I spent too many years feeling embarrassed by my church.
Sure, there was a time when the embarrassment was well earned. For a few years, we were unhealthy, dysfunctional and hurting.
But even after we got healthy, I stayed embarrassed. Not because it wasn’t a good church or because I didn’t love the people in it.
I was embarrassed because it was small.
When new people would show up on a Sunday, I’d offer excuses. “A lot of people are gone on summer vacation today,” or “our youth group is at a convention this weekend” or “hey, it’s Arbor Day – hard to compete with that.”
They Knew It Was Small and They Came Anyway
One of the ways I learned to be okay with – and now celebrate – the value of a healthy small church, was when I started seeing it through the eyes of people who visit small churches for the first time.
The front door of a small church is not the wardrobe to the magical land of Narnia. No one expects it to magically grow huge once they step inside.
They knew it was small, but they came anyway. Maybe they came because it was small.
They aren’t anticipating world-class staging and lighting. They don’t expect the sermon to include a Hollywood-quality video segment shot by the church’s visual arts team. In fact, they may have experienced that at a big church and realized it wasn’t for them.
People who come to a small church aren’t expecting a big church experience. But they have a right to expect a really good small church experience.
Yes, there will always be people who are surprised that a church of 50 doesn’t offer all the bells and whistles of a megachurch environment. But they’re the exception, not the rule.
Let’s Do Small Church Really Well
So, my fellow small church pastors, today I have good news and bad news (then some more good news) for all of us.
The Good News: A lot of people who come to a small church are looking for a great small church, not a scaled-down version of a big church.
The Bad News: Many of them aren’t getting the healthy, friendly small church experience they came for. (Now that’s embarrassing).
Good News: We can change the bad news.
There’s no need to be embarrassed by our small churches any more. We just need to do the small church stuff better.
Being Small Isn’t the Problem
There are many reasons some churches are unhealthy. But being small isn’t one of them.
The main reason many small churches aren’t healthy is simple. They’re not acting like a healthy small church.
Often, it’s because they’ve been trying to act like a big church. And that’s not healthy. Because it’s not what they are.
So let’s lay aside the unreasonable burden of trying to be like the big church we admire and become a small church to admire.
Let’s turn up the volume on what people come to a small church for:
- Family-style friendliness
- Access to the pastor
- Cross-generational worship
- A chance to learn, grow and lead
- Personalized, relationship-based discipleship
- To know and be known
Big churches are great at doing what big churches do.
If you’re trying to act like a big church instead of behaving like a healthy small church, you should feel embarrassed.
But if you are a healthy small church, stand tall. Even if you stay small.
Copyright © 2016 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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