Advantages of a large ministry

Giant Redwood among smaller trees

freeimages.com/Gavin Mills

If I told you that we were going to visit a church called The Chapel on Fir Hill, what would you expect? Well, I did visit this church (about 1990) and when I arrived at the church, I was shocked to say the least! This ‘chapel’ turned out to be a 209,000 s.f. building and there were 5,000 people in the church the day that I visited it. At the time, I was suspicious of large churches and thought small to mid-sized churches were best. This church gave me a whole new appreciation for the value of very large ministries. Here’s why.

The Chapel served more meals in a week than any restaurant in Akron. They had a feeding program for everyone it seemed. They had an entire three storey WING just for youth ministry. They didn’t have a singles group; they had singles groups for single and widowed, single and divorced, single and looking, and single and happy to be single. They didn’t just have a support group for people dealing with issues. They had support groups for cancer (three different kinds of cancer, as I recall), for grief, for broken families and on and on. And the library! They had a very large, impressive library, but then in an adjacent room were all the resources a pastor could ever want, including a rare book collection with at least one first edition of a 200 or 300 year old commentary. It was AMAZING.

Large ministries are the minority

Regional churches such as this one are large enough that they can specialize and provide programs that few smaller churches could possibly provide. (In 2003, 74% of all Canadian evangelical churches had fewer than 150 attendees.) The large concentration of people enabled the church to move beyond providing basic services to offering very specific, targetted services that met specialized needs. It is, in fact, a resource to all the churches in Akron. And that is an advantage to being big. I never again felt that large churches were out of place. Large churches and agencies help the church fulfill its mission in ways that smaller organizations can’t. Large and small churches both have their places.

Very few Christian ministries in Canada are large. In my last post I gave some statistics showing how small most Canadian ministries are. Based on the 22,000 T3010’s for Christian ministries that we have in our database at CCCC, here are some stats for the larger ministries:

  • Only 1,179 ministries (6%) report more than $1 million in total revenue, and only 96 (0.6%) have more than $10 million
    • As a matter of interest, about half of the ministries with more than $1 million are members of CCCC (and all but 14 of the ones over $10 million are members)*
  • Only 6.5% report ten or more employees, and only 317 (1.4%) report having more than 30
    • I’m highly suspicious of this number because a huge number of charities leave the line for employees blank. Do they have no employees or are they not filling the form out correctly? Nevertheless, the stats are what they are

Advantages of large ministries

Here are some of the advantages that large ministries provide to the mission of God and some of the responsibilities that go with their size. It is possible that some smaller ministries may have some of these benefits too, but it is not likely that very many would.

  • A small ministry works hard just to run its programs, but then it also has to fundraise, do all the administration and look after the myriad of other things that have to happen to make the ministry work. (This is one reason why the CCCC exists – to help charities of all sizes with these supporting functions so they can concentrate more on their core missions!)  A larger ministry not only has the staff to do all of that, but it can also have staff who work on the ministry rather than in the ministry. I got that idea from a secular business writer, Michael Gerber, who wrote The E-myth Revisited – required reading for any entrepreneur, including ministry entrepreneurs. I’m not completely sold on everything he writes in the book, but I do think he’s got a gem of an idea as it applies to organizational leadership! Larger ministries can have people with the time to think deeply about their mission and become thought-leaders in their fields. In a ministry that overlaps with the secular sphere’s interests (such as relief work), they can speak out and be respected in the public sphere.
  • Larger ministries have the capacity and infrastructure to take on a leadership role in much larger projects than most ministries could handle. In overseas development work, for example, their ability to handle large, comprehensive projects that cover a region and not just a neighbourhood gives them credibility that may open doors to leverage Christian donations with government funding. Rather than dealing with fifty small organizations, government funding agencies can deal with one or two large ones.
  • Not only do large ministries have the people to handle larger projects, they also have the ability to raise significantly more funds than a small ministry can, and therefore can respond to more complex, expensive opportunities than a small ministry can. There are a number of very large inner-city missions across Canada that I’ve toured that have developed some very exciting and comprehensive programs, but they required millions of dollars to implement them.
  • While large ministries undoubtedly have more management overhead, good management results in more efficient operations. And since there are more programs to allocate the overhead to, a large ministry is likely more efficient than a number of small ministries each running just a few programs, especially when one evaluates outcomes rather than simply outputs.
  • Beneficiaries benefit from large ministries too. Looking again at a large inner-city mission, it can provide its beneficiaries with a complete solution, such as a shelter combined with training for job skills and addiction counselling.
  • With size comes responsibility (Luke 12:38). Their size makes large ministries a highly visible witness to the world of Christian love and compassion at work. This may be a side of Christianity that many people aren’t aware of, and these ministries may be the only Christian witness these people encounter. Large ministries should make sure their Christian identity is known.
  • A corollary of the last point is that since they do have such high public visibility, they will be seen by the public as representative of Christian ministries. This means that all the more care must be taken by large ministries to protect the reputation of our faith. If their practices are unbecoming a Christian ministry, all Christian ministries are discredited to a degree because of our shared identification with Jesus Christ. So for this reason alone, even if there were no biblical basis for accountability to the body of Christ (which there is), they are accountable to us (and, of course, to the Lord himself!).
  • Christian agencies provide a means for people to work together across denominational boundaries. They provide “neutral territory” based on a common belief in the essentials of the Christian faith. They are therefore a powerful witness to the unity of the people of God. The large ministries, which are more likely to have a broad cross-section of the church represented among their staff and volunteers, should be sure to add to their primary mission a secondary mission of demonstrating the unity that can be achieved while respecting the diversity of denominational distinctives. At every opportunity, I tell reporters and others that the CCCC membership reflects a broad cross-section of our faith and not just a few particular denominations.

So both large and small ministries have something to contribute to the work of the church. This begs the question, if I have an idea for a new ministry, should I start my own or try to get an existing ministry to take it on?  I’ll address that in the next post.

* I revised these stats after looking at the actual list produced by the database.  There were, in fact, a number of non-Christian charities included in the stats as originally published in this post.

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