Big churches tend to attract passive, anonymous audience members.
Small churches tend to attract control freaks.
Big church pastors are aware of the problem of anonymity, so healthy big churches work very hard at small groups.
It’s hard to be an anonymous audience member in a small church. But it’s much easier to exert your influence – sometimes in unhealthy ways. Often on governing boards, but not always.
No, that's not a fair assessment of most small church members (or big ones). The control freaks are probably less than one percent. But if a control freak is going to attend a church, they're more likely to pick a small one than a big one.
Small pond, meet the big fish.
So what does the small church pastor do when we feel hindered by control freaks?
Here are eight principles that have helped our church get past those petty squabbles:
1. Don’t Try to Out-Control Them
Trying to control a control freak is like fighting over the steering wheel in a moving car. No one wins and everyone gets hurt. Including the innocent passengers.
2. Don’t Use the Position of Pastor to Shut People Down
"Because I'm the pastor!" is one of the worst things you can ever say.
By the time you feel the need to say it, you’ve already lost more than you realize. Saying it may make you feel better. It may even help you reach an immediate goal. But it will be a big step away from long-term goals. Battle won, war lost.
3. Don’t Move Too Fast
In a big church, leaders need to master systems and methods. The advantage of systems and methods is that they can be implemented quickly.
Systems and methods matter in small churches too, but they take a back seat to relationships, culture and history.
Pastors need to earn the right to be heard. The smaller the church, the more listening matters. Understanding the complex inter-weaving of a small church’s relationships, culture and history takes some time.
4. Don’t Move Too Slow
There’s a window of opportunity in every leadership situation. Move too early and they're not ready. Move too late and you’ve lost momentum.
How to find the sweet spot? There’s no universal rule, because every small church is unique. That’s why knowing the church’s relationships, culture and history is so important. It gives us the information we need to time it right.