Church Size and Bible Knowledge: Are They Growing Together?



The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.”
Isaiah 40:8

I recently was asked to share to a community church located in rural Oregon. This church has opened its doors every Sunday since 1892. Every Sunday! The message I shared  was  from 1 Peter 1:22-25           and why it seems that books about the Bible are more popular in some churches than the Bible itself.

As I looked around at the total of 12 pews and the 13 people sitting in them, I couldn’t help but think of what worship services were like not only in Oregon but worldwide before “mega churches.”  The folks who ‘claim’ this church number about 25. It is small, very small.  Depending on the harvest, planting, and other seasonal work, there may be 50 in attendance and sometimes there are 4.  No matter how many show up,the doors open every Sunday. They do not have an army of pastors. In fact, two gentleman share the basic responsibilities. One shares God’s word and the other leads the praise and worship singing. They rotate every 6 months. The fellowship before and after the service is their answer to counseling sessions, support groups and other “programs” that some churches have that never seem to end. These folks love each other and love whomever enters that church door. None are rich nor is their need among them. The oldest is 81. (Her mother is 101 this week). The youngest is 17. She is a foster child of one of the families. She has been attending for amount of time she has been with her foster parents-10 years.

It was a wonderful service. No videos, no DVDs, no pamphlets on how to get to Heaven and so forth. No bands playing at a decibel higher than a 747 engine. Oh yes, there were no books about the Bible. There were only hymnals (one guitar) and Bibles. These folks knew the Scriptures!

In the heart of Seoul, Korea, the Yoido Full Gospel Church sits directly across from Korea’s National Assembly. The building is large enough to seat 26,000 people, with overflow sent to nearby buildings who watch events in the main church on telescreens. As of 2007, membership stands at 830,000, with seven Sunday services translated into 16 languages. (Wikipedia, August 2009)

According to Outreach magazine (2010 Special Edition)Lakewood Church located in Houston, TX and pastored by Joel Osteen  ranks number one among the top 100 largest churches in the United States with a membership of 43,500.  Charles Stanley’s son Andy, is pastor of North Point Community Church located in Alpharetta, GA  with 24,325 members in a town of 52,000 and is the second largest and fastest growing church.

By comparison, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, West Virginia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Oregon and Montana did not have a church with a population of over 5,000. Number 100 on the list is Christ fellowship located in Miami, FL with a congregation of 5,518.

Interestingly,the median church in the U.S. has 75 regular participants in worship on Sunday mornings, according to the National Congregations Study http://www.soc.duke.edu/natcong/

Living in the United States, (and certain countries of the world) we are truly blessed to attend any church we desire. 3,000 or 30, to some the numbers do not matter. Back East, I attended a non-denominational church with a congregation of a couple hundred at each of its three Sunday services. Sunday evening there were about 300 people. As my faith grew as well as my knowledge of Scripture, it really didn’t matter to me how many were in attendance. My focus was and still is on the teachings of an excellent pastor. He taught from the Bible, not books about the Bible. A friend of mine has been attending Catholic services for over 5o years and cannot recall ever bringing a Bible to church with her on Sunday.

I had a ‘pop-up’ advertisement recently from Rick Warren ministries promoting his latest book, “The Purpose of Christmas.” Why would one who reads the Bible need to read a book such as this? This is one example that I discovered in that many of the mega-churches in the United States, the head pastor does a lot of promoting his or hers books. I understand that the sales of these books help offset costs of administering to other ministries here in the U.S. and abroad.  But a question remains: Are churches becoming more knowledgeable about ‘other’ books than the Bible? I don’t know the answer to that, but I have my suspicions.

The New York Times religious writer Laurie Goodstein reported that researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life.

On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.

Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.  The survey’s authors concluded that there was “widespread confusion” about “the line between teaching and preaching. (NY Times 9/28/10) (my italics and highlight)

As we approach the 400th year of the King James Bible (1611),I can’t help but wonder what a powerful unification there would be in all churches; large and small, if the Bible was the best selling book in that church, not the pastor’s.

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