I’ve always fought against those characterizations, believing them to be unfair caricatures. But a recent conversation made me realize that those stereotypes have their foundations in some sad realities.
I was talking with a faithful Christian and regular church attender when he started bending my ear about how hard it was to find a church in the city where he and his family had moved to about a year ago.
“I hate to say it.” he answered me. “but I haven’t found a new church home since we moved here.”
I was surprised. He wasn’t the kind of person to let his faith or church attendance lag.
“Why?”, I asked with genuine concern.
“Well, I go to church almost every Sunday, but finding a church we want to commit to has been harder than I excpected. They’re either really big and impersonal, or small and kinda pathetic. I’m beginning to think those are my only options. I plan to try a few more that people have recommended to me, but I’m not hopeful. If we have to choose, we’ll pick one of the big, impersonal ones. It’s not what we want, but at least it won’t be pathetic.”
Since he used the word pathetic twice, I asked him what he meant by it. He then gave me a short, spine-chilling tour through the minefield of Small Churches he’d visited. Dumpy buildings, smelly facilities, stale singing, boring preaching, legalistic preaching, uneducated preaching, uninspired preaching, unbiblical preaching, out-of-context preaching… I started sensing a theme.
I gave him a couple ideas about how to broaden his search grid to find other church options, but since that conversation I haven’t been able to get him or his predicament out of my mind.
Big and impersonal.
Or small and pathetic.
He’s not a picky or judgmental person at all, so it makes me wonder how many other people are looking for a church and wondering if those are their only two options.
Two More Possibilities
Thankfully, while there may be a lot of churches which fit those two categories, those aren’t the only church options available. Churches can also be small and impersonal, or big and pathetic. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
Obviously there are at least two other church options:
- Big and friendly
- Small and healthy
My friend wanted a church for himself and his family that was small and healthy. I know there are a lot of great, small churches in every city. The sad thing is how hard it is for him to find that simple combination. And I know he’s not alone in that search.
Why are good Christians having a harder time finding good churches?
A Simple Plea to My Fellow Pastors
First, to the big church guys. You have great programs, huge attendance and a spectacularly skilled staff. But people need more than that. They need to feel like they matter. That they’re more than a number. I know most of you work really hard at small groups. But the reality is, a lot of people who attend your churches are like my friend – they attend by default because you have a baseline of excellence. But they’d be more excited and intentional if you could find a way to turn up the personal touch.
And now for my Small Church compatriots. My friends. My peers. I love you. But this is gonna sting.
Small and pathetic are not synonyms! Stop giving people the impression that they are!
If you pastor a pathetic Small Church, I have one message for you.
Stop being pathetic!
Small is not an excuse to stink. Literally or figuratively.
What people are asking from us isn’t unreasonable. My friend doesn’t expect a Small Church to have all the programs and highly-polished expertise of our big church counterparts. In fact, he doesn’t want that. But it’s not too much of him to expect a clean facility, friendly people and competent, grace-filled preaching.
On the other hand, if you, like me, pastor one of the many Small Churches that is not pathetic, we need to realize that there are a lot of good people looking for us. But being small makes us hard to find, so we need to work harder at letting people know we exist.
I know there are great Small Churches in my friend’s city. But neither of us has been able to find you.
The good news is, it’s easier and cheaper to become visible today than it’s ever been.
Start by getting a website. A good website. They don’t cost much. And a Facebook page. They don’t cost anything. Then – and I can’t stress this enough – keep them current! Give the people who are looking for you a fighting chance to find you.
Small Is Not an Excuse
An excellent Small Church looks a lot different than an excellent big church. Don’t try to be like the big guys. Just be great at doing the small stuff.
There are a lot of people like my faithful, hard-working friend and his family who are looking for your church – or for the church that you can be. There are even more people who don’t know Jesus who would be open to attending your church and hearing more about Jesus, but they need to be invited. Then they need a positive, uplifting, non-pathetic experience.
We need to stop using our size as an excuse to be lazy. For many of us, it starts by opening our eyes to correct the problems that everyone but us can see.
Believers need an intimate, friendly place to worship and serve. Unbelievers need to hear about Jesus. Your church can play a pivotal role in meeting each of those needs.
They want to attend our churches. But they need to know we’re here and they need us to be a healthy, friendly, vibrant place when they do show up.
With Jesus’ help, we can do it.
This post prompted some strong feedback, so I wrote a follow-up to it
Click here to read, “OK… So, Yesterday’s Post Hit a Nerve Or Two”
So what do you think? Are there some adjustments you need to make so your church is small and healthy?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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