Small is the New Big

Whenever someone would make a joke another person’s “size.” To keep it PG, I’m not talking about their height. Darryl would always concsole them with a reply like “don’t worry, small is the new big.” I think we all can learn, especially pastors, from this gem of advice.

Instead of all kinds of pastors from medium to small sized churches looking to their idols like Willow Creek and Saddle back and churches that are alike what if they started to look at churches that were involved in their communities in the town over. I was thinking today about how influential a massive 20, 000 person church is and exactly what kind of influence they have on all these wannabe churches. These massive mega-churches run conferences for all the wannabe churches and what does it do? Well it tells all these wannabe churches that they are missing out on something valuable that you can find in the seats of their sanctuaries. It tells you that these medium sized churches need what these big churches have in order to do things properly.

So all the medium sized church pastors go to these conferences and get inspired. They get inspired to do all these new innovative and creative ideas. They worked for the massive church so they should be able to work for the medium church. These pastors go home and start implementing these ideas. 40 days of purpose, 40 days of community, seeker sensitive initiatives, Alpha programs, kids ministry approaches, evangelism approaches, media approaches and all sorts of other great ideas. These pastors add another program to the list thinking that just maybe this will be the thing that catches and makes them bigger.

These medium sized churches try idea after idea and slowly thin themselves out over all the ideas that are spread throughout the churches. A few people run them all while the rest take them all in. These medium sized churches become nothing more than wannabe, burnt-out, drained and empty churches with nothing left to give because everything they’ve produced they’ve consumed themselves.

What if these medium sized church pastors started meeting with smaller congregational pastors of churches that are making impacts in small sections of their cities. What if a few pastors from a church of 500-600 in suburbia somewhere went and spent the day with the pastors of FRWY or NEXT. What if these pastors heard the stories that I heard? Well I know it would change their church. They would realize how far they have come from being a church that is changing their community around them. They would realize that their busyness and long list of programs isn’t anything to be proud of except numbers on a piece of paper. They would realize that simply staying true to the original commission is what its all about and it doesn’t need business-like institutions with volunteer committees to organize love.

Why do we look at buildings that fit more people as if they are more successful than a church of 100 changing the lives of people that live around them? We study Jesus who travelled with a church of twelve others, yet we study churches of twenty-thousand like they are the epitome of the proper way to do things. I’m not saying boycott these big churches, but I am saying that we are missing out on all the amazing things that God has to teach us in the small ones, the ones we never hear about. The ones that do their work in secret and don’t make it into a curriculum and then run a conference on it. Hunt out the churches that are small but doing crazy things in your community and ask them what makes their heart tick and ask them why they wake up in the morning and ask them to tell you some stories and then take your church leadership team to meet them and do it all over again and I promise you that slowly your leadership team will start to remember why they are there and what their churches purpose is and will get rid of all the things that are simply wannabes. God is in the small stuff just as much of as the big stuff, and we are missing out by pretending God exists only where the masses go.

8 thoughts on “Small is the New Big”

  1. “What if these pastors heard the stories that I heard? Well I know it would change their church. They would realize how far they have come from being a church that is changing their community around them. They would realize that their busyness and long list of programs isnt anything to be proud of except numbers on a piece of paper. They would realize that simply staying true to the original commission is what its all about and it doesnt need business-like institutions with volunteer committees to organize love.”

    nate… good thoughts. very true… i think the mid-sized church has definitely slipped into a bigger-is-better mentality, and has even used secular business principles to try and grow their churches, which is dangerous. the only thing i would caution you against is the implication that medium sized churches (your term) are ineffective. yes, a good number of them may have their focus off, in that, they are trying to use models/programs to make themselves bigger (which supposedly is better) and are, in turn, spreading themselves so thin. i just think the danger here is to think that because a church is using business models or church-growth methods (which i’m not a fan of at all) that they are ineffective… could they be more effective? definitely. do they have stories like the ones you’ve probably heard from smaller churches? yes, i’m sure. could some of these even have come from things like 40 days or alpha? sure. while the model and mentality behind these is not something i’m all for, i’m just not sure that the baby should be thrown out with the bathwater here…. by doing this, the smaller churches can easily fall into an elitist mentality, guilty of finger pointing and generalizing. i guess the real question in my mind is not, “Which is better… big or small?” (although lyd and i are looking for a small church out here), but it’s the mentality of the church-growth movement that needs to be attacked.
    maybe it’s just semantics and i’m overstating something you never intended… nevertheless… i think we totally need to rethink our idea of growth, success, and what embodying the mission of Christ really means for the Church today.

    thanks for processing this stuff out loud, nathan.

  2. Ya Aaron, You raise a good point. I’m not trying to attack sizes at all. But I’m trying to attack motivations more or less. If we look at a large church and automaticlly assume successful, odds are we look at a small church and assume unsuccessful. Both are inaccurate.

  3. I was outside waiting to go to work this morning and I saw a yellow bus with a huge sign “SARNIA CHRISTIAN SCHOOL” on the side and right next to it in a smaller sprint “where learning is better.” Man, they must have had like 6 meetings to prayfully consider that advertisement.

  4. it’s not about size, but about motivation or view of success.
    if I keep comparing myself to willow or mosaic or mars hill, and never look into what God wants me to do right where I am – that’s my biggest problem. I’ve fallen into the trap many times – I admit it – and it sucks – b/c it sucks the life out of you.
    What Aaron brought up about finger pointing is important too – there’s a fine line b/w knocking something b/c of it’s practices or b/c deep inside we’re jealous.
    as a practice, especially in a smaller church plant these days I try and speak positive about the big churches – just so I don’t fall into the trap of criticizing. It’s easy to say on my end: they’re not pursuing community, they’re not authentic, they’re all about numbers. That’s not necessarily the case just b/c they’re bigger. And as another practice, I try not to copy and paste from them, b/c they are not my goal; they’re gatherings and events are not my vision. I must have God’s vision for my community – or as Nathan already said: the commission we need to keep plugging away at in our own context.

  5. I am so thankful that we do not struggle with this issue. We are small, we plan to stay small (by creating new communities), we’re bivocational and plan to stay that way and we have an awesome bunch of revolutionaries who feel the exact same way. When I talk to all of our “burned out” pastor friends, it makes me want to just throw up my hands and scream Thank you Jesus that we only have 30 people. It’s a gift I tell ya.

  6. I think the whole wannabe thing is tiring. I’m tired of going to services where things were good only if the “show” was flawless and we had a packed out house. What’s the deal? I am frustrated with (I will speak from my own expereinces here-not generalizing at all) churches that model themselves after some other church who apparently has itself together. Some churches these days have an identity problem. We don’t know who we are, it seems we are struggling to figure out who we are, and instead of taking the time to figure it out, we think its easier to just transfer another bodies identity to our own. That doesn’t work. It doesn’t work in our own lives, just b/c we can’t figure out who we are ourselves, we can’t take on someone elses identity-well we can try, but it never works. I feel like we are a bunch of fake churches walking around and telling people to follow Jesus. And yet how can we do that when we the church aren’t truly following Christ and being who we are meant to be? I think God must look at us and shake his head sometimes, b/c often we, the church act like a bunch of confused prepubescent teenagers trying discover who we are. I am glad he has grace & a sense of humour…

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