by Rick Chromey
Small is tall in postmodern culture.
Don’t believe me? Just order a “tall” at Starbucks and watch what’s delivered.
Or consider the tiny things that have gigantic consequences, massive ripples or Titanic power. Lightning lasts a fraction of a second but can ignite a long-lasting fire. A 1-degree difference in temperature can boil or freeze water. A tweet can spark a revolution. A microscopic virus can introduce a epidemic.
Jesus embraced and enjoyed smallness. While thousands occasionally followed him, most of his teaching happened in homes, on hilltops, along roads and inside boats. Often his teaching setting and audience were small and intimate. Jesus discipled 12 men (focusing upon three) and a few loyal women. He taught using miniature object lessons like seeds, coins and dirt. He embraced children, widows and Zacchaeus. He healed the blind, deaf, lame and diseased (all considered insignificantly “small” in first-century culture).
That’s why I think the church needs to start thinking small.
If we’re ever going to build (or rebuild) authentic community in the church we must start with a DNA of smallness. Where two or three are gathered, there is “church.” Too many leaders reduce church “growth” to noses and nickels. We count people more than make people count.
In contrast, the early church understood the power of small. In fact, for the first three centuries, ancient Christian communities met in private homes. And those homes were much smaller than ours today (so it’s safe to assume these home fellowships were equally few in attendance). And yet this ancient church grew rapidly. It might be why the micro church (house church) is historically the church’s best working model.
After all, smaller churches enjoy certain advantages. If you’re stuck in a traffic jam, small is definitely tall. You’ve got more options if you’re riding a motorcycle or driving a compact car. In a fluid postmodern culture that stalls and stops the larger congregation (because it takes more time, staff, space and resources to change directions), the smaller church adapts faster and better.
Small is tall. Small is big. Small is powerful.
What can churches do to behave small (even if they’re quite large)? Here are few small ideas:
1. Focus on informal groups as well as organized groups. Most people naturally clique and group within an active social community. When we only count those who attend organized “small group” meetings, we miss most of these informal gatherings. And yet, that’s where deeper discipleship often happens (through mentoring, counseling and teaching). The hard part is counting these types of meetings, but what if people were given an opportunity on Sunday to report various informal “meetings” of the previous week, from a Bible conversation at a coffee shop to an impromptu counseling situation?
2. Emphasize children and teens more. In most congregations the children are out of sight and mind, but what if kids played a more active role in the Sunday experience? Children and teens can greet, read Scripture, give announcements, and distribute offering and communion plates. Allow children to attend adult worship at least once a month. Celebrate their baptisms and let them share faith testimonies.
3. Construct sermons that connect and create small groups during the message time. In my book Sermons Reimagined I provide a blueprint for interactive sermons that get people together and talking (during the sermon).
After all, when churches think small, churches get small.
But when churches get small, they actually grow rather large. No, maybe not in numbers but certainly in influence.
Remember, it’s not the size of the splash but the reach of the ripple that matters.