Don’t Despise the Size

Tiny horseI spent too many years telling good people that the way they wanted to do church was wrong.

These people weren’t heel-draggers or vision-killers.

Not all of them. Not most of them.

They weren’t the grasshoppers. I was.

They were followers of Jesus who attended the church I was pastoring because they found their spiritual and emotional needs met there. And they felt inspired enough by the spiritual guidance they received to want to share it with others.

They didn’t need me or anyone else telling them they weren’t doing it right simply because one of the main things that attracted them to the church – its small, personal nature – was somehow inadequate, or worse, a mistake.

But I did tell them that. Through myriad subtle and not-so-subtle teachings and behaviors, I did to them what had been done to me. I made them feel less valued because they weren’t as big as some false sense of success told them they should be.

All the people we saw there are of great size. … We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them. – Numbers 13:32-33

Don’t let anyone look down on (despise – KJV) you because you are young. – 1 Timothy 4:12

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by size, do you? – Yoda


If Big Equals Successful, What Does Small Equal?

Big things can be inspiring.

They can also be intimidating.

When the Hebrew spies checked out the Promised Land, they all came back with the same report. It’s a great land! A wealthy land! A HUGE land! Two of them were inspired by the massive size of it, the other ten were intimidated.

When Paul appointed Timothy to pastor the fledgling Ephesian church, Timothy was so young that Paul felt it necessary to remind Timothy not to let anyone despise his young age.

I hate to admit this, but as a Small Church pastor I have allowed myself to feel intimidated and despised by big church pastors on many occasions.

Most Small Church pastors know the feeling.

We have a culture, especially in the western, anglo church, of equating size with success. Thus, every book I have ever read about various church sizes begins with the premise that churches of one size need to remove whatever obstacles are stopping them from becoming a church of the next size larger.

Onward and upward.

Here are the American stats, according to Carl F. George: “At the 100 mark, your church has become larger than 60 percent of your peers’; at 140, 75 percent; at 200, 80 percent; at 350, 93 percent; and by 500, 95 percent.” So 93% of American churches (under 350) are small, while 80% (under 200) are very small.

If size equals success, then 93% of pastors are unsuccessful, bad at their jobs and inadequate at fulfilling their calling, while 80% are very bad at their jobs – a number I escape being a part of, but barely.

So 80% to 93% of pastors are failures? Can that be right?


Half of all Christians in America, and far more than half of Christians worldwide attend a Small Church, not because they lack options, but – shockingly – they go to a Small Church because they want to! And no one has the right to tell them they are wrong to feel that way.

Wanting to worship and serve God in a Small Church is not a theological error or a personality deficit.

It’s time we stopped treating it as though it was.

Today’s post was an excerpt from
The Grasshopper Myth: Chapter 4 – Don’t Despise the Size

So what do you think? Is wanting to be in a Small Church wrong? If you’re a Small Church pastor, have you ever felt intimidated by bigger churches? Have you ever projected those feeling onto your congregation?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.

(Little Plastic Horse photo by astanush • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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2 thoughts on “Don’t Despise the Size”

  1. When I was growing up as a kid, I often babysat for a couple, the wife of whom was and still is one of my own mother’s best friends. Over the years, that couple became millionaires, then multi-millionaires, and then more. The house they live in now is big, and I mean VERY big, and as you might expect, the house is full of beautiful artwork and furniture. The last time I was there, they had one small room, no bigger than my own small living room, and in that room they had many of the same furnishings they had when I babysat for them many years earlier. It was in no small way, their old living room, cluttered, and eclectic, and you wouldn’t know it was there unless you looked. It’s also where they still spend nearly all their time when they are home.

    I suppose it’s easy to make the mistake of equating size with success, even though I would imagine one of the greatest struggles in any big church is acting small. I’m sure most members try to find that small room in the big church where it really feels like home. If that’s the case, how can small ever be bad?

    In some sense, it’s very difficult for me to accept that any pastor might equate size with success, especially since there’s no mention of church size in The Great Commission. I suppose there’s an awful lot of bad theology out there being taught, so why shouldn’t I expect the same in the math? Guess I should consider myself lucky that I found a small church where the theology is rock solid and the Chief Mathematician doesn’t confuse growth with size.

    1. You’re dead on, Brian.

      I think you’d be surprised at how bigness gets equated with faithfulness, success and obedience to the great commission in the minds of a lot of pastors.

      Your voice from the churchgoers side of the ledger is what we need to hear more often. Smallness, and the genuine sense of community that can only come from intimacy is what churchgoers crave, far more than pastors like me usually realize.

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