My sister and I traveled several years ago to visit a relative in prison in another state. I’ve been to a number of prisons and they’re all dark and foreboding. A correctional officer once escorted me from the gym where my class met to a cellblock so I could see it firsthand. I still shudder when thinking about those claustrophobic cells with steel doors.
However, God works in dark places. He sends his people there, including a number of scriptural heroes who were inmates; Joseph, Jeremiah, Silas and Paul come to mind.
My relative told us about his prison ministry.
He also told us an interesting story.
A megachurch in the state installed electronic equipment in the facility and began to broadcast their worship services. The downside, he explained, was that many local churches had been involved in prison ministry for years. Faithful Christians came to lead worship on Sunday, but now these services were poorly attended. The men found it more exciting to watch the long-distance worship services on screen. Times have changed, so I’m sure these local congregations have found other ways to do prison ministry.
The Hartford Institute for Religion Research defines a megachurch as having 2,000 or more congregants on a given weekend. Another study noted the megachurch is a denomination in itself since it doesn’t need denominational support; hence we’ve seen many churches drop “Baptist” or “Methodist” from their names.
I heard the late Robert Schuller at a conference suggesting his church “put the denomination in its place” by listing it on page 12 of the Sunday worship order!
Whereas the megachurches get a lion’s share of publicity, they remain the minority. The same Hartford study reported some 1,600 megachurches in America, which is about one percent of our 350,000 churches.
A leader in my denomination speaks of the “normative-sized church” which has 75 people on Sunday, underscoring the growing need for bi-vocational or “tent-making” pastors who have full-time employment and serve the church on a part-time basis.
Every church has a role to play in God’s kingdom, though their roles are different and unique.
It’s possible, but harder to get “lost” in a normative church. If someone is absent, they’re missed, and hopefully contacted. And it’s harder to be inactive since every member is needed to staff various neighborhood ministries.
In a megachurch one can remain anonymous, and, of course, some worshippers want this to be so for various reasons. And it’s true that larger congregations can offer more opportunities for study and service, such as support groups for addictions. “One stop shopping,” as it were.
God works in churches large and small, and every congregation should see themselves as partners in serving Christ.
“Reflections” is a weekly faith column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.