you will find that they have to juggle all the groups that want to use the building. These aren’t just Christian groups like bible study and prayer meetings; these are secular groups from the community. Boy Scouts, yoga, quilting circles… there are all kinds of people who use the church’s physical facility.
Now let’s think about the non-real-estate resources. The big churches have lots of members. For some Christians, this is very appealing. A choir large enough to carry the weaker but still enthusiastic singers. A Sunday School for the kids where there are more than 2 children in each class. Enough volunteers that every event always has coverage. A fellowship hall big enough that the entire congregation can have a pot luck dinner together. More members also means more money. This is where people tend to scrutinize. But the fact remains, if a church takes in more money, they are also able to give out more money.
I’ve sat on committees that seemed more like a high-power fortune 500 company than a faith community. Hearing about investments and securities can make a person sick. I’ve played mediator when a church had to make a decision like Mary did in John chapter 12, spending money on something that is expensive yet symbolically and spiritually important. We’d like to think that all churches are just fluffy happy entities who meet together once a week to listen to a lecture, have coffee, and give a tithe to someone less fortunate. The truth is that there are all kinds of churches. Some quietly serve a small portion of humanity, some shout from mountaintop to mountaintop, and are large enough to move those same mountains. It’s all about what we do with the gifts we have.
One more scriptural parable…
The Parable of the Bags of Gold (From Bible Gateway.com) Matthew 25:14-30
14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Yes, it is good to give to the poor. But that is not all that churches do. Just as individual people take their God given talents and strive to use them for the greater good, so that power is magnified exponentially when Christians work together.
Next time you see a picture of a Mega-church, don’t jump to conclusions. Unless you’re a member of that church and privy to their financial records, you don’t know what kind of ministry they provide. It’s possible, even likely, that the church uses its blessings for the glory of God in ways you have never imagined.