“Even if only three people show up to church, preach like the room is full!”
That’s some of the worst advice I’ve ever received in ministry. And I’m not the only one who’s received it. Many of you have heard it too. Some of you may have repeated it.
If so, stop.
It’s not a good idea. In fact, it’s a very bad idea.
The only time we should preach like the room is full is when the room is actually full.
Let me explain.
If what people mean by “preach like the room is full” is that a smaller crowd should get the same quality of ministry that you’d give to a larger crowd, then I am in full agreement. Everyone should always get our best.
But if that’s what we mean, that’s what we need to say. “Give a small crowd the same quality experience as you would give a large crowd.”
The problem with saying “preach like the room is full” is that there are too many pastors taking that saying literally – and it’s hurting their church, not helping it.
Preaching to 10 people as if there are 300 in the room is not the best way to give those 10 people a quality church experience. It’s just awkward.
Here’s an example.
Well, This Is Awkward…
Many years ago, my young family and I visited a church. When we walked in, we doubled the size of the congregation. That’s fine. We knew the church was small.
But the pastor was apparently a firm believer in conducting every service like the room was full, so that’s what he did.
When he preached, he spoke over our heads (literally and figuratively), including regularly looking up into a completely empty balcony as though it was full. He even concluded the service with a Billy-Graham-style “every head bowed, every eye closed” altar call.
Then he turned and walked out where he had come in. We never saw him again.
Since then, I’ve been through my share of tough services, so I have some sympathy for the likelihood that the pastor was probably feeling frustrated and even humiliated by the sad state of affairs that his church was in. I’ve wanted to sneak out the side door at the end of a service, too.
But that doesn’t change the fact that the pastor missed out on what could have been a great opportunity. One that might have lifted his own spirits in the process.
That pastor had no idea who we were. Instead of being a visiting pastor’s family from another town, we might have just moved to that town, looking for a church home. As far as he knew he had a chance, in that one service, to double the size of his congregation. Including starting a brand-new children’s ministries department with our three kids.
He could have taken advantage of smallness instead of ignoring it. Continue reading