We live in a world that thinks bigger is better, but that’s not always true
Our modern-day society evaluates things based on size. We celebrate magnitude, with bigger being better.
This includes church. We often assume that bigger churches, in terms of both facility and attendance, equates to God’s sure blessing and his implicit approval. But we are wrong to do so.
I once attended a conference where many of the attendees were ministers. Invariably every conversation I had with a pastor included a mention of or a question about church size. I expected this and resolved not to play their game.
Some wanted admiration, but I refused to stroke their narcissism. Other pursued affirmation, and I determined not to falsely feed into their insecurities. This happened with every conversation. The social time at this conference drained me.
No one was content with the size of their church. Everyone wanted to lead a big (or bigger) congregation—or at least head a fast-growing church. It seemed these pastors’ esteem or paycheck was at stake. This doesn’t seem God-honoring.
Though businesses talk about rightsizing and downsizing, I never hear of churches thinking that way. And while businesses often divest themselves of assets and product lines that don’t align with their goals, and thereby lose customers in the process, churches seldom do. Though we shouldn’t run a church like a business, perhaps this is one lesson we should learn from corporate America.
Instead of pursuing church growth strategies, maybe we should look for ways to shrink our churches. Might we experience greater spiritual success if our gatherings were smaller?
Here are some ways to shrink our churches:
Think Small: Large churches, as well as some medium-sized churches, struggle in helping people form connections and build community. This is the impetus behind the small group concept. What a large Sunday gathering can’t provide to attendees, small groups can—assuming they’re run right. But a small church doesn’t need small groups because their small size facilitates connections and community.
Jesus focused on twelve people and gave special attention to three. His actions should guide our desire to think small and to then act that way.
Have an External Focus: Most churches have an inward focus. They give their attention to the needs (demands) of their members to the exclusion of their surrounding community. At best a church may allocate 10 percent of its budget and time to people outside their group. What if we made it 100 percent?
Eliminate Paid Staff: A church with a payroll has skewed perceptions and priorities. Members insist on being served and employees react to keep their paychecks coming. What would a church look like with no paid staff? It would be simpler for sure. More people would be involved. And it would be smaller. This would be a good thing.
Sell Your Building: Owning a facility is a burden. It costs money, demands time, and sucks the attention away from people. People matter; a building doesn’t. So go ahead and sell it. It will free you. Besides, a small church doesn’t need a building anyway.
Send People Away: When a congregation grows too large, get rid of some of the people. But first empower them. Equip them to go out and start something new: a house church, a community outreach, or a service endeavor. Send them out and don’t expect them to come back. That will keep your church small and advance God’s kingdom, too.
Pursue Spiritual Depth: Many have said that most churches are a mile wide and an inch deep. They have no spiritual depth. They perpetuate a superficial community, functioning as little more than a Christian social club. Instead, seek spiritual intensity over trivial pleasantries. This will push away the noncommitted consumers and feed those with a true spiritual hunger.
Stop Counting: In the spiritual realm, numbers don’t really matter. So stop tracking them. Don’t fixate on attendance and offering. Forget quantity. Dump the bigger-is-better mentality. Instead, think less is more. Because it is.
This vision to shrink our church is not hyperbole. These recommendations are a serious challenge and aren’t intended as an intellectually provocative treatise.
Yes, this is counter cultural to our celebration of size. This turns conventional thinking upside down. It will be difficult to pursue and offend many in the process. They’ll reject us and retreat to church as usual.
Does this sound familiar?
Jesus was counter cultural and eschewed conventional wisdom. His way was difficult, but only because it was so different. He offended many with what he said and did. They rejected him and returned to their religious status quo.
Don’t expect many followers if you shrink your church and pursue a small church mindset. That’s okay because smaller is the goal.