When it comes to church size, some in the faith-based community argue why bigger is better? They will point to not having cliques, the ability to meet more like-minded Christians, or the wide range of ministry opportunities.
Yet many prefer the more family-centered atmosphere of a small house of worship where everyone seemingly knows your name.
Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, with its two Northwest Philadelphia campuses, is looked at as one of the city’s megachurches. With more than 5,000 members and a state-of-the-art edifice sitting on 34 acres of land it is one of the area’s largest congregations. Yet the Rev. Alyn Waller said there are many blessings and challenges in being senior pastor of Enon.
Waller spoke at the inaugural lecture of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia’s Exploring Series. His lecture was “Reflections on a Ministry Career of Facilitating Extraordinary Congregational Growth.” The session was held in the Schaeffer-Ashmead Chapel on the LTSP campus, 7301 Germantown Ave. in Mount Airy on Saturday, Nov. 1.
“Indeed it is an honor to introduce our speaker for this inaugural series,” said the Rev. Dr. Quinton Robertson, director of the LTSP Urban Theological Institute and interim pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Germantown. Robertson read Waller’s resume pointing out that he became pastor of Enon in 1994 after leading a very small church in western Pennsylvania.
Waller said that all churches are in “challenging times” even though some may accuse larger congregations, like Enon “of Wal-Marting of the church.” He assured those present that Enon has experienced what he called “vibrant growth.” Yet even that growth has plateaued, he said.
The senior pastor then traced the evolution of the Black church with the time “when Negroes went to church.” Then he pointed out to a more contemporary African American church that began to emerge in 1988. He said that this came on the heels of the Pan African movement when many were saying that the Black church was no longer relevant to people of color. Simultaneously there was “a megachurch movement” happening from Southern California through the Bible belt in the southern states.
“I bless God for the experience of Enon,” Waller said. Yet he said, many were raising questions about the traditional theology that the churches were preaching. They were questioning the color of Jesus, the role of the church, and the relevancy of the church.
The church cautioned them to be quiet and accept that Jesus was their Messiah and even noted that “that’s the wrong question,” according to Waller. “Then a whole generation, particularly here in Philadelphia, walked out of church,” he said.
Then the prosperity message of some larger churches drew in a new generation. “We need to be honest that the housing boom became a bust and the prosperity gospel was found to be fraud,” Waller said.
Yet there are some authentic larger churches who serve God, Waller said. The advantage is that they can do community outreach, contribute to larger causes, and provide programming that often a smaller congregation cannot. They do this without burdening those who cannot afford to contribute since there are many more members. He said that Enon “can give $65,000” an amount a small congregation would likely not be able to.
Waller said some large churches have become like huge markets trying to supply everything. He said he sees Enon more as a specialty chain store that does what it does well. His remarks were followed by an interactive question and answer session.
The Exploring Series at LTSP aims to help church leaders of all denominations explore topics and issues that are current and compelling for those who provide leadership in Christian congregations and communities. To get more information and hear Waller’s full lecture visit http://ltsp.edu/exploringseries.