Debunking the small-church-is-better myths (part 3)

There seems a common argument that small churches are – not just a valid alternative, but – a better alternative to big churches. Some of the arguments go…

  • Myth: “Small-churches are more needy… Big churches have heaps of people!”
    Really? This is an argument that small churches are “better”?!? From a church-leader’s point of view, surely you’d want to be in the less needy option?
    But there’s an error in this perception about “neediness”… Big churches are in fact more needy that small churches. Big churches have more programs, more people, more gaps that need filled, more budget that needs to be met. They might not be as visible, but they are much greater. It’s like saying that a sparrow’s body is more needy than your body… because it doesn’t have a fridge. No. Your body needs more than the sparrow’s. The fact you have a fridge is a right reflection of that.
    So, the large-church is harder to lead and it has more needs.
  • Myth: “There’s no room for exceptions in big-churches”
    Really? I’d say this is true of all church sizes, and just displays itself in different ways. If the ESL family arrives in a small church, and there’s no-one with gifts or time to welcome them and pastor them well, there’s no room for the exception they bring. However, in a large church, there’s a greater chance of already having people who have those gifts and time and can invest in that family. In fact, there’s a greater chance that you’ll have a structure or program especially set-up for those exact type of people. Its a simple fact that the bigger your church, the more “types” of people you can welcome better.
    What about people who just don’t fit the mould? Again, I would suggest that the small church has just as much problem with these people as the big church does. A small church will usually handle the issue through one person (or family) bearing the full weight of responsibility to look after that person. A large church will try to encourage that person into existing structures that are slightly modified to suit their issues. Both options have pros and cons; the small church looses one of the their best people for (sometimes) years as they look after that person. The big church can struggle to modify existing structures enough.
    But… I don’t mean this to sound unloving, but… in my experience, even after years of faithfully loving the “don’t fit the mould” people, many of them deep down just like the attention they get and resist changing and self-sacrifice for the sake of others and the church. It can regularly end up with one church member who’s very very exhausted after years of loving the “don’t fit the mould” person, and the “don’t fit the mould” person leaves to find another small church where they’ll get the one-on-one attention they want.
  • Myth: “Only certain people can “do” big church – like extroverts. Introverts need small churches.” (here)
  • Myth: “Small churches grow faster” (here)
  • Myth: “Small churches see more conversion growth” (here)

5 thoughts on “Debunking the small-church-is-better myths (part 3)

  1. Ross says:

    Would it depend on the type of “need” in question? Ie “the country of x (or town x or church x) has a great need to hear the gospel, have apt bible teachers and trainers, committed lay people, etc…” I think a church leader (or lay person) should ‘want’ to consider going to fill that need?

    Maybe this accusation should be rephrased as: small churches are under resourced? And as such are not ‘better’ to go to because it will be harder to minister there?

  2. I think there’s two types of “need” there Ross. The world needs the gospel in a different way that a church needs volunteers.
    The point I’m trying to make is that large organisations need exponentially more people to volunteer.

    • Ross says:

      Thanks for the clarification Dave, and I would have to agree. I have no desire to be difficult for the sake of it, but maybe it could be changed to something that heaps the reader understand this issue.

      I am someone from a rural country area of NSW, that has come to Sydney, been involved in big ministries like CBS and had their eye’s open to taking the Gospel seriously and personally, and then my eye’s opened to the need of the Gospel to go out. And to read… Myth: “Small-churches are more needy… Big churches have heaps of people!”

      My first response is “that is not a myth”, because to me the small country church is prime example of churches that shouldn’t be heard as wanting more people to filling gaps so that church runs smoothly… But that they are calling out for good bible teachers and effective laypeople.

      So (the ramble has some purpose) I would be saddened to think of your readers being content to not consider the greater need which they might help lessen by seeking to serve in gospel poor places.

      Although the analogy is weak to extend because I’m sure neither of us is into animal evangelism, I would want your readers to think about whether they might consider the life of a sparrow worth going a little hungry for…

  3. Hamish says:

    Its a false and very wrong to say that a small church with needs is opposed to a big church with needs. If you have lots of people who aren’t meeting the needs of the big church then what does that say about the established leadership of the church itself. What that church needs is clearer direction about how to fill the gaps, not to declare that there are gaps, now go find them. The fact that people think about moving somewhere else to be needed exemplifies that leaders don’t broach for the gaps to be filled. And its not that the small church is better, it’s that people see the need more clearly which the leaders of the big church don’t.

    I totally agree with what Ross said, I too would be saddened if we only considered the needs of our immediate church and the big one we are part of. But I am more saddened that people want to go elsewhere because they are not being led to lead.

    And the sparrow analogy is poorly formulated. You have a fridge. If you don’t utilise it, give it away. The food in the fridge should go elsewhere because it is being wasted by the body. The sparrow will take anything it can get because it doesn’t have any to start with, let alone ability to gather. So churches with good leadership talent that is going to waste should actually direct it to where it is needed. If you have multiples of one talent then even more reason to offer the smaller church. (Arguments from analogy always go astray, there are massive gaps in my reformulation.)

    H

  4. Cathy says:

    Interesting series. As someone married to the pastor of a small church, I don’t think I’ve ever really thought ‘small church is better’ for the kind of reasons you want to debunk. I love our church family, but when things are tough, my sinful heart doesn’t need any encouragement to adopt the ‘grass is greener’ attitude of assuming ‘bigger is better’.

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