People join a small church for different reasons. Sometimes their reasons can lead to disappointment because they’re just unobtainable. I’d like to dissect three common myths about the small church.
Myth 1: If I go to a small church then I can actually get to know everybody.
Unless you have a photographic memory and don’t have a day job, you can’t possibly do this. The reality is that you can only manage about a dozen people in your close relational network. Beyond that, everyone else is more of an acquaintance. A small church of about seventy-five people is already too large for you, if you plan to get to know everybody. In this scenario, you might eventually be able to remember everyone’s name (after about two years), so long as nobody leaves or joins the church. But you won’t really know them personally and they won’t really know you. Since you can only manage so many people in your relational network, shouldn’t you instead strive to get to know some people really well? Oddly enough, this can be accomplished in a church of any size.
The reality is that it takes risky effort to move from acquaintance status into relationship status. And this amount of effort does not change, no matter what size of church you are in. If the church you are in has one-thousand people, you will have to work at building relationships and chances are the church has set up environments and systems to help you do that. If the church you are in has two-hundred people, the process might look different, but the effort is still the same.
Myth 2: I will have “on-demand” access to my pastor in a small church.
I doubt it. Not if your pastor plans on staying sane and not if your church plans on growing. Your pastor has a limited span of care which is, strangely enough, about a dozen or so people. While there are less people who may need his help in a smaller church, he also has fewer staff and is likely wearing more hats. Plus, if he’s leading a new church plant, he is likely expending a tremendous amount of energy on development. And don’t forget that your pastor has a home life as well. (He might even practice Ju Jutsu in his spare time.)
If your pastor is really thinking about helping people, then he’s probably not dropping everything to rescue people or put out fires. He’s likely strategically planning how he can best serve the needs of so many people because he’s self-aware and knows his limitations. So he’s probably spending a lot of time training and mentoring leaders who can care for more people – kind of like what Jesus did when he discipled the twelve and sent out the seventy. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments when your small church pastor shouldn’t drop everything to help with a crisis – but that’s very different than having an “on-demand” ministry.
Myth 3: Small churches are better than large churches because they feel more relaxed and less professional.
Small churches are neither better nor worse than big churches. They’re just smaller. Every size has its challenges and advantages, including sustainability, impact, governance, navigability, God-dependancy, economy of scale, specialization, and so forth. Different sizes naturally have different cultures and different ‘feels’ to them just by virtue of group dynamics.
Smaller churches can sometimes feel a little more quaint and a little more tarnished. But that doesn’t make the smaller church better – it likely just makes your pastor pull his hair out and makes some people decide that they won’t bring their friends back next week. The less polished feel of a smaller church is often unintentional and a result of being under-resourced – which smaller churches tend to be. Small churches give God their best every week. They just have less to give.
In fact, I would argue that small churches should never stay small on purpose because the DNA of the kingdom of God is designed for exponential growth. Remember the parable of the mustard seed? It’s about how a tiny microscopic seed can produce a giant plant. Jesus taught that this is what the kingdom of God is meant to be like. God wants your church to grow exponentially.
Unless a small church is continually reproducing other churches or ministries, it shouldn’t remain small just because it thinks that being small is better. I’m sorry, but you’d be hard-pressed to argue that through Scripture. God has a plan for every church. It’s a plan that includes growth, reproduction, and multiplication. Will you join him in his kingdom plan?