I grew up with certain stereotypes about big churches and stereotypes about small churches – ultimately a reflection of how I thought a church grows. At first, these perceptions really got in the way of the opportunity for me to learn from others in the communications community. I think it also paints a picture of comparison that can be dangerous because my church’s path to reaching our community and growing in size may not match another’s.
When someone asks a question and I start to talk about my experience, I cringe when the first question they ask is how many people we have (for the record, we served 683 people at my church last Sunday – you can decide whether that means we’re big or small or somewhere in between). I’m wondering if they’re thinking “We couldn’t pull that off because we’re a small church” or “We can come up with a better idea because we’re a big church.” It’s probably just me, and I’m growing through it, but I’ll get over it.
While I could make some generalizations that would be true in most cases, I don’t think there are any specifics that I could say are universally true of either group, and what about the gap of medium size churches?
What’s my hope in writing this? That you would start to think outside the box of church size stereotypes and give yourself the opportunity to learn from others, despite the size of church they’re responsible for. I’m hoping we can unify around one goal, and not filter opportunities to learn through stereotypical filters.
Outlandish? Maybe I’m living in a pipe dream, but here are some of the perspectives I’m working to get over:
Big Churches are all inspiration, and no revelation.
I thought the only way a church could grow is by telling people how great they are, and if you correct someone, or show them a contrary opinion, they’ll leave and that will stunt your growth. I thought if a church preached anything more than God’s love and grace that they would stay a small church forever. There are some big churches that get right into the Bible and talk about difficult issues regularly. There are also small churches that only talk about inspiration and aren’t growing.
Small churches do marketing and communications poorly.
We’ve all seen the face-palm pics on the communications forum of someone who hand wrote a sign and stuck it to the wall with 18 pieces of masking tape, and think ‘small church’ (even though all we can see literally is the sign and 2 inches of wall around it).
What about a logo created with clipart or with papyrus and comic sans? Default response: small church. In many ways, I think big churches have the resources and volunteer skills to draw from a pool beyond this, but keep in mind that there are plenty of small churches with a great branding strategy.
Big growth only happens in big churches.
There are 2 ways to look at this – actual numbers and percentages. If a church has 100 people and 2 new families join next month, they could see an 8-10 percent growth in a few weeks. If a mega church has 6000 people, they’re not likely to see a 10 percent growth in a few weeks, but they might see 100-200+ people join next month.
I think more important than the numbers is focussing on the individuals who connect with you and choose to pursue who God has called you to be. Maybe your church only grows by 1 person next month, but that one person is the bass player your worship team has needed for the past 3 years, or maybe your church grows by 200 people next month, and some of them are in a ZIP code in your city that hasn’t yet been reached, so now you have a grass roots team.
Big churches are appealing because of their presentation, but small churches are appealing because of their community.
I think some of the largest attendance churches have created some really great ways to build small-group communities, or focus on volunteer teams as pockets of people – think about this: Anyone who signs up to serve on a team already has common interests with other people on that team.
In small churches this happens by default. If there are 75 people at your church, you would probably know someone by name if you ran into them at the store.
In big churches in the case of multiple services, or large attendance, you need to be intentional with your presentation. Starting late doesn’t just upset that one couple who sits in the back row, but starts to impact a larger group of people, even people leaving and people arriving for the next service – the same could be said for sound issues, or kids check in process or parking lot attendants. In a big church, focussing on presentation & experience becomes a necessity (i’m not talking lights and stage design) but being consistent and intentional with how your church is experienced.
If your church only has 1 service (big or small) then your end time may be a lot more fluid than if you have another group of people waiting to find a seat for next service.
I get that not every big church gets this right, but also realize not every small church gets this wrong.
The only way to grow to a big church is by having short services.
More than the length of your service, you have to ask yourself if you’re being true to your values. If you’re trying to force something that doesn’t represent who you are by being on a clock, people are going to feel like you’re not being genuine. If you want to start drawing out your service because you think there’s inherent value associated with a longer service, people will see through that too.
Big church attenders are just there for a show.
I did my duty, went to church for 70 minutes, saw a light show, watched a concert and heard some nice things then went home. See God, I’m a good guy.
I know just as many small church attenders who think the same way – I dropped in my dollar, wore my suit, shook a few hands, sang a hymn and went home. See God, I’m a good guy.
Anytime we have a group of people, we’ll find some of them are genuine, some are pretending and some are trying to figure out which they fall into.
I’ve heard it said before and cringe when I hear big churches referred to as “Jesus Theme Parks”. What happens if you start impacting your community and grow to that size – do you think your people automatically become spectators too?
What has helped me get past these mental roadblocks:
– Don’t consider someone’s church size when you’re learning about the challenges they’re facing and solutions they’re creating. Figure out if you can help them by sharing your experience or learn from them by hearing their solution first. (Sometimes it is interesting afterwards to ask about their size.)
– Understand that each church is like an organism with specific assignments – geography, demographics, outreach goals and growth opportunities and honor that in other churches.
– Visit churches that are a different size from yours – smaller and larger.
– Honor and respect that their goals and values may be different than yours, and their methods of living out those values and achieving those goals may be different than how you would do it, even though we all share the mission of going into all the world and preaching the good news.
– Build relationships with other churches in your community. Celebrate with them as they grow, and don’t consider the people that joined their church to be your lost opportunity. There are lots of people to reach.