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)

Debunking the small-church-is-better myths (part 2)

I’m in no way against small church! Every expression of God’s people is valuable and beautiful. In fact, that’s why I’m writing these posts trying to debunk the idea that small church is not just different, but better.

  • Myth: “Only certain people can “do” big church – like extroverts. Introverts need small churches”.
    Really? There’s a few things to question about this idea…
    The normal definition of an Introvert is someone who likes lots of time with a very few number of people (if any at all). That’s not a small church… in fact that’s not even a bible study group!
    Introverts won’t like a church of 40-80 people either!! Sure, they won’t like a church of 1000, but using the introvert “card” to be with a group of 60 people doesn’t actually fly.
    I would also argue that big churches can (not always) love introverts better than small churches. When you walk in the door of a small church, even up to 80 people, everyone sees you. You’re you still have to make small talk, you still have to fumble through chit-chat. You can’t go an sit off to the side away from people, because everyone notices you. It’s hell. But in a church of 200-1000, it’s large enough that you can “go-unnoticed” in the crowd – if you want to. You can join a small group of people mid-week to encourage each other.One more point… I would assume that extroverts are the best people to put in… small churches! They are really good at bouncing up to new people, having them over for lunch (in their own house – introverts hate that!). A small church full of introverts will always struggle to invite new people in and grow.
    And as a final passing shot… should we really let a 20th century concept of “introvert/extrovert” have so great an impact on how we “do” church?!?! Methinks Satan is making a lot of ground through the selfish introspection such concepts promote.
  • Myth: “Small churches grow faster” (here)
  • Myth: “Small churches see more conversion growth” (here)

Debunking the small-church-is-better myths (Part 1)

I’m not part of a big-church (although many readers may think I am). We have about 12 full-time staff, 8 MTS apprentices, and just over 500 adults in GrowthGroups. Compared to Acts 2, we’re a small church about 10% its size. And yet, I keep hearing the suggestion that small churches (even smaller than ours) are somehow “better” or “more desirable” or even “more effective”.

Let me (humbly) debunk some small-church-is-better myths:

  • Myth: “Small churches grow faster”
    Really? If a church of 20 people grows to 30 people in 12 months… that’s 50% growth. Huge, right? And a church of 200 might only grow by 5%!! So the small church has grown by 50% and the “big” church has only grown by 5%… so the small church is growing faster right? Wrong. That 5% growth in the church of 200 is 10 souls. The exact same number of souls that the small church grew by. 10.
    Small churches only grow faster when you compare percentages, not people. Lets be more interested in people.
  • Myth: “Small churches see more conversion growth”
    Really? First, it’s worth applying the same logic as above and compare people saved, rather than percent of people saved. But second, our experience has been that the bigger the group doing the evangelism, the more effective it is.
    If your small church runs an event, you might get 2 or 3 people there, and they know (and feel) the pressure that everyone knows them and that they’re there checking it out. It’s the reason even small churches tell people, only come if you’re bringing a friend.
    But when you’ve got 100s of people inviting and 10s of non-Christians there every week, it’s easier to blend into the background and hear the gospel, hear other people ask the questions you’ve got.
    It also gives the very timid Christians a way to grow in confidence. They can come and check it out first. They get a better idea what they’re inviting their friends to. They trust the program will not destroy their friendship.
    By God’s grace, the reality is (even from a percentage aspect), we’ve seen more conversion growth as we’ve grown larger.