First Baptist Church of Ft. Lauderdale had 161 people in their sanctuary during worship this past Sunday. It’s fall from megachurch grace reminds me of the lines in a John Prine song,

“Poor old planet Pluto now, hewever stood a chance no how when he got uninvited to the interplanetary dance. Once a mighty planet there, now just an ordinary star, hanging out in Hollywood in some old funky sushi bar.”

I shouldn’t poke fun at the trouble in that congregation. Church work is hard these days, and I don’t blame that pastor for resigning.

I stopped at a church two blocks from my home recently, the First Baptist Church of the small town where I live in South Carolina. Their newly installed church sign announced a new pastor. “Tell me about your church,” I asked, after polite introductions. “We are down to 35 people,” he said, slowly. My mind surveyed the acres of land and number of buildings now under the ministry of this young man.

I did not know what to say, but I did know how to feel: sympathy.  He and I share some things in ministry and also some big differences. But that did not keep me from feeling his pain. He is trying to rescue a long-established, traditional congregation from the fate of so many other churches.

Like Flat Rock Missionary Baptist Church. It sits on the way to my small congregation in Hendersonville, North Carolina. “There were only three families left,” the Orthodox priest explained to me two weeks ago. “We made a bid on the facilities, but the Catholics offered them more money.”

The selling price was more than a half million dollars.

Who knew there were Orthodox people organized in a congregation in this small town in western North Carolina. They are affiliated with the American Carpatho Orthodox Church. What that means requires referral to an earlier column but suffice it to say they are part of the larger Greek Orthodox tradition under the authority of the Patriarch of Istanbul.

I doubt they have any megachurches in the United States. That would require an average Sunday/Weekend attendance of at least 2,000 people. There are more than 1,700 such congregations in the country. That was before COVID and doesn’t count Roman Catholic parishes, which (according to recent Meetinghouse guest Dr. Scott Thumma) have a very different structure and community life than those in the Protestant/Pentecostal/Evangelical world).

It wasn’t COVID that crushed the aforementioned congregation in Ft. Lauderdale. Lots of other factors played a role, as they generally do in the decline of any church. Such as neighborhood demographics and change of leadership.

There are, however, more than 125 other megachurches in Florida, according to the once-every-decade survey of 2020. Of these, 32 are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, 16 are connected with a Pentecostal denomination, 64 are unconnected to any denomination, 38 are associated with a wide assortment of networks, and the researchers do not know about the other eight.

I know about my congregation, though. We have averaged 25 in the sanctuary over the last three weeks, with about that many connecting on line.  There are another quarter hundred who only read our newsletter, and about that many people who show up each Sunday afternoon when we serve a hot meal to anyone who needs it.

That means about one hundred people have some connection to our congregation. This makes us a micro-church.

We are optimistic about our future, but many churches our size are not. Hundreds are closing every month. Some of these own property worth far more than that church in Flat Rock mentioned above. And there are organizations assisting these churches in selling their assets and investing the proceeds in some sort of gospel work: congregations, organizations, ministries, and such.

Church life is not easy, and that is true for megachurches as well as micro-churches. One thing is certain, though: the Christian community needs both, and both will continue to thrive and shape the life and work of believing people. With a car, the large parts (say, for instance, the tires) are no more important than the small parts (say, for instance, the computer chips). The car requires both.

Same for our religion. Everybody—the large, the small, and all those in-between—needs to embrace what God has called us to be where God has placed us for these days of mission and ministry. It’s OK to be who you are.

Or, as John Prine put it in another song, “You are what you are, and you ain’t what you ain’t.”


Dwight A. Moody

Published On: March 14th, 2023 / Categories: Commentary /

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