My husband and I attend what is now known as a "mega church" that is "multi-site". Each week more than 9,000 people attend eight area campuses. Of course, it didn't begin like that. It started out as 13 people with five of them related to the pastor and two people who said after the first service that it wasn't for them and they would not be returning. They didn't.
They did portable church for a few years meeting first at an elementary school and later at a middle school before, due to the increase in size, they leased a space in an industrial warehouse. A short time later, the owner of the warehouse asked if they would be interested in purchasing the property and after much prayer they took a leap of faith and did just that. Now it just so happened there were other tenants in that warehouse such as Walmart that were leasing space. There was also a cellphone tower on the property so the cell phone carrier pays rent for land-usage. You can see where this is going. God provided financially beyond tithes and offerings.
As the church grew even more, they added a second Sunday service and then a Saturday service. They began talking about not renewing leases with their tenants because they were going to need the space themselves. It was at that point my husband and I began to attend there and they were averaging about 900 people.
I have to tell you that I was really nervous when God put this church on our radar and told us to go there. My husband and I had not just always attended small church, we attended very small churches that typically ranged between 25-50 people. For a couple of years, while in college, we attended a church that averaged about 300 people but that was it.
Our old church had moved about 10 miles further north at a time when we had moved about 20 miles further south. We couldn't shake the feeling in our heart that God had brought us to this new community to serve here. Since we did not have a child in school anymore and we did not work in the community, connecting with new people would be more of a challenge. It was time for us to look for a church in our own back yard.
I didn't know it at the time but before we walked through the door that very first time, my husband had told the Lord that if no one shook his hand, he would not be returning. He did not want to go to a large church. He did not want to get lost in the crowd. We got out of our car and walked to the outer door. Someone was standing there and they shook our hands and opened the door for us. We stepped inside and there was someone waiting to open the inner door for us and shake our hands. We stepped into the foyer and there was someone standing there ready to shake our hand and told us to be sure to get some free coffee (or water) and doughnuts.
As we stood in the foyer, looking around, various people came up to us, said, "I don't believe we have met before. I'm _. Nice to meet you." and of course, they shook our hands. Someone stood outside the sanctuary door when we went through, they shook our hand. After worship service, yep you got it. We were told to introduce ourselves to those around us and shake their hand. The process was repeated on the way out except we then walked around the building to another section where we attended a meet and greet with the pastor who of course...shook our hands. We got the message.
Still, there was the concern about getting "lost in the crowd" but we'd heard the pastor encouraging everyone to check out small groups... and get connected. As I purused the small groups online, I noticed something interesting. None of these small groups met at the church and they weren't simply Bible studies. There were special interest groups like this one here... Hmm... "Adventures In Eating". This group, led by one of the pastor who had grown up on the mission field, would meet each week at one of the many ethnic restaurants in the Twin Cities. We would have a devotional and discussion during dinner but we would also do something else. We would get to know one another. My husband and I joined that group and we were off.
Today more than 9,000 people attend eight campuses. I thought we would get "lost in the crowd" but we didn't and the reason we didn't is because this church understood the importance of the small group. I was acquainted with the small group concept actually. The denomination I grew up in had them only they called them "Prayer Bands" and it primarily consisted of getting together with the nine other people who were in your band once a month and having a prayer meeting. You had a short time of fellowship afterwards, usually accompanied by a dessert or other snacks and went home until the next one.
The small groups at this new church were different. Yes, you had groups that concentrated on prayer or came together to further discuss the sermon. You certainly had groups that had Bible studies but you also had groups that shared a common interest and incorparated that into their group. Our pastor once told me he had been interested in learning how to scuba dive so he started a small group for people who wanted to learn how to scuba dive. Each week they met to scuba dive and then went out to a coffee shop where they studied the Word of God and got to know one another on a more personal level. They shared their struggles, shared their victories and helped and encouraged one another. Isn't that what "church" is supposed to do?
The first small group my husband and I joined was called "Adventures In Eating". This group was led by one of the pastors who had been born and raised on the mission field. Each week we would visit one of the many ethnic restaurants in the Twin Cities area and he would share his knowledge about that country as well as the need. We would do an ice-breaker (because new people would join the group) and had an open-ended question that we would answer and discuss. We had some great discussions. We also had the opportunity to get to know people in a casual environment.
When I was going through cancer, my husband and I belonged to a couple of different small groups and these were the people who brought meals to our door, prayed for us and encouraged us. Today, I belong to a small group, that while it does not meet together, it is made up of people who volunteer to bring meals to the families of those who are sick or have suffered loss. I have to tell you, I have only taken meals to people I've actually known just a couple of times. Most of the time, I have no idea who these people are but that's part of the beauty of a "mega church". You are always meeting new people.
My husband and I are the prayer team leads at the 9:30 a.m. service on Sundays. Last night we treated one of the couples on the prayer team to dinner. We had met them a couple of years ago when they were at our house for a small group about managing your finances. We had occasionally talked about trying to get together but of course, life gets busy. It was especially busy for them as they had four teenage boys at home when we first met them.
We finally got together though and had a great evening of fellowship, laughter and even prayer. As we stood out in the cold, saying our goodbyes, they told us they had seriously been thinking about hosting a get-together for people on the prayer team. The husband loves to barbecue and when the weather gets warmer...
We smiled and said, "Go for it! We will definitely be there if we can!"
"Doing Church Together". It is not about walking in the door, sitting down in a pew (or on a chair), singing a few songs (usually three), saying a prayer, taking up an offering, listening to a sermon, prayer, shaking hands and walking out the door until you return and do it all again next week. It is about "doing life together" as you all do life with Jesus Christ and we can do that whether we attend a small church or a mega church. The only difference is while small groups maybe optional for the small church (because you are already in a small group ) small groups are critical for the large church.