There are two big myths about the way we view churches of various sizes.
Myth #1: Big churches got big because they compromised their message, stole sheep or had some special advantage unavailable to other churches.
Myth #2: Small churches stay small because they’re lazy, stupid or culturally irrelevant.
Neither is true.
Sure, there are some compromising big churches and some lazy small churches. There are also some compromising small churches and some lazy big churches. But for the most part, those stereotypes are untrue, unfair and unhelpful.
They divide the body, hurt our witness and keep churches and their leaders trapped in unfair expectations.
Mostly though, they provide a convenient excuse for each type of church to look down on other types of churches.
So how do we overcome those stereotypes? Here are 5 starter steps:
1. Look Beyond The Headlines
Every time there’s a scandal involving a big church, I hear from small church proponents who are convinced this is “proof” that big churches are an inherently a bad idea.
In the same way, whenever a small church closes its doors, someone from among my church growth friends offers that as “proof” that we need to break through growth barriers, or be doomed to irrelevance and failure.
The truth behind the headlines is that both big and small churches have scandals and closures. But big churches get the headlines because of their size and notoriety, while small churches minister in obscurity, going unnoticed and often unappreciated.
Big churches are not more prone to compromise, and small churches are not more prone to laziness.
2. Recognize Your Own Prejudice
Every time there’s a mention of church size, someone chimes in with why they like or don’t like churches of a particular size or type.
We all have preferences. But our personal preference has nothing to do with the actual value of a particular type or size of church.
There’s a style and size of church that works for you, and a style and size of church that works for someone else.
So, if you prefer a small church environment, it’s only fair to recognize that your assessment of large churches might be negatively tainted by that preference – and vice versa if you prefer a bigger church environment.
3. Step Out Of Your Own Environment
I recently heard a major Christian speaker disparage small churches for being less mission-minded than big churches.
This speaker mentioned getting saved and raised in a church that has been on a relentless growth track for 25+ years and counting.
The way the speaker put it was, “I’ve spent my entire Christian life in a mission-minded, continuously-growing church. It’s in my DNA. I don’t understand how churches can be okay with anything but that.”
And there’s the challenge. If your entire ministry has been in one type of church – even a great church – there’s no way to understand the challenges or the blessings of another type or size of church.
This church leader doesn’t have the experience to understand that the reason small churches aren’t on a relentless growth track isn’t because they’re less passionate about the Great Commission.
Without taking the time and effort to step out of our own environments and see the struggles other congregations face, there's no way any of us will ever have an accurate picture of the wider church body.
I don’t want this leader’s church to struggle. I’m grateful for their growth and impact. But we will never understand churches that aren’t like the one we’re used to unless we make the conscious effort to find out.
We all need to step out of our narrow circle and spend time with those who’ve had challenges that are different from ours.
4. Determine To Look With Grace, Not Judgment
We find what we’re looking for.
If we’ve convinced ourselves that small churches are lazy, we’ll find plenty of evidence to reinforce that. If we’re convinced that big churches are compromised, we’ll find evidence for that, too.
A judgmental attitude reinforces itself and grows harder. But a grace-filled heart determines to find the good.
When we determine to find small churches that are active, healthy and mission-minded, we’ll find them. Likewise, when we’re determined to find uncompromising, Bible-believing, grace-filled big churches, we’ll find those, too.
5. Point Out The Good In Both
Good churches seldom make headlines.
It’s far more titillating and attention-grabbing to point out the flaws and sins.
I’m not saying we should sweep the sins of the church under the rug. Not at all. There’s been way too much of that. They need to be exposed to the light of day, repented of and, if possible, we need to recompense the victims.
But, alongside that, we need to promote good churches when we find them.
Celebrate the small church that puts all its time, energy and money into a shelter for abused women. Be grateful for the big church that takes a biblical, moral stand even if it costs them members and money.
Find the good. It’s there. Even in churches that may not be your cup of tea.
Then share the good news for the glory of God. There’s far more of it than you may think.
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