How can one billion people be doing something without the world standing up to take notice?
More specifically, how can one billion people be doing something within a very narrowly defined niche, and the leaders in that niche not value it?
But that’s what has happened in the church world.
Over one billion people choose to worship Jesus in small churches. Yet virtually every book on how to do church implies that this is a problem to be fixed, rather than an opportunity to take advantage of.
(This is the fourth post in a five post series. Click here to read from the beginning.)
Small Is Not a Theological Error
Why are we trying to tell one billion people they’re doing church wrong just because their churches are small?
Imagine if there were one billion people who preferred adding a tablespoon of cream to their Coca-Cola every day. Would Coke’s board of directors launch a campaign to convince them they were drinking Coca-Cola the wrong way? Or would they scramble as fast as possible to mix, package and market “Creamy Coke”?
Numbers don’t make something right (oh, the irony). So if worshiping God in a small church was selfish, ineffective or theologically flawed, we’d be correct in telling them they’re doing it wrong. But they’re not wrong.
As I say in The Grasshopper Myth, “Wanting to worship and serve God in a small church is not a theological error or a personality deficit. It’s time we stopped treating it as though it was.”
How have we missed this?
I believe there are several reasons why we haven’t seen what God is doing around the world in small churches. Here are three:
1. We Didn’t Do It
The megachurch movement came about through careful and prayerful study, planning, hard work, assessment and follow-through. There are innumerable books, seminars, conferences and classes on megachurch principles.
But small churches just keep chugging along without conferences, classes or seminars – and with very few books or websites on how to do it. Why the difference between the two?
As I mentioned in my previous post in this series, the stubborn, historical persistence of small churches is something God has done without our noticing it, and in spite of the fact that many of us have fought against it.
Jesus is building his church. And he’s using all sizes and styles to do it.
He didn’t ask for our plans to start it, he doesn’t need our permission to continue it, and he won’t require the approval of a denominational committee to complete it.
God doesn’t need to get in line with what we’re doing. We need to get in line with what he’s doing.
When we don’t plan it, manage it or tie a neat bow on the end of it, most of us don’t notice it. We notice when another church is big, and we whine when our church is small.
It’s time to pay attention to what God is doing in his church – and to discover our part in it.
2. Big Crowds Stroke Our Ego
A couple times in my life I’ve spoken to a crowd of over 1,000 people.
It’s quite a buzz.
I can’t imagine the charge people get out of standing in front of tens of thousands of people who came specifically to hear what they have to say on a regular basis.
I’m not saying that every megachurch pastor is an egotist. The truth is, I know some small church pastors whose egos could be a float in the Macy’s parade.
But, let’s not pretend that crowds don’t have a tendency to stroke our ego.
This is one of the reasons I have great admiration for megachurch pastors who are able to keep a humble spirit. Not all of them are able to handle it. I don’t know if I could.
Big things get noticed. Small things get missed. And we all want to be noticed, don’t we?
3. We’ve Misdefined Church
We are the church.
The New Testament writers could not have been more clear about this.
But too often we’ve defined the church as a building. Even if we know better theologically, that’s what we do in practice.
When the church is too closely linked to the building, church growth means more people in the building. Or buying more land to build bigger buildings.
But when we really get the idea that healthy churches can happen with as few as 2 or 3 of us, we can see that church growth includes the multiplication of groups of 2-3, 20-30 or 200-300. And yes, 2,000-3,000 and 20,000-30,000.
Jesus was fine with 2 or 3. We need to stop belittling churches with 10 to 100 times that many people.
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