No, not all of them. Not even most of them. But there are too many of them.
I doubt even one of the bullies realizes it. But they’re bullies, just the same.
Yes, that’s a strong accusation to make. I haven’t written it lightly. It’s the result of a great deal of thought, prayer and experience. And it may be a little surprising if you’ve read my recent post, 12 Ways to Disagree Online Without Being a Jerk.
But I stand by it.
It’s because I don’t think the bullies intend to be bullies that I’m using such a strong term – to help them see the hurt they’ve been causing to a certain segment of their fellow Christians and church leaders.
Small Churches and their leaders have suffered under the bullies for years. But no one has dared say it out loud. So I’m saying it today, because we can’t fix a problem until we acknowledge it.
Small Church pastors often feel bullied and insulted by the very church leaders we go to for help.
This problem is real. It’s hurtful. And it needs to stop.
Why I Call It Bullying
What else would you call it when “small church” is commonly used as a synonym for “ignorant”, “backwards” and “faithless”? After all, that’s the assumption in the following quotes:
- “That’s just small church thinking”
- “Small churches are stuck in the past”
- “Many churches are unfriendly and that’s why they’re small”
- “Small churches are small because of a failure in leadership”
- “Small churches refuse to adapt to new realities and that’s why they stay small”
- “I don’t like small churches”
- “I’m so sick of people with a small church mentality”
- “If a church isn’t growing, it’s disobedient”
- “It’s OK for a church to be small – for a little while”
- “If a pastor is good at his job the church grows. If he’s bad at his job the church shrinks.”
And my all-time [ahem] favorite is some version of…
- “I’ve got nothing against small churches, but…”
Yes, every one of those is an actual quote that I’ve either heard or read in the past few months. That’s how church growth leaders regularly talk about us – their Small Church partners in ministry.
I have intentionally not linked the quotes to their sources, because I don’t want to personalize this. But if you’re a Small Church pastor, those phrases sound very familiar, don’t they?
You might not choose to call such phrases bullying, but what you can’t call them is encouraging, helpful or kind.
And they sure feel like bullying to those on the receiving end.
Can you imagine any other normative member of the body of Christ being regularly referred to in such negative ways by church leaders, with no one raising an eyebrow about it? But they’re said about Small Churches all the time. And from some of the most honored and prominent church leaders in the world.
Insulting Small Churches Isn’t Kind, Helpful or Christian
How is it OK to insult fellow believers just because they worship and minister in Small Churches? And why do so many other church leaders, who would never say such things themselves, turn a deaf ear to it?
It’s not OK. So here’s my plea to church leaders who have used such phrases.
Stop insulting us and start encouraging us.
Stop being bullies and start being our friends. I know that’s what you want to do.
Yes, I’m calling you out.
If you’re OK with insulting Small Churches just because they’re small, realize that you’re inflicting unnecessary pain on 80-90% of the world’s churches and pastors. And on half of the Christians in the world who choose to worship Jesus in smaller settings.
- The big guys insulting the small guys? That is bullying.
- Assuming the worst because a church is small? That is bullying.
- Calling pastors failures because their church isn’t growing like you think it should? That is bullying.
- Using “small church” as a insulting adjective? That. Is. Bullying.
Yes, there are Small Churches that are sinful, insulated, unfriendly, unbiblical and inward-focused. And many of them don’t grow numerically because of that. I wrote about those churches in a post entitled, I Don’t Like the Same Small Churches You Don’t Like. But their problem isn’t their size, it’s their sin.
Remember, there are sinful, insulated, unfriendly, unbiblical and inward-focused big churches, too. But their size has nothing to do with their sin, either.
Yes, Big Churches Get Insulted Too – And It’s Just As Wrong
If you think I’m being over-sensitive, or that I’m forgetting all the insults that are hurled at big churches, I’m not.
I actually spoke out against those who insult big churches long before I spoke out against those who insult Small Churches. It was the subject of one of my first blog posts, Hi, I’m Karl and I’m NOT a Megachurch Basher.
So no, Small Churches aren’t overly sensitive. And we don’t need anyone’s pity. But we need to stop accepting these insults as business-as-usual. Our silence helps no one.
Church Growth Is Not Optional
The church growth movement has brought some great blessings to the body of Christ. Their emphasis on the Great Commission is a constant reminder to be less selfish and more outward-focused.
Church growth is a good thing. An important thing. An essential thing.
People need Jesus. When they come to Jesus, they need to join a church. That means the church will grow if it is healthy. It must grow if it is to be faithful to Jesus’ commands. The church growth movement has elevated that non-optional part of the gospel.
So any church that settles for “this is all we have and all we need” isn’t just settling, they’re sinning.
But church growth doesn’t mean that every church will experience numerical increase. And it doesn’t give anyone the right to insult Small Churches for not experiencing that numerical growth.
Here’s An Alternative
I want the church to grow. I want my church to grow. Every hard-working, passionate, prayerful Small Church pastor I know wants that, too.
But constantly being told in blog posts, books and seminars that our churches are small because we’re stupid, lazy and sinful doesn’t encourage us, it discourages, sometimes disables us. And it’s caused a lot of good, faithful pastors to give up on ministry entirely.
We know our churches are small. And we’ve tried to get bigger.
- Don’t criticize us. Encourage us.
- Don’t insult us. Support us.
- Don’t insist we get bigger. Help us get healthy.
Let’s start with a moratorium on lists about what were doing wrong. I wrote about why this matters in a post entitled, Please Stop Writing “Here’s Why Your Church Isn’t Growing” Lists – They Don’t Help. How about writing a bunch of “Let’s Encourage and Help Our Small Churches Get Strong and Healthy” articles, instead?
If you’re a church leader, there’s no way for me to describe to you how a series of articles and talks with that change of focus would bless thousands of hurting Small Churches and their leaders. You could literally save people’s ministries. I know because, even with my very limited reach, I’ve heard dozens of such testimonies back from pastors based on what I’ve written on this blog and in my book, The Grasshopper Myth.
We’re In This Together
Please don’t think we’re just asking for your help. The blessing should never flow just one way. We want to learn all we can from you. But I think you’d be surprised at what you can learn from us, too.
Small Churches and their leaders are the church’s boots-on-the-ground in communities around the world. If we worked together and combined your resources and wisdom with Small Church relationships and access, only God himself knows what could be accomplished.
But let me warn you, reaching out to Small Church pastors with a message of hope and help won’t be easy. There are a lot of broken bridges and damaged trust. The wounds are deep.
It starts by refusing to use “small church” as an insult and a term of derision. Only then will we have a fighting chance to see Small Churches as the asset and blessing that they are.
So what do you think? Do you have any ideas helping the body of Christ heal these wounds?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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