When I was in high school, everyone went to The Huge Cool Church.
There were a lot of churches in our area, many homespun and rural and attended by congregants in the 50+ age range. The congregations were small, the amenities often bare-bones. But The Huge Cool Church was different. It was…well, huge, with a brand new refurbished building that sat smack in the middle of an affluent community and multiple high-end subdivisions. Perhaps more importantly, The Huge Cool Church had a brand new stage and contemporary music and a youth group that numbered in the hundreds- all this plus its own rec room complete with pinball machines and ping pong tables.
It seemed like everyone went to the Church. Even the other high schoolers who had their own unique home churches went to The Church’s youth group instead of their own. “Why wouldn’t you?” asked one girl I knew, wondering aloud why I remained at a tiny congregation with a Sunday School class of four and a youth group of eight. “We can do so much more.”
She wasn’t wrong. And oh, at the time, how I envied it. I, too, wanted ping pong tables and mission trips to exotic destinations. I wanted to sit in a folding chair listening to an electric guitar, not standing and singing the third verse of Just As I Am to the sound of our tiny choir and a single organ. I wanted to be cool. I wanted the necessary set of accoutrements to the proper Christian life. I wanted to drink coffee in the sanctuary. I wanted my church to be a destination.
I found my chance years later when my husband and I moved to a new city. We bypassed the small roadside churches with fifty cars in the lot for an enormous congregation in a recently-remodeled building. They offered contemporary music. Activities galore. Cool young-married groups and fellowship events. Mission statements, proposals, and outreach plans. And they had money to burn.
And you know what? There, at my Huge Cool Church, I started to long for what I’d left behind.
Because Huge Cool Churches are not without their problems. The congregation at ours was so big that, though we lingered in the same pew, we found ourselves sitting by new people literally every Sunday. People re-introduced themselves to us two and three times, forgetting they’d met us before. Small groups grew, formed, re-formed, and disappeared, leaving no lasting friendships in their wake. The church poured money into mission trips, small group curricula, and retreats, but apparently couldn’t pay a single member of their youth group enough to actually do individual Bible study outside of the building. Not being on Facebook became a liability.
We were lost in our Huge Cool Church.
And – funny enough – without a sense of family or community, the fellowship events started to wear us down. The contemporary music and elaborate staging and the superb preaching was great as always, but it also started to feel empty. Eventually, when my husband and I had the grim and startling realization that we could both drop dead without our congregation of multiple years so much as noticing or caring, we realized it was time to say goodbye.
Look. Maybe you go to a Huge Cool Church and you love it and it’s great and you feel a strong sense of belonging and community. If so, that’s great! There is nothing intrinsically wrong with Huge Cool Churches, though I believe they face a unique set of temptations and struggles that some smaller churches can avoid. I do encourage you, though, to realize that a Huge Cool Church is not the only, nor always the best, option for worship.
I know, I know. Their kids’ program is huge, and the tiny church down the street has one lady teaching a class of six kids of varying ages. The Huge Cool Church has so many options. But I think it can also be helpful to think small, too, and to realize that there are benefits offered by those small churches that, because of a lack of amenities or top-tier children’s programs, others might miss.
At the small church I attended as a child, I had the chance to talk about the Bible not just with other kids, but with adults of all genders and in all life stages. I was never cordoned off into a demographic. When something needed to get done, it was all hands on deck: everyone had a stake in what was happening in order for it to succeed, and we had to prioritize what really mattered since we didn’t have the funds to do every single thing we wanted. I made friends with dear elderly women, and older men, and teenagers far younger than me. I had the chance to teach classes and studies early on. I knew everyone, and everyone knew me. We noticed when someone was missing. The entire congregation snapped to attention whenever there was a need within the church.
Those things mattered to the formation of my Christian identity. They mattered a lot – far more than a wide range of missions trips or a new children’s wing or a ten-piece contemporary worship band.
I’m not here to tell you what kind of church is right for you. Only you and God can decide that. But what I can tell you is that it’s folly to choose or dismiss any church, big or small, on the basis of its coolness or its size. In the age of megachurches, it’s easy to believe that the church with the most toys or the highest attendance should win. But the amount of toys a church can offer or its relative hipness quotient has zero bearing on what matters, which is this: that it is Word-embracing, Christ-centered, and offers a place for believers to worship and serve the world and each other, together.
If you’re happy at your Huge Cool Church, good. If you love your small little roadside congregation, good. And if you don’t know where you belong? Then try both, without any preconceptions, and keep an open mind. You might surprise yourself with what you value most.