May 5, 2007
Good Things Come in Small Congregations
A rant from the pastor of a small, organic, missional community.
Crack your knuckles and prepare to type your comments. Pastor/professor David Fitch is back with his take on why leading a small church is more difficult, and more rewarding, than being a mega-church pastor.
My recent conversation with Bill Kinnon over the big church superstar mentality spurred me on to think of my own experience as a church planter. I have often pondered the church planter's task versus the mega church pastor's. To me, what the smaller, organic, missional community leaders do is much more difficult. Here's why.
It is more difficult to take 10 people and grow a body of Christ to 150 than it is to transplant 200 or 300 people and then grow that congregation to 5,000. A crowd draws a crowd. From day one if you have all the bells and whistles, 5 full time pastors, a youth program, and a charismatic speaker with spiked hair (a shot not aimed at anyone in particular) and you don't mind putting the smaller community churches out of business, it will be harder to stop attracting a big crowd.
(BTW, did you know that statistics say that small church growth (from 10-150) is where the conversion growth, as opposed to transfer growth, occurs? Why then do evangelicals exalt the mega congregations as the answer to reaching those outside of Christ?)
It is more difficult to preach a sermon to 100 people than to 8,000 people. Of course, there are some of my emerging co-laborers who don't believe in preaching per se. I believe in proclamation of the new reality, the calling of truth into being, and my thoughts on expository preaching are already out there. My point here is that preaching to 100 people you actually know and live with is a lot harder than preaching to 8000 people, 99% of whom you don't know. It is not that it is harder to be vulnerable in a larger crowd. It is that in a space of 100 people you are more vulnerable when so many know you. You are naked.
And I might add, I've preached for our own congregation of 100+ and I've preached for 1000+, and my experience is that a joke is 10 times easier to pull off in a large audience than in a small one. (Not that I should be trying to tell jokes in my sermon but you all know what I'm talking about.)
It is more difficult to deal with conflict and leadership in a small church where our conflicts, our vision, our weaknesses must all be talked about and worked through. In small, organic, church leadership we must do the hard work of owning our weaknesses and speaking truth in love to other leaders. It's hard but we grow. In mega-sized corporate churches leadership and organization is much easier because you can just fire people/employees.
It is more difficult to build a live body of Christ where his powers are made manifest and his mission is sent forth, and poor people are actually recognized and loved, and where a politic takes shape which subverts the consumerist depersonalizing forces of our day than it is to build large mega churches that play on the consumerist forces that rule our culture and play right into church marketing programs.
It is more difficult to organically engage people's lives than it is to become a media figure for Christians looking for the next hip thing. They can simply buy your book and drive to your church. Then you do not have to deal with everyday details of people's lives. You take the show on the road to promote the idea that you started this church and overnight it turned into 4,000 people and you couldn't stop it. The mythology grows and young church planters with visions dancing in their heads become depressed and defeated when the same things do not happen to them.
It is more difficult to build a gathering that is a mission in the world, than it is to build a gathering that comes to see the show. It is more difficult to build a gathering into being the Body of Christ than it is to build a crowd around a personality. Yes it is more difficult, but in the end so much more satisfying. And when you're gone this community will keep reproducing the love of Christ, the fruits of the Spirit, and the leader(s) to carry on the transformation of the world until Christ returns.
For these reasons, to me the real heroes are the missional pastors who raise up the organic communities that take different shapes and manifest the presence of Christ in their neighborhoods. Yet status quo evangelicalism knows no other way but to extol the virtues of the mega-sized personalities at mega-sized conferences. In the process those who would be missional church pastors are demoralized, leave the pastorate, or just give up.
Have I overstated my rant? If so I apologize ahead of time. May the Holy Spirit burn away any chaff that I have written and use the rest to encourage any discouraged missional community leaders for the glory of His Kingdom.
Please keep your response succinct as comments exceeding 250 words will likely not be published.