Understanding Your Church: Part 7 – The Independent Nation

Steve Petty
Written by Steve Petty


Churches which average more than 1,000 people in Sunday morning worship make up less than 1% of all churches nationwide and yet perhaps 10% of the population of church going people attends one of these churches.

When churches grow larger than 1,000 people in attendance they take on a distinctly differently demeanor. Somewhere above 700 they begin to recognize that they have less and less in common with the other churches around them.

Churches in this category tend to act independently of their denominations. They often prefer to select their own staff – including Sr. Pastors – outside the normal denominational channels. They often own camps and retreat centers, where they send their children and youth to the consternation of denominational camps.

Just as people taking vacations like to visit other countries, so too people like to visit these large nation churches. This is not surprising as we can see every trend in our society rushing toward bigger is better. People who go to Texas Stadium to watch the Dallas Cowboys play on Sundays experience a lot more than a football game. The entertainment factor is very high. Nation/churches are very similar; parking patrols herd all the cars to their approved places quickly, shuttles help people get to the front doors, the welcome space is bright and inviting, there are happy teams of people greeting the frequent and the first timers like old friends, bright flat screen TV’s abound in the hallways and the class rooms. There are a variety of choirs, musical ensembles, drama, dance, bands and bells, filling the worship space. Giant TV screens project everything from the preachers smiling face, to announcements and commercials for upcoming events, and sermon illustrations are from in house production groups. Sound systems rival those found at rock concerts. It is a great show!

Often times these churches become teaching churches, encouraging people from around the region and nation to come and see “How we became effective with the Gospel.” But there is little a pastor or lay team from a cat, collie, garden, or household can really learn here and take home. The Cat and Collie do not have the professional staff to implement the full program the same way an independent nation can. Attending these MegaChurch schools can lead to renewed vision, or defeating depression. Leaders from Mansions and Ranches will derive the best benefit from such schools.

The role of Sr. Pastor again takes a decided shift from the Rancher. Now, there is the added pressure of writing books, studies, stewardship materials, and being available to market them nationwide. There are opportunities to speak and lead at regional and national events. Yet the biggest pressure is still the operation of the local church with all the skills of a most capable Rancher.

Building the Independent Nation takes years, decades, and is usually accomplished by one Pastor who drives the organization forward with grace and passion. The long pastorate is both the primary strength and the fatal weakness of the Independent Nation. As long as he/she stays things are likely to go well. It is the transitions in the Independent Nation/Church that are extremely painful. Rare indeed is the church that can stay huge and transition from one pastor to another and keep their preaching pastor for twenty plus years each time.

For every nation that has thrived for twenty to fifty years, there are probably ten that have been created out of dust grown to several thousand members and returned to dust almost overnight (30 to 40 years).

For many Christians these Independent Nation/Churches are sources of pain and jealousy. They complain about how big and impersonal the big churches have become, while longing to be able to offer the same quality, or see their own parking lots full to overflowing.

Is your church feeling the frustration of not being able to compete with the local Independent Nation? Well, take heart, over 90% of the church going people do not worship there. Most of the church going public prefers to attend a smaller local church, finding comfort in the local Cat, Collie, Garden, House, Mansion that has nourished them and comforted them for years.

Is your church an Independent Nation?

Steve Petty