Here’s some things I believe:
a) Big churches are cool.
b) Small churches are cool.
c) One is not cooler than the other.
But I do think our perspective is all out of whack.
I also think we get the impression that there are more big churches than there really are because it is the big churches that get the press coverage and the big church guys who get the conference speaking gigs, book deals, magazine article features, blog praise and criticism, etc.
This is also what feeds the insecurity and competition and ambition of the small church guys who feel unsuccessful or unfulfilled.
Matt Chandler hit this head on at the last Resurgence conference when he told the thousands of eager beavers in attendance that most of them will never have a church that is much bigger than the one they already had. That is something conference cowboys rarely ever say. I mean, I don’t attend a lot of conferences, but I’d never heard it said, and my cynical hunch is that most of these guys don’t say things like that because most of these conferences are predicated upon the idea that by coming, listening, buying in, and applying at your own church, You Too Can Have A Church Like Mine!
It’s a warped perspective. Not every church can be huge, and in fact most churches are not. I’ll even go out on a limb and say most healthy churches are not huge. But of course it depends on how you define health (or success).
Spin alters our understanding too.
Andy Stanley recently confirmed at the Exponential Conference that North Point was helped by his father Charles Stanley’s church (FBC Atlanta) to the tune of 1500 people on their first Sunday.
How many small church pastorpreneurs trying to “replicate the systems” of North Point and engineer their own version of its success know this information? Most of these pastors won’t have churches that get anywhere near 1500, the amount North Point started with right out of the box.
The legendary start of Rob Bell’s Mars Hill Bible Church is nothing short of remarkable, what with his apparent eschewing of advertising. Bell reportedly says that he and “several others” founded the church and that on their first Sunday they had over 1,000 people in attendance in worship. The result is to think that 1,000 people just sort of came out of the woodwork, somehow responding to word of mouth. The truth is that the “several others” Bell and friends started the church with numbered about 1,000, all who came with him from Mars Hill’s sponsoring congregation, Calvary Church in Grand Rapids. (Bell was a teaching pastor there under pastor Ed Dobson.)
I don’t mention either of these examples to speak negatively of either Stanley or Bell, but merely to demonstrate that stories tend to take on a life of their own, to remind myself and to remind you that many times our ambitions and definitions of success are based on faulty premises, and therefore that many times our frustrations and disillusionment are unwarranted.
Be content. With a lot or a little. Learn contentment. Preach Jesus in word and deed, love others, glorify God, be faithful in things big and small, and He will take care of whether your efforts are best made manifest as mega or mini.