The smaller the group, the more likely there will be a higher percentage of members engaged in the goals of the team.
This is true for groups of all types, including churches.
In the last few years I’ve come to appreciate this principle in some very concrete ways. And it’s something every small church pastor needs to know and be encouraged by.
For the first time in my life, I’m experiencing two very distinct aspects of ministry running on parallel tracks – one staying small, intimate and personal, while the other is getting bigger, wider and less relational.
This is giving me a vantage point that is important to share.
The Smaller The Group The Greater The Engagement
All of my pastoral ministry has been in small churches.
Because of that, I have real relationships with the people in the church. Not just the staff, but most of the members, too. They don’t just know about my life, I know about theirs. We chat before and after church, eat meals together, celebrate milestones, and hold each other accountable.
From that involvement, we measure and promote our church’s health by how deeply people are engaged in ministry, fellowship and the other aspects of church life and community.
While the response to my blogging, books and speaking was much stronger than anyone anticipated (especially me) I was still writing and speaking to small enough audiences that we were able to engage in face-to-face and online conversations, gaining a great deal of value from the interaction.
But as the size of this audience has increased that has changed.
The Bigger The Crowd, The Less The Involvement
For the first time in almost 40 years of ministry, what I write is being read, not by dozens or even hundreds of people, but thousands. And the size of the audiences at conferences is growing, also.
There’s a lot of good that happens when an audience grows, but something gets lost, as well.
When the group grows, the engagement drops. It happens on a one-for-one basis at first. You can only engage half as much in a group of 80 as in a group of 40, for instance. But when the crowds get really big, the engagement drops faster than the audience grows.
While you can engage in a face-to-face manner with, say, 50 percent of the people in a conference of 40 people, and 25 percent in a crowd of 80, it doesn’t drop to 5 percent when the crowd hits 400, but maybe 1 percent. And if the crowd is 800 or 1,000, there’s very little engagement with anyone aside from some handshakes, book purchases and selfies.
Engagement Is A Better Standard
In several recent articles, Carey Nieuwhof has been emphasizing that we need to concentrate more on engaging people than growing audiences. In his most recent post on the subject, 5 Reasons Why Engagement Is The New Attendance, Nieuwhof reminds us to “stop trying to attract people and start trying to engage people. In the future church, engagement is the new attendance.”
You can’t be or feel engaged in a group when there are thousands, or even a few hundred people in the room. Size promotes passivity. When the group gets bigger, we become more of an audience, less of a family and community.
Healthy big churches know this, which is why they’re always encouraging their members to join small groups and ministry teams.
For small church pastors, this should be very encouraging.
An Encouragement For Small Churches
In small churches, we don’t have to work hard to get people into groups small enough to engage, because we’re small already.
We need to stop stressing about getting more people into the room, and get to work on helping them become more engaged. Engaged in relationships with Jesus, with each other, and with the people in our neighborhoods who need to be reached.
The small size of your church is not an impediment to becoming a healthy, connected and effective, it’s an advantage! It’s far easier to get half the church (or more) involved in ministry when you have 50 members than when you have 500 or 5,000.
Because of this inverse correlation between size and engagement, if you have 1,000 people spread out over 10 healthy churches there will be more people involved in hands-on, effective ministry, fellowship, worship, evangelism and discipleship than when there are 1,000 people in one healthy church.
There’s just one catch.
It’s not automatic.
Engagement Is Not Inevitable
While it’s much easier to get people engaged in a smaller congregation, it doesn’t happen on its own. Small churches don’t engage and activate people just by being small. We have to work at it.
There are a lot of aspects of ministry that are harder in small churches than large churches. Lack of people, resources, funds and time can be discouraging.
But there are some great advantages to being small, as well. We have to stop mourning what we don’t have and start cultivating the advantages we do have.
The results are in. I’m seeing the differences in stark contrast every day. Getting a few people engaged and involved is far more important than attracting a big crowd.
I used to think you could have both. Experience is telling me you have to choose. At minimum, when we do start having larger numbers there needs to be another track for a higher level of intimacy and engagement.
In the life of the church, engagement is always the better choice.
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