I’ve heard that sentiment expressed on many occasions from well-meaning people after I tell them I pastor a Small Church.
I get where they’re coming from because I used to be one of them. I said “there are no small churches” for years because I believed the lie that Small Churches were wrong, bad, failing and lazy – all while I was pastoring a Small Church that was none of those things.
I’ve chronicled the reasons for those toxic feelings and my way back to health in articles on this site and in The Grasshopper Myth, but for today’s post I’d like to address the faulty reasoning behind those feelings.
When people say “there are no Small Churches” I know their intention is to be supportive. But having been on that side of the fence I also know the false assumptions that unwittingly lurk behind it. And I know how patronizing it can sound to a Small Church pastor’s ears.
No, this post isn’t going to turn into “Politically Correct – Small Church Edition”. People don’t have to watch what words they use for risk of offending a Small Church pastor. Quite the opposite.
I want people – especially fellow pastors – to relax when they talk with a Small Church pastor. We know who we are. We know our church is small. And there are a whole lot of us who are going through a journey like mine to become, not just OK with it, but to celebrate it.
So I don’t feel insulted when people say “there are no Small Churches”. I receive their expression as the kindness they intended it to be.
But I completely disagree with it.
1. Small Is Normal
Of course there are Small Churches. Lots of them. I’m privileged to pastor one of them.
Why would someone feel the need to say there are no Small Churches? Obviously they don’t mean numerically. 85-90% of the churches in the world are under 200 people. Half the churches on earth have less than 50 attenders.
That’s a whole lot of small.
2. Small Doesn’t Need Sympathy
If “there are no Small Churches” isn’t a statement about numbers, what is it about? What people mean by it, of course, is that there are no secondary churches. That churches of all sizes have value.
I agree with that sentiment. But I have a problem that people feel the need to express it.
The implication is that if a pastor says “I pastor a Small Church” they must be stating a problem. That we’re complaining or looking for sympathy. That we’ve failed and need encouragement to keep going until, by God’s grace, our church starts growing numerically. Or, worst of all, that we’re settling for less.
We don’t require sympathy for our Small Church any more than a little toe needs sympathy from a big toe. We all have a part to play – and we’re playing ours.
3. Small Is Not Inferior
I have a friend named Skip. He’s a dwarf. He stands about 3’8” to my 6’6”.
Before he moved out of state, we loved going out for lunch or coffee. Mostly because we truly had fun together, but also because we both got a slightly perverse kick out of the reactions we’d get when we walked into a restaurant together.
Some people don’t know how to respond to a dwarf. I always felt a little sorry that he has to go through life facing that, but he’s learned, not just to deal with it, but to capitalize on it.
For instance, he makes a great salesman. He has the personality and the talent for it, but he also knows that his height gives him an advantage no one else has. None of his customers has ever come back to the store and said “I can’t remember which salesperson waited on me the last time I was here.” Boom! Instant commission.
Of all the awkward looks and interactions I’ve seen Skip endure, no one has ever walked up to him and said, “there are no small people.” Of course not. It would be the epitome of insult because it would be based on the lie that smaller is inferior.
We wouldn’t do that to a person. We shouldn’t do it to a church.
4. Small Is Not Settling
Just because my church is small does not mean I’ve given up. I’m not settling.
A rose bush isn’t settling when it doesn’t grow bigger than four feet tall. Instead it can now take all the energy it was using for growth, and concentrate on blooming. It stops becoming what it’s meant to be and starts being what it’s meant to be.
Are there some Small Churches that are settling for “us four, no more, shut the door”? Sure. But there are also some very large churches that are settling for “we’ve arrived, and now we can coast on our success.”
Settling is sin. And size has nothing to do with it.
5. Small Is Not Anti-Big
Why don’t people ever say “there are no big churches”? Because big churches obviously exist and are doing great things – just like Small Churches.
Small Churches and big churches are not enemies. We’re different. And that difference is good. To wildly paraphrase Paul’s body analogy, “If the whole body were a megachurch, how would anyone ever get to hang out with their pastor after church? If the whole body were a Small Church, where would large groups of people meet to worship Jesus together?”
My church needs, uses and appreciates the supportive ministry of big and megachurches. We have learned, and continue to learn, a lot from them.
6. Small Is Essential
There are many places in the world where big and megachurches can’t exist. Where Christianity is illegal and churches have to hide, where the population is small, where land is too expensive, etc.
And even in places where there are lots of megachurches – like where I live in Orange County, California – Small Churches like mine far outnumber big and megachurches. Why? Because there are a lot of people who feel closer to Jesus in small settings. It’s what nourishes their spirit. It’s where they prefer to bring their friends to introduce them to Jesus.
I don’t want to live in a world without megachurches or Small Churches. We need each other.
So what do you think? Have you ever equated small with inferior?