Blinded By Bigness: Appreciating Smallness In a Big Church World

Nose to PoleIf my life had gone according to my plans, I would not be pastoring a Small Church today.

I’d be pastoring a big church.

Because I like big churches. I wanted a big church.

As it turns out, a Small Church is better for me. It’s better for my ministry, my soul and my easily-inflated ego.

I’m glad my life doesn’t always go according to my plans.

No, Small Churches aren’t better for everyone. But they are for a lot of people. I happen to be one of those people.

My appreciation for big things – especially big new things – probably has more to do with the culture I live in than my actual personal desires. It’s not about the true longing of my soul as much as it is about  what I’ve been told I should like.

Sometimes I’m blinded by bigness.

I think a lot of people share my struggle, including pastors. We don’t know if Small Church or big church is better for us, because we like big things. And sometimes what we like blinds us to what’s best for us.

 

We Need Big and Small

So I’m a Small Church guy. I’ve come to accept that. Even embrace it.

But being drawn to small settings for worship is not universal – no matter what all the contemplative devotional books insist. Nor should it be. For every “still, small voice” passage in scripture, there are probably two “shout to the Lord” verses.

While my soul is nourished in the smaller, more intimate moments, not everyone’s soul works that way.

I’m an introvert, so that probably has a lot to with needing bucketloads of silence, smallness and aloneness to renew my energy and reconnect with God.

But I know a lot of people who aren’t inspired by small, intimate moments. They’re energized by crowds, fun and excitement. They’re drawn closer to God by being in a large, worshiping crowd that reminds them they’re not alone in their faith.

Sure, there’s a tendency for selfishness in the size debate – on both sides. There are people in Small Churches who don’t want to make room for anyone else. And there are people in big churches with a selfish, consumerist mindset. But neither of those realities invalidates what big and small both have to offer.

 

Why We Like It Big

The challenge, especially in a culture that takes its cues from big cities, Hollywood blockbusters, massive sports franchises and the extroverts who run them, is that we’re being taught to believe that bigger is always better.

That thinking has infiltrated the church. Especially in the western world. 

A bigger house is better than a smaller one. A bigger business is better than a smaller one. A bigger meal is better than a smaller one. And you’re gonna need a bigger boat, right?

So a bigger church must be better than a smaller church.

Sure, we substitute the word “growing” for “big”, but if the growth we’re referring to is numerical, we think a growing church will always become a bigger church. Add to that, the relentless mantra of “all healthy things grow” and we’ve convinced ourselves that “healthy” and “growing” really mean “bigger”. So bigger is always the goal. Because bigger must be better.

 

What’s Better than Bigger?

The truth is, our relentless, obsessive drive for bigger church isn’t because there’s any evidence that bigger church is better. In fact, if you really want the church to grow, there’s a lot of evidence that smaller is better. Check out my previous post, Are You Serious about Worldwide Church Growth? Support Small Churches, for more on this phenomenon.

Let’s be honest. We want bigger church because we like big things.

Sure, bigger is better for some people. But it isn’t for others.

So how do we discover what’s best for us, our family, our spiritual growth and our opportunities for discipleship when the relentless drive for bigness tends to blind us to other possibilities?

Let’s start by realizing that bigger isn’t always better. That growth, even healthy growth, doesn’t always lead to increasing numbers. As I wrote in The Grasshopper Myth,

Yes, all healthy things grow. But growth is never as simple as older equals taller or healthy equals bigger. A pea will never be the size of a pumpkin and a rose won’t ever reach the height of a redwood no matter how much you water them, fertilize them or teach them redwood growth principles. It’s just not in their nature. All healthy, living things reach their optimal size at maturity, then they grow in different ways from that point on.

Giant redwoods are inspirational. Giant roses are freaky. Alice In Wonderland freaky. Because roses aren’t supposed to be 100 feet tall.

Maybe you and your church are roses. You’re not supposed to be 100 feet tall. You’re supposed to be a healthy, strong rose bush. Your task is to grow more beautiful roses, not bigger ones.

So if you’re pastoring a Small Church, and pushing for bigness that isn’t coming, pause for a moment and consider that you may not be a tiny redwood, you may be a healthy rose.

 

So what do you think? Can we agree to love and support each other, even if we don’t like the way the other guy does church?

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(Nose to Pole photo from Liskasbub • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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4 thoughts on “Blinded By Bigness: Appreciating Smallness In a Big Church World”

  1. Very good Karl. Always challenging my thinking. I wonder how the two perspectives have affected people in general. In my church, which is a new church plant reaching mostly unchurched people and has a small sanctuary, I’ve noticed that people try really hard to hide themselves from being noticed too much. That is difficult to do in my church! You will be noticed, greeted and engaged with a normal, friendly welcome. I notice as many people as possible cram into the last few rows of chairs and very few fill out our Connection Cards in spite of our “no hassle” guarantee. Of course, some people love it small, but the majority seem like they’re standing on a stage in front of a thousand people.

  2. Recently I participated in a meet the college student day at our local Bible college. This is the main ministry training school for my denomination. The college invited the churches surrounding the school, to come and meet the students. The school makes it mandatory for students to be part of a local church for ministry credit. It was great participating in the chapel service. It was great being part of a day where the vast majority of churches represented were small. Average attendance, 40-50. However, it was interesting that the speaker was the pastor of the city’s largest church with the largest staff (4 full time, 4 part time). The presentment welcomed and identified the pastors of the two largest city churches. When it came to meet and greet the students, guess which churches had the largest line up of students seeking opportunities for ministry? I do not fault the school. It is indicative of a church culture that worships big and contemporary, and shuns small and normal.

    1. Wow. Not surprised. And who probably could REALLY use the help the most? How I wish we could snap our fingers and change mindsets!

  3. I like you Karl…and I like the way you think. Thanks for speaking up for the committed, passionate (but frustrated and sometimes demeaned and devalued) small church pastors of this world. As Swindoll used to say, “May their tribe increase!”

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